Instant Analysis: Ohio State downs Michigan in Meyer-Harbaugh clash
1. Buckeyes coach Meyer may not have agreed with the way Ezekiel Elliott sent his message following Ohio State’s 17–14 loss to Michigan State a week earlier, but the coaching staff obviously received Elliott’s message.
Elliott popped off after last week’s loss, telling reporters he deserved more carries than the 12 he got. Nine of those came before the 12:45 mark of last Saturday's second quarter, and then Ohio State coaches essentially forgot Elliott was on the roster for the final 41 minutes against the Spartans. The Buckeyes fed Elliott often in this one, and their running game prospered for it. He gained 214 yards on 30 carries—passing Eddie George for second on Ohio State’s all-time rushing list in the process—and the Wolverines’ fear of what Elliott might do with the ball helped open running lanes for quarterback J.T. Barrett on read-option plays that began with fakes to Elliott.
Elliott set up Ohio State’s first touchdown with a 66-yard run in the first quarter. He recorded the Buckeyes’ second score on a five-yard run shortly before halftime. And while Elliott broke his share of tackles, the Buckeyes’ offensive line did a much better job opening holes against Michigan than it did against Michigan State. For the game, Ohio State averaged 6.8 yards a carry. While the Buckeyes’ offense normally incorporates some option elements, there were stretches on Saturday during which Ohio State looked like a service academy that had managed to land a host of five-star recruits. Unlike last week’s ineffective play-calling, this heavy dose of option was precisely the recipe to take advantage of Michigan’s banged-up defensive line and a linebacking corps that was the Wolverines’ weak spot.
Elliott, who stands to make lots of money in the NFL, probably wouldn’t want the offensive coordinator job after Saturday, but he did a fine job with it this week.
We kid. (We think.)
Meanwhile, Buckeyes end Joey Bosa continued to be one of the most disruptive defenders in America. Even before his fourth-quarter sack of Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock knocked Rudock from the game, Bosa spent much of the afternoon in the Wolverines’ backfield.
2. Whether the Buckeyes get a chance to defend their national championship will likely depend on what happens 60 miles north in East Lansing.
The Penn State-Michigan State game kicked off just after Ohio State’s win. If the Spartans win, they’ll capture the Big Ten East Division and play Iowa for the Big Ten title next week in Indianapolis. If the Nittany Lions pull the upset, Ohio State will win the division and face the Hawkeyes for the Big Ten championship and possibly for a berth in the College Football Playoff.
3. Michigan finished the regular season 9–3, and while Harbaugh probably wouldn’t use the term because of the way his team lost to the Buckeyes, the Wolverines’ first season under Harbaugh was an unqualified success.
Harbaugh took over a team that went 5–7 last season and turned it into a winner. The next step is recruiting players good enough to routinely compete with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan State. The fact that Michigan outplayed the Spartans for most of their meeting on Oct. 17 and lost on a crazy special teams play is a sign that Harbaugh’s 2015 players can fit on such teams, but Saturday’s defeat exposed the difference in talent and depth between the Buckeyes and Wolverines. Ohio State has won 11 of its last 12 matchups with Michigan and has won all four meetings since Meyer took over in Columbus.
Given Harbaugh’s previous success building Stanford’s program through recruiting, it shouldn’t take long before Michigan can regularly go toe-to-toe with the Spartans and the Buckeyes. Michigan’s next stop will probably be a bowl destination in sunny Florida. (Outside the six bowls determined by the College Football Playoff selection committee, because Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State will likely occupy all of the spots available to Big Ten teams.) Unlike last season, the Wolverines will have 15 extra practices to develop young players in advance of next season. With Harbaugh in Ann Arbor, Meyer in Columbus and Mark Dantonio in East Lansing all churning out winners, the Big Ten’s East Division will be fun to watch in the next few years.