How Michigan beat Ohio State for the first time in a decade

·5 min read

Michigan's first win against Ohio State in a decade will send the Wolverines to the Big Ten championship game with a College Football Playoff berth on the line.

Snapping the losing streak carries enormous meaning beyond the fact that Michigan may play for the program's first national championship since 1997. For the Wolverines, this is a cathartic, narrative-shifting moment loaded with ramifications that will echo until the two rivals meet again next November.

And for coach Jim Harbaugh, the win overwrites his repeated failures against the Buckeyes, which had been the defining aspect of a coaching tenure that seemed in danger of crumbling on the heels of a disappointing pandemic season.

Here's how the Wolverines claimed one of the biggest wins in this rivalry's history:

With energy and aggression

Michigan was the aggressor from the start, with a march into the end zone on the game's opening possession quickly followed by a key defensive stand to set a tempo that would last through the final whistle. For the first time under Harbaugh, the Wolverines made OSU play their game — forcing the battle to occur at the point of attack on both sides. Michigan won those battles handily.

The offensive line bulldozed the Buckeyes' front seven and paved the way for 297 rushing yards and six scores on 41 carries. Ohio State's defensive front ended with zero sacks and zero tackles for loss.

To put this into perspective, the yardage on the ground is 45 more than the Wolverines' total in the past two meetings in this series. Only once in the previous five meetings had Michigan gone for more than 100 yards. The last time Michigan went for more than 200 yards against the Buckeyes was in 2011, the program's last win before Saturday.

Michigan's defensive line was able to get to quarterback C.J. Stroud with just four rushers, even forcing OSU to bring an extra blocker at times to help form a clean pocket. This group also helped hold the Buckeyes to just 64 yards on 30 carries, the fewest yards OSU and the program's lowest average yards per carry since gaining 35 yards on 0.9 yards per carry against Michigan State in 2011.

By shutting down the Buckeyes' running game and bringing pressure against the pass, the Wolverines held Stroud to just 8.04 yards per throw, his second-lowest average in Big Ten play.

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By playing smarter football

Michigan did have the game's only turnover, so it wasn't a flawless performance. But the homefield advantage clearly came into play for the Buckeyes' offensive line, which was flagged multiple times for false starts, and the Wolverines' constant pressure almost undoubtedly contributed to a huge gap in penalties: OSU committed 10 for 66 yards while Michigan just a pair for 20 yards.

Because of Aidan Hutchinson

Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson collected three sacks against Ohio State.
Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson collected three sacks against Ohio State.

For all the praise heaped on Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, the Wolverines have the nation's most impactful defender: senior end Aidan Hutchinson, who opted to return for one last season and has made the difference countless times in his team's division championship.

He had three sacks and was constantly at the center of the action, chewing up a run of high-profile offensive linemen and making a late case for being one of the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy in a year when no clear favorite has emerged. Given how he dominated the game and led Michigan to the win, Hutchinson has to be considered a better pick than Stroud, who was the frontrunner after last week's win against Michigan State.

By sticking to the script

Michigan had a game plan and never deviated from that blueprint. The end result was a second-half bloodbath: five drives and five touchdowns to close the game and send OSU limping back to Columbus. The last of those five drives, a five-play, 63-yard backbreaker composed entirely of running plays to take a 42-27 lead, will surely find its way into the program's historic highlight reel.

And that was how the Wolverines played all afternoon. Quarterback Cade McNamara made just 20 pass attempts. The heavy lifting instead was done by running back Hassan Haskins, who carried the ball 28 times for 169 yards and five scores.

And because of Harbaugh

If driven by dollars and cents as much as the underlying sense of faith that he was the best option to lead the program, Michigan's decision to bring Harbaugh back after a painful 2020 season — if with a reworked, school-friendly contract — paved the way for Saturday's win. Harbaugh laid out his plan at Big Ten media days this summer: Michigan was going to beat Ohio State and play for the conference championship "or die trying."

That motivation came through against the Buckeyes. This may not be the most talented team of Harbaugh's tenure; this is now an offensively gifted squad, though offensive coordinator Josh Gattis has clearly grown in the job, and there have been previous teams under Harbaugh with as much if not more NFL-ready talent.

Yet Harbaugh milked a Big Ten East championship out of this group, leaving no doubt that he should be the conference coach of the year and in the running for national accolades after finally breaking through at his alma mater.

Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Michigan beat Ohio State for first time since 2011. Here's how

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