No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Michigan: Remembering the Classic 2006 Game

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No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Michigan: Remembering the Classic 2006 Game
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The Game.

That’s the moniker assigned to the annual matchup between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Michigan Wolverines—two bitter and battle-torn rivals that share as much animosity for each other as they do respect.

The Game, declarative in nature, suggests an event that’s all encompassing. On a year-to-year basis, that’s certainly the case for these two teams, grafted together by state lines and decades of history.

On November 18, 2006, The Game transcended past its Midwest roots and captured the attention of the college football world.

It was No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Michigan.

The Buckeyes and the Wolverines took the field and orchestrated a three-hour symphony of football perfection. Every play, series and momentum swingpieced together by two brilliant conductors in Jim Tressel and Lloyd Carrdazzled those fortunate enough to see it unfold.

In the aftermath, it was dubbed “The Game of the Century.”

A title like that, though, isn’t earned by four quarters of quality play. Three months of anticipation, and stakes higher than The Game had ever seen, set the 2006 contest apart.

 

A Season of Hype

After ending the 2005 season with a 34-20 demolition of No. 5 Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State entered 2006 as the country's top-ranked team. The Buckeyes were returning eight starters to an explosive offense led by Heisman Trophy frontrunner Troy Smith at quarterback.

Michigan, however, entered the season with meager expectations after a five-loss campaign the previous year. The Wolverines, who returned six starters to either side of the ball, came in at No. 14 in the preseason AP poll.

Both teams made huge statements on the road early in the year.

The Buckeyes headed south in Week 2 to earn redemption against No. 2 Texas. In 2005, Vince Young's Longhorns invaded the 'Shoe and escaped with a 25-22 victory. 

The rematch wasn't nearly as close. Ohio State's defense, which only returned two starters, flustered freshman quarterback Colt McCoy, and Smith and the offense turned in a number of big plays to claim a convincing and validating 24-7 win.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ohio State's early win over Texas validated the Buckeyes as the nation's top team.

A week later, Michigan got some revenge of its own against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, which had taken Texas' spot as the No. 2 team. The Wolverines had lost to Notre Dame 17-10 the year before, but in South Bend, Ind., there were dramatically different results.

Michigan throttled the Fighting Irish, racing out to a 34-7 lead in the first half before cruising to a 47-21 victory.

Those two games sparked the entertaining possibility of Ohio State and Michigan meeting in the regular-season finale without a blemish.

With each passing week, that possibility morphed into an inevitability. 

Ohio State beat its first 11 opponents by an average of 28 points, and only struggled in a 17-10 victory over Illinois. Michigan, which claimed the No. 2 ranking in Week 8, boasted a margin of victory of 17.2. The Buckeyes and the Wolverines were the two most impressive-looking teams in the country, and they shared 22 victories without suffering a single loss.

After Michigan hammered Indiana the week leading up to the titanic showdown, then Hoosiers coach Terry Hoeppner described the building anticipation accurately.

"I guess that's what everybody's been wanting," Hoeppner said, according to Joe Vardon of The Toledo Blade. "Well, they get the big showdown next week."

 

No. 1 vs. No. 2

For the first time ever, Ohio State and Michigan were meeting as the two top-ranked teams, with the victor earning a spot in the national title game.

The Wolverines struck first.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Quarterback Chad Henne orchestrated a seven-play, 80-yard drive as Michigan took an early 7-0 lead. Smith and the Buckeyes answered right back with a methodical 14-play touchdown drive of their own, foreshadowing the shootout ahead.

Early in the second quarter, freshman running back Chris "Beanie" Wells busted the first of many big plays for the Buckeyes. Ohio State was at its own 48-yard line when Wells took a handoff and raced 52 yards to the end zone.

In a conversation with Bleacher Report, Kirk Barton, the starting right tackle for the '06 Buckeyes, remembered that game-breaking play vividly.

"Wells breaking that long run early in the game, I ran up, and my job was to block the safety," Barton said. "So I got the safety. I ran up and shoved him right into the umpire, and that umpire went flying. Beanie went for 50-plus yards, and I was watching this umpire get crushed."

The Buckeyes' offense started treating Michigan's defense like Barton did that umpire.

On Ohio State's ensuing drive, Smith wiggled away from a blitzing Michigan defender and found Brian Robiskie for a 40-yard gain. Two plays later, Smith executed a play-action fake to perfection and hit a streaking Ted Ginn Jr. for a 39-yard touchdown. 

The Buckeyes were up 21-7, and Michigan needed an answer. Once again, the Wolverines put together an 80-yard touchdown drive, but this one was fueled by running back Mike Hart.

There were less than three minutes left on the clock, but Ohio State only needed two minutes to get into the end zone again. The Buckeyes went up-tempo and put together their own 80-yard drive, capped by an eight-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Anthony Gonazelez.

At halftime, two of the best defenses in the country had surrendered a total of 42 points.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Quinn Pitcock, Ohio State's All-American defensive tackle, was surprised by how much success the offenses had.

"It was different, having those long drives going back and forth," Pitcock told Bleacher Report. "I had never played in a game like that and won. We had always kept teams in a lower-scoring game."

Ohio State's 14-point lead evaporated quickly. 

Troy Smith opened the third quarter with three straight incompletions, and the Buckeyes were forced to punt. Michigan answered with a 60-yard touchdown drive, and after Smith threw his only interception of the game, the Wolverines added a field goal to cut Ohio State's lead to four.

For the first time since the first quarter, Michigan had the momentum. It only took the Buckeyes two plays to get it back.

Midway through the third quarter, Smith completed his first pass of the half on a quick nine-yard out to Ginn. On the next play, running back Antonio Pittman broke through Michigan's defense for a 56-yard touchdown, giving the Buckeyes a 35-24 lead.

Ohio State kept that 11-point lead until the beginning of the fourth quarter. Michigan was set up inside the Buckeyes' 10-yard line after Michigan pounced on a fumbled snap, and the Wolverines capitalized three plays later when Hart punched it in from one yard out.

With 10 minutes left and a four-point lead, Ohio State had the opportunity to put the game away. As it had all game, the Ohio State offense came through.

The Buckeyes put together an 11-play, 83-yard drive that took five minutes off the clock. Most of the damage was done on the ground, but Smith finished the drive with an 13-yard strike to Robiskie.

Michigan responded with a quick touchdown of its own, but after a failed onside kick, the Buckeyes ran out the clock to secure a 42-39 victory.

With an unbeatable lead in the Heisman Trophy race and a spot to the national title game, Smith could only talk about one thing after the dramatic victory.

“The national championship was something aside, was something different from this,” Smith said, according to Ralph Russo of the AP. “This is the Ohio State University-Michigan game. It’s the biggest game in college football.”

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

All stats via ESPN.com.

David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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