ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The timing couldn’t have been better.
There might have been years when Ohio State needed a win over Michigan more than it needed its 42-13 win over the Wolverines on Saturday.
Obviously, there have been years where beating Michigan meant more, like the chance to play for a national championship.
There probably have been years Ohio State celebrated wins over Michigan more. But if there were any, there weren’t many of them.
Seven days ago, Michigan State’s 17-14 win over OSU pushed the Buckeyes to the periphery of the College Football Playoff picture when it appeared they could be on their way to back-to-back invitations to the postseason.
Michigan State’s win over Penn State on Saturday means the Spartans and Iowa will play in the Big Ten championship game this Saturday night. OSU appears headed for a New Year’s Six major bowls.
A dominating performance against Michigan couldn’t put everything back together again. But it could send a message that the Michigan State game wasn’t what Ohio State was about.
It was a message the Buckeyes probably needed to hear as much or more as anyone on the outside did.
Coach Urban Meyer used words like, “a kick in the stomach” and “hollow” to describe how OSU’s players and coaches felt a week ago.
“You’re on a 23-game winning streak and you see everything snapped,” Meyer said.
Ezekiel Elliott snapped back from his worst game of the season to rush for 214 yards on 30 carries and scored two touchdowns, a week after complaining that he didn’t get the football enough against Michigan State.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett rushed for 139 yards on 19 carries, ran for three touchdowns and passed for another one.
A week after getting only 132 yards total offense and five first downs, Ohio State’s offense rolled up 482 yards – 369 of it on the ground.
Ohio State (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten) scored touchdowns six of the first eight times it had the ball on drives of 94 yards, 75 yards, 82 yards, 84 yards, 75 yards and 47 yards.
Michigan (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) kept it close early and was down only 14-10 at halftime. But Ohio State’s defense held the Wolverines to just 81 yards in the final two quarters, led by defensive end Joey Bosa, who was much more disruptive than his one sack, one tackle for a loss, one forced fumble and an interception showed.
Except for 42-7 and 37-7 wins over Rich Rodriguez-coached teams, you have to go back to 1968’s 50-14 win to find a bigger margin of victory for Ohio State in a Michigan game.
It was OSU’s eleventh win in the last 12 years against Michigan and its thirteenth in the last 15 times the two teams have played.
“I think we had to get that hurting feeling out of us. The only way to do that was to show up and dominate,” offensive tackle Taylor Decker said. “This was just a huge game to get that feeling out of us after that tough loss.
“We kind of came into this game saying the offensive line and Zeke (Elliott) were going to win it and that’s what we did. Offensively, this was our most dominant performance. We have talent all over the field, we just haven’t put it together,” he said.
In an attempt to use that talent better, Ohio State moved offensive coordinator Ed Warinner to the coaches booth in the press box and put him in charge of the play calling.
Warinner, also the offensive line coach, had been on the sideline the rest of the season.
“We had to make a move in getting the game called. Tuesday, I just said, ‘We’re going to do that,’ ” Meyer said.
Warinner said, “We made a decision and realized we needed to do something a little different for this game.”
Barrett said the biggest difference he noticed was that the Buckeyes could play faster with the new arrangement.
Elliott apologized again for his critical comments about OSU’s play calling against Michigan State.
“I really let my emotions get the most of me. I really regret everything I said. I strive to be the ultimate team player. I would never do anything to hurt this university or distract this team,” he said.
Meyer said no apology was needed and said Elliott and his family were at his house for Thanksgiving.
The big unanswered question, despite bouncing back in a big way, was why Ohio State couldn’t have played like this against Michigan State.
“You live and you learn. Last week we didn’t execute the plan very well and for some reason got away from what we did well,” Barrett said. “We just didn’t play well. There weren’t any secret formulas.”