COLUMBUS, Ohio — All games end, technically, except that some continue on into forever. That phenomenon seemed well underway in the rapturous faces of Ohio State fans who spilled onto the field Saturday afternoon, for they had just scaled the heights of unforgettable, socially accepted rivalry contempt. It seemed in progress upon the faces of Michigan players trudging out, heckled by a smattering of Buckeye fans, and upon Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh, whose decorated career had just reached a nadir set to last as a reference point.
What happened in front of 106,588 in Ohio Stadium took a slew of entrenched suppositions built up across this fall and shook them haywire. No. 10 Ohio State’s 62-39 win over No. 4 Michigan redirected Michigan’s lofty season from what seemed a dreamy juncture to the kind of thing that can keep you up nights. The Buckeyes rang up the highest point total scored in regulation against Michigan in its 139 years playing football. They gained 567 total yards. The decimation forced a redefinition of a unit ranked No. 1 nationally and deemed peerless.
Ohio State’s merry trip from 10-1 to 11-1 took it from sort of an odd team with something amiss to a team headed for the Big Ten championship game against Northwestern and headed back into the College Football Playoff discussion, one week after it barely shook off an admirable Maryland. Suddenly its coach, Urban Meyer, freshly 7-0 against Michigan while Harbaugh stands 0-4 against Ohio State, spoke rationally of “a focused team that loves each other,” and “a very healthy, strong program,” calling it a “love game,” or “one of those games when you hear that [word] ‘brotherhood.’ ”
He said: “The team we beat today was very good. That was a very, very good team, with excellent players.”
Those excellent players got befuddled all around the place — riddled by schemes and whooshed past by blurs. Asked to describe what had just happened, Michigan running back Chris Evans said, “Um,” then closed with, “Whew.”
Ohio State wide receiver Parris Campbell took a little forward handoff, got to the edge and blasted 78 yards for a touchdown. Wide receiver Johnnie Dixon turned up alone in the end zone to catch a 31-yard touchdown. Asked if he could pinpoint a moment when momentum turned, the 6-foot-7 Ohio State offensive tackle Isaiah Prince reeled off the names of the dashers who averaged 8.5 yards per play and said, “They all made so many plays, I really couldn’t tell you.”
He and his teammates had vowed not to look at the scoreboard, he said. So they didn’t, he said. Finally, they did, as fans booed bloodthirstily when Meyer closed the game by having quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who threw for 318 yards and five touchdowns, take a knee inside the Michigan 10-yard line.
“I don’t know about 62,” Haskins said, “but I knew we were going to come out and put on a show.”
That show stretched to people not expected to star in it. That would be Chris Olave, a freshman wide receiver who spent the Nov. 24 of 12 months ago catching nine passes in a San Diego section semifinal as his Mission Hills team squeezed past Torrey Pines, 20-17. The fans reportedly packed the place at Mission Hills that day, but now Olave shone before 106,000-plus with two 24-yard touchdown receptions early on — on a shadow cross and then a feat of tightroping along the sideline to go around a defender. Implausibly, he added a stunning blocked punt in the third quarter that led to Sevyn Banks’s 33-yard touchdown return, which made the score 34-19 and indicated that Michigan’s mission of avenging its four conference defeats from 2017 would dry up one painful rung short.
Even the punt play whirred by Michigan. In the scheme, Olave was asked to begin out on the right edge, then move leftward along the line briefly before charging in. Meyer credited assistant coach Greg Schiano with the play yet spent the week figuring it wouldn’t work. It took too long to get there.
Olave doesn’t take long to get anywhere, so there he stood late Saturday afternoon, smiling gently, surrounded by a vast blob of reporters and recorders. “Yes, I’m definitely amazed,” he said. “I’m just thankful for everything.” Of the crowd Meyer adored, Olave said: “It’s crazy, a hundred and six thousand. It’s crazy to think about, unbelievable.” Haskins called Olave, who got playing time largely because of an injury to Austin Mack, a “really smooth, silky receiver.”
Meyer called him “a monster.”
Dixon, a fifth-year senior, traipsed past Olave’s media blob and said, “I’m your biggest fan,” coaxing a blush.
Everything seemed renovated utterly from how it seemed at quarter to noon, just before kickoff. Harbaugh, after 10 straight wins restored his status as a titan, had a new, deep thud to comprehend as his 10-2 team toppled from the playoff shelf. His front seven, the team’s harbor of toughness, recorded a sack total that turned out crucial: zero. His team, which hadn’t allowed more than 24 points all season and had allowed only three opponents beyond 300 total yards, looked suddenly outdated. It’s advantage in time of possession (35:24 to 24:36) only heightened its plodding pace.
Harbaugh kept it stoic and magnanimous. He began: “Um, when things go good, when things go great, then good. If it doesn’t, then you take responsibility for it.” He saw “a lot of speed plays that got out on the perimeter and got loose.”
Asked if the proceedings shocked him, he paused briefly and then said: “I thought Ohio State played really well, in all phases, did a heck of a job. They’re a good football team.”
Reminded of his knowledge as a historian of the rivalry, and asked if he knew Ohio State had never scored more than 50 points against Michigan, Harbaugh said: “I believe I did, yes. And congratulations to them. They played really well.”
Evans said: “We come to Michigan to beat Ohio. So this would have put the exclamation mark on the season. . . .”
Michigan wide receiver Nico Collins said, “Throughout the whole season we had one goal, and that was to win, tonight.”
Instead, he had the football geeks staring all the way back to 1891, when Cornell scored 58 on Michigan in Detroit before a crowd of 2,300. That record — for regulation time — had just collapsed after 127 years, and nobody could quite believe how, even those home fans exiting the stadium with faces unusually aglow.