ANN ARBOR, Mich.-- John Navarre did something Saturday few thought was possible: he saved the BCS. Well, at least the part about where Ohio State fit into it. And in the process, Navarre also -- hopefully -- shut up some bitter Wolverine fans who have made him their scapegoat for the past three seasons. It was a very sweet way to go out.
Against the vaunted Ohio State D, Navarre led Michigan to three touchdown drives on the Wolverines' first four series. The game gave the big senior QB from Wisconsin his first W over Ohio State in three starts and upped his career record to 31-10. Not bad for a guy whose rep had been shaped by the previous two meetings against OSU, where he threw two touchdowns and committed seven turnovers. Of course, Navarre downplayed any sentiment that this game would define his career at Michigan.
"To be honest, I thought that was all BS," he said after the game. "That's not how I felt."
But judging from his parents nodding their approval to how their boy handled the question, it was obvious just how sweet Saturday truly was. Larry Navarre, John's father, had gotten so much abuse from Wolverine fans that he has changed his cell number a handful of times since his son came to Ann Arbor.
But the family couldn't have scripted this day much better. The sun was shining. The Big House was packed. It was Senior Day, and the archrival Buckeyes had a national title game berth hanging in the balance.
Navarre came out sharp, passing for 179 yards and two touchdowns to propel Michigan to a 21-0 second-quarter lead. It was a pretty strong statement considering earlier this week, OSU linebacker Rob Reynolds said the Buckeyes believe they could "rattle" Navarre.
Too bad, they really never had the chance.
The Wolverines O-line saw to that. They not only neutralized a great Buckeyes pass rush but also opened some holes for TB Chris Perry to cut back through. In truth, Michigan's veteran group of Tony Pape, Matt Lentz, Dave Pearson, David Baas, Adam Stenavich and fullback Kevin Dudley dominated a front four that had never been mauled like this. (OSU came into the game sporting the nation's top run defense, surrendering an average of just 51 rushing yards per game, a figure the Wolverines eclipsed by the start of the second quarter.)
Time after time, Perry was loose in the Buckeyes secondary and probably could've had twice as many yards if not for two shoe-string tackles by free safety Nate Salley that prevented long touchdown runs. Perry's counter-punch running style appeared to have the Buckeyes D off-balance the whole day. He finished the game with 154 yards, 22 more than the Buckeyes last four opponents had combined. It was also just the second time this season a team had averaged over three yards per rush against OSU. (The other team to do it, Wisconsin, averaging 3.7 yards per carry and, not so coincidentally, was the first team to beat the Buckeyes.)
"You know, somebody told me the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a great defense, but you see what has happened to them now," Perry said with a rose dangling from his ear. "They (Ohio State) have to play the game just like we do."
Michigan not only outgained OSU, 448-383, the Wolverines also notched four sacks, while holding the Buckeyes without one. "Today we executed," Michigan DT Gabe Watson explained. "We've got all the talent in the world, but really, talent's nothing without execution."
The Buckeyes, in keeping with their gritty ways, didn't go out soft. You just knew they wouldn't, right? This is a team, after all, that is 12-1 in its last 13 games decided by a touchdown. True to form, OSU made a thrilling second-half rally keyed after a long Navarre-to-Braylon Edwards pass for a touchdown that would've made the score 34-7 was called back for a hold. Two plays later, Michigan was punting out of its own end zone. Ohio State, the most resilient college team in years, seized the momentum and narrowed the gap to 28-21.
However, Navarre's hit a big third-down pass to reserve TE Tyler Ecker deep into OSU territory and Perry and the O-line took it from there, gashing the Buckeyes for an eight-play, 88-yard touchdown march to pave the way to Pasadena.