The No. 1 Buckeyes, who have soared through this late summer and autumn with so few of the football inconveniences that snag most others, reached 12-0 with their 56-27 win during which even agony proved temporary. As they ratcheted up their two-year tally over their loathed rival to 118-66, and did so before 112,071 at Michigan Stadium, an injury to quarterback Justin Fields somehow wound up turning into something storybook.
In the third quarter, Fields’s left leg got the brunt of a falling tight end, whereupon he stayed down, got up, gave way to backup Chris Chugunov and disappeared into the injury tent.
“I said a prayer, real quick, just to make sure he was all right,” offensive lineman Jonah Jackson said.
Befitting a season in which a snag becomes a shrug, then, Fields merely attained a new brace for his aggravated left-knee sprain, returned seven plays later, rolled out to the left, stopped, shipped a flawless 30-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson in the back of the end zone with 4:52 still left in the third quarter, and made the score 42-16.
“I just wondered, ‘Where was Chugs at?” Jackson said of Chugunov, the return and the touchdown having come in such a blur.
Thus did even a hint of a horror come up with a hint of Heisman, as in “Heisman moment,” Ryan Day’s assessment of a throw of which Ohio State’s first-year coach said, “That’s about as good a throw as I’ve seen in a long time.”
It also piled atop the 35-16 Fields and his mates had created seven minutes earlier, with their six-play, 75-yard drive to start the second half. That, in turn, had piled atop their 28-16 lead at halftime, when J.K. Dobbins already had 103 rushing yards on a day when he would use his outsized inner motor toward a career-high 211, score four touchdowns, still claim to be overlooked at 5-foot-10 and say, “I’m not satisfied. I’m not even close to being satisfied.”
All of that, of course, piled atop last year’s 62-39 beauty or eyesore — depending upon one’s viewpoint — in which Ohio State, as on Saturday, simply looked a sturdy notch more capable at all the basic arts of football than did a storied rival long deemed an equal.
“I just think we take it more seriously than they do, I think,” Fields said.
“Well, you know, once this game’s over, it’s 364 days preparing for it, for next year,” Jackson said.
“Ever since I took the job” last December, Day said, “it’s been on my mind. I know what this game means to the people of Ohio, to Buckeye Nation, and coming off one of the best coaches in the history of college football.”
He soon added, “To say there’s not stress coming into a game like this would be a lie,” and, “Just overcome with emotion right now. There’s just so much that goes into this game. We live it year-round.”
And when the idea of the gap between the perceived longtime equals went in the form of a question toward Harbaugh the accomplished Super Bowl-veteran Michigan coach replied, “I mean, I’ll answer your questions, not your insults.”
His team had done some things. It had made the 42-16 score partially heal to 42-27. It had gained 396 total yards. It had run some plays on which its receivers got desirably lonesome, two of them (Sean McKeon and Donovan Peoples-Jones) on a blitzkrieg first-half drive. It did a commendable job on Ohio State star defensive end Chase Young, who said: “It was like every third down there was an extra guy. It was definitely a challenge. You know, I like challenges.”
And it, Michigan, began the game going 75 yards in seven varied plays before many could exit their traditional fogs of morning libations and reach the upper reaches of the students’ section. When the receiver Giles Jackson swept left, stormed the sideline and banged into the end zone, a hopeful cheer rang around the old stadium.
Harbaugh raised his arms. Michigan missed the extra point. That began a litany of football sins unaffordable against an opponent of such caliber and confidence.
Sins included an absurdity of a much-deserved penalty when defensive lineman Carlo Kemp took time at the end of the play to carefully remove Dobbins’s left shoe; a fumbled snap from the Ohio State 12-yard line and from quarterback Shea Patterson, the football squirting through the scrum until Ohio State’s Robert Landers located it (“I seen brown!” Landers said wonderfully); an abominable offsides on an Ohio State punt; and a time with the score 28-13 when Peoples-Jones went up to get a touchdown catch but could not come down with it, couldn’t hang onto a touchdown catch, Ohio State’s Jordan Fuller helping out with the incompletion.
Come the third quarter, sins metastasized with a play of unusual lousiness when Fields wisely gave up on a play and ran so far out of bounds he could have greeted front-row fans, only to take a very tardy whack from linebacker Cameron McGrone. That helped give Ohio State a first down at the Michigan 2-yard line, a further case of unneeded help.
Before and in between all that, Ohio State kept making the plays that reminded everyone how it consistently has aced this season, and how it doesn’t need an opponent’s help.
Dobbins rushed aced an opening drive when he fumbled along the way to a 34-yard run, but caught the fumble on the bounce as if dribbling in the arena nearby, and put an optical illusion of a leftward move on Michigan defensive back Ambry Thomas to gain 28 on third and 14. Fields threw a searing 57-yard touchdown pass to Chris Olave, who met with the football only five yards from the end zone.
Fields, with the twin obstacles of a second and 19 and a linebacker (Josh Uche) screaming in full-on, flicked a pass to Garrett Wilson for a 41-yard gain that set up Dobbins’s six-yard touchdown. Fields, operating with the gift of the offsides sin, hurled a 47-yard pass to Wilson, who fended off his only company downfield, Vincent Gray, for the haul-in. One brisk play after that, Dobbins scored from five yards out.
By then, the scoreboard had hit its 28-13. By the third quarter, it had hit its 42-16. By then, those upper reaches in the corner had emptied again. By soon, Day got to say, “I mean, you kidding me? It’s really hard to go 12-0, and I’m really proud of everybody.”