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Saturday, November 18, 2006
Buckeyes, Wolverines light up Horseshoe scoreboard

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

COLUMBUS, Ohio. -- The next time someone tells you that defense wins championships, sit him down and tell him about the offensive orgy staged in The Horseshoe on Saturday.

Tell him about how No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan gave their defenses the day off, about how the two most traditional powers in the smashmouth Big Ten Conference did their best impersonations of the old Western Athletic Conference shootouts where no scoreboard was safe.

Tell him how Ohio State earned the chance to play for its second national championship in five seasons. And then tell him again, because he won't believe you the first time.

Ohio State outscored Michigan, 42-39, in a battle of unbeatens who didn't get there playing defense like this. But the Buckeyes will get to the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 8, having played like this. They will take with them a 19-game winning streak and a faith in each other that allowed them to overcome three second-half turnovers.

Troy Smith
Troy Smith tossed four touchdown passes against the Wolverines.
The Buckeyes clinched their plans for Jan. 8, and quarterback Troy Smith clinched his plans for Dec. 9. That's the night the Heisman Trophy will be awarded in New York to the Ohio State senior. He made sure of that by throwing for 316 yards and four touchdowns Saturday.

"It had the implications of a huge game," Smith said, "but the national championship is something different than this. This is The Ohio State University-University of Michigan game, the biggest game in college football, and today the best team won."

In the first Ohio State-Michigan game played without Bo Schembechler since 1968, the Buckeyes scored the most points they have scored against the Wolverines since … 1968, when Ohio State won, 50-14.

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said he refused to use Bo Schembechler's sudden death Friday for the Wolverines because it would "dishonor him. I simply told them the way we could honor him is to coach and play in a way that would have made him proud."

Michigan pushed its archrival harder than Ohio State had been pushed all season. But the Wolverines didn't play defense the way Schembechler coached in the Ten Year War. The truth is, neither team did.

The two best teams in the country met at Ohio Stadium in a rivalry that invented three yards and a cloud of dust, and they combined for 900 yards of offense and 81 points. The Buckeyes and Wolverines put on a Rocky Balboa-Apollo Creed show before 105,708 fans, the largest crowd in the history of this grand old hulk of concrete.

Six different Buckeyes scored a touchdown, the same number of touchdowns, by the way, that the Wolverines had allowed in seven previous Big Ten games.

"No, I never expected that to happen," Michigan defensive end LaMarr Woodley said.

Ohio State needed every one of those scores, for the lead was not safe until Ted Ginn Jr. cuddled an onside kick with just over two minutes to play. When it was over, Ohio State center Doug Datish, who took responsibility for two errant shotgun snaps that resulted in turnovers, said, "This is the most fun I've ever had playing a football game in my life."

On the other hand, Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, said, "A win is a win. We'll probably be sick to our stomachs watching the film. But we're going to the national championship."

Chris Wells
The Buckeyes never trailed after Chris Wells' 52-yard TD scamper.
The Michigan defense came into the game allowing only 29.9 rushing yards per game. Ohio State rushed for 187 yards and two touchdowns. The Wolverines hadn't allowed a run longer than 25 yards. In the second quarter, freshman Chris Wells ran up the middle for a 52-yard touchdown. In the third quarter, junior Antonio Pittman ran up the middle 56 yards for a score.

Wells took a handoff from Smith and collided with linebacker Prescott Burgess. Wells spun away from him, looked downfield, "and it was daylight," he said with a big grin.

The same thing happened to the Ohio State defense. The Buckeyes had allowed three rushing touchdowns all season, and they allowed three Saturday to Michigan junior Mike Hart. He finished with 142 yards on 23 carries.

"Our defensive coordinator [Jim Heacock] had prepared us," Buckeye senior defensive end Jay Richardson said. "He told us, 'They are going to put up points.' You had a whole lot of playmakers out there, a lot of great talent."

Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said he attempted to spread the field and give Smith as many as five receivers in the belief that he could get rid of the ball faster than even a fast Michigan front four could get to him.

"When you got a guy like Troy, a legitimate Heisman guy, you got to use him," Bollman said. "No one had really run the ball on these guys all year. Half the games they were minus-yards rushing. It wasn't like you were going to come out there and all of a sudden ram it down their throats. That would have been kind of foolish."

The strategy turned Smith into a heavy bag for the Wolverine defense on a lot of plays. He not only survived, he thrived.

"I've said for however many years we've been talking about Troy that his number one quality is his toughness," Tressel said.

"There's no way that I can get into a situation where I feel as if my legs hurt, my knee is hurt, my elbow is hurt and limp up or act like something is wrong with my body," Smith said, "because I've been in stuations where I've seen scout-team players constantly beat their bodies up, play after play, so I could never shortchange any of my teammates."

It was obvious right away that this game wouldn't be low-scoring. Michigan took the opening kickoff and went 80 yards in seven plays for a touchdown. Ohio State responded by going 69 yards in 14 plays to tie the score.

Mike Hart
Mike Hart rushed for 142 yards and three TDs against the Buckeyes.
When Michigan closed the deficit to 21-14 on Chad Henne's pass to Adrian Arrington with only 2:33 left in the second quarter, Smith directed a Peytonesque two-minute drive, throwing an eight-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Gonzalez with :20 to spare. Smith completed four passes to Gonzalez, his go-to guy all season, on the drive. That's worth noting because a) he had not attempted a pass to Gonzalez in the first 27 minutes of the game, and b) he didn't complete another one to him in the rest of the game.

"We were winning," Gonzalez said. "Who cares how many balls you catch?"

That mirrored the mentality of the Ohio State defense, which sacked Henne four times but still allowed him to complete 21 of 35 passes for 267 yards. Henne's last two passes, a 16-yard touchdown to Tyler Ecker and a two-point conversion to Steve Breaston, pulled Michigan within a field goal with 2:16 to play.

But Ginn recovered the onside kick, and the Buckeyes ran out the clock.

"It was tough," defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock said. "As a defense -- the offense was doing well -- we thought we could get ahead of them and get some pressure. … We knew Mike Hart was going to be the best back we faced. If you give him an opening, he's going to take it. They are a great team. He's a great back. He was breaking tackles left and right. What can you say?"

You can say that you're going to the BCS Championship Game, that the seniors earned their third consecutive pair of golden pants, the charm awarded to Ohio State players who beat Michigan. You can say that you clinched their first outright Big Ten championship since 1984.

When Tressel made that point in the news conference after the game, Pitcock elbowed his fellow co-captain Datish, held up one finger and said, "I was one year old."

A lot of Buckeyes weren't alive in 1984. They may live a long time before they see a game like this again.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.