COLUMBUS — With everything on the line on Saturday, No. 2 Ohio State fell flat on its face as a dominant second half boosted No. 3 Michigan to a 45-23 win over the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium.
Seldom asked to rely on his arm this season, Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy became a focal point early in the game when injured star running back Blake Corum lasted just one series before exiting the game. McCarthy delivered in spectacular fashion, throwing for 263 yards and three touchdowns while adding a touchdown on the ground in a career day for the first-year starter.
Receiver Cornelius Johnson hauled in four of McCarthy’s passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns, and Donovan Edwards took over late to rush for 220 yards to boost Michigan to the Big Ten Championship and, likely, the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud finished with 349 passing yards and two touchdowns to lead Ohio State, and emergency running back DeaMonte Trayanum for 84 yards on 14 carries to lead an effective rushing attack. It hardly mattered, however, as the Ohio State defense was torched for 530 yards of total offense.
“I thought we had a really good week of preparation,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said following the game. “I thought we were building towards playing really well in this game, and we were fighting there in the first half. I felt really good going into the second half, and we just didn’t execute well enough … I thought we played hard, but in the end, we came up short.”
There was no shortage of fireworks throughout the first half as the teams combined for 37 points in a shootout few could have predicted leading up to the game.
Things started off well enough for Ohio State as it got the scoring started on the opening drive of the game. Stroud connected with Emeka Egbuka for a 3-yard touchdown pass to cap off a 12-play, 81-yard drive, and Ruggles’ extra point made it 7-0 five minutes into the game.
Michigan responded with a scoring drive of its own on the ensuing possession with a 48-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3. The drive was aided by a 33-yard completion from McCarthy to Ronnie Bell on a play in which Ohio State cornerback Denzel Burke fell down in coverage, a sign of things to come for the Ohio State secondary.
Ruggles’ 32-yard field goal increased Ohio State’s lead to 10-3 heading into the second quarter, but several missed opportunities to add to the lead allowed McCarthy and Michigan to stay within striking distance. And strike they did.
Midway through the second quarter, McCarthy found Johnson for 10 yards on 3rd and 9, and Johnson broke through a tackle attempt from Cam Brown before racing 69 yards to the end zone to tie the game at 10-10.
The woes continued for the Ohio State secondary as the game neared halftime. A wide-open Johnson was again on the receiving end of a McCarthy touchdown pass, this time from 75 yards out, as Michigan claimed its first lead of the game at 17-13.
Ohio State regained the lead and fleeting momentum just before halftime when Stroud found Marvin Harrison Jr. for 42 yards and a touchdown, sending them into the locker room with a 20-17 lead.
Ohio State held the formidable Michigan rushing attack to just 10 yards in the first half, but it hardly mattered as McCarthy continued to take full advantage of continuous busts in the Ohio State secondary.
Michigan wasted no time in setting the tone of the second half after receiving the opening kickoff. McCarthy’s 45-yard touchdown pass to an uncovered Colston Loveland capped a seven-play drive and gave Michigan a 24-20 lead it would never relinquish.
McCarthy added a rushing touchdown early in the fourth quarter to increase the lead to 31-20 as Michigan began to pull away, and a pair of long touchdown runs by Donovan Edwards polished off the emphatic beatdown as the Wolverines outscored Ohio State 28-3 in the second half.
“It was just way too many big plays,” Day said. “On offense, we had too many penalties that got us off schedule, and we just didn’t do a good job of converting on third down. Add those things together and then it gets out of hand because we probably threw the ball too much.”
While unlikely, Ohio State must now play the waiting game to see if a path to the College Football Playoff still exists or if it will head back to the Rose Bowl for a second consecutive consolation prize game in Pasadena.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.