Ohio State vs. Michigan: 10 Things We Learned in Buckeyes' Win
No. 3 Ohio State came into its game against Michigan as 16-point favorites.
After surviving a furious Wolverines rally, the Buckeyes left as one-point victors.
Two of college football's fiercest rivals staged an absolute classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., as the Wolverines (7-5) used an inspired offense to push the Buckeyes (12-0) to the brink of a huge upset.
It all came down to one play. In the end, Ohio State found an answer to secure a much-needed 42-41 victory and, in turn, stay alive in the race for a national title.
Here's what we learned from Ohio State's closer-than-expected win.
Brady Hoke Is...Gutsy
Trailing 42-35 with less than a minute to go, Devin Gardner found Devin Funchess in the end zone from two yards out for the score
The extra point would have tied the game, but Brady Hoke wanted none of that.
After an Urban Meyer timeout, Hoke called a familiar play for Michigan's two-point conversion attempt. The Wolverines stacked three receivers on the right side of the field, and Gardner was looking for Drew Dileo underneath.
Ohio State was ready, though, and Tyvis Powell jumped the route and picked off Gardner's pass to preserve the win.
Even though the play wasn't successful, it showed Hoke has no problem pulling the trigger on a game-changing decision when others wouldn't.
As Always, the Records Mean Nothing
With Michigan's struggling offense, Ohio State looked like a lock to run away with this game.
The Wolverines were averaging less than 17 points and 217 total yards of offense per game in the month of November. The rushing attack was anemic, and during a two-week stretch against Michigan State and Nebraska, Michigan rushed for minus-69 yards.
Three of the Wolverines' four losses also came in November, setting up what many thought would be a blowout loss to Ohio State.
Michigan looked nothing like a four-loss team on Saturday. Gardner was brilliant, the rushing attack complemented the passing attack nicely and the offensive line played its best game of the year.
All of that added up to Michigan's best all-around performance of the year, and it was almost good enough to hand Ohio State its first loss in two years.
Michigan Was Tired of Hearing About Ohio State
Michigan played inspired football on Saturday, and it was clear from the start the Wolverines were looking to prove a point.
The offensive line set the tone.
Maligned all year, Michigan flipped the script against the Buckeyes. The Wolverines, led by senior left tackle Taylor Lewan, consistently got tremendous push up front. Michigan ran for 152 yards, a huge difference from the 32 yards it was averaging in its last four games.
Following the game, Lewan wasn't impressed with the Buckeyes.
"That's not the No. 3 team in the country," Lewan said, according to Everett Cook of The Michigan Daily.
Whether that's an accurate assessment or not, it's clear Michigan played with an attitude.
Dontre Wilson and Marcus Hall Have Quite the Temper
Early in the second quarter, following Michigan's third touchdown of the day, Dontre Wilson fielded a routine kickoff and brought it out to the Ohio State 16-yard line.
That's when things got heated.
Wilson was surrounded by Michigan defenders, and it escalated quickly as punches were thrown on both sides.
Two notable Ohio State players were ejected—starting right guard Marcus Hall and Wilson, who is a pivotal playmaker in the Buckeyes offense.
As Hall left the field, ABC cameras found him on the sideline kicking benches on his way to the tunnel. On his way out, Hall gave the Michigan faithful a parting gift that will surely be brought to Urban Meyer's attention.
Devin Gardner Saved His Best for Last
Gardner, and by extension the Michigan offense, has had an up-and-down 2013 campaign.
Against Ohio State, Gardner looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
The junior signal-caller completed 71 percent of his passes for an unbelievable 451 yards and five total touchdowns against the Buckeyes. Gardner was also effective on the ground, running the option perfectly on a pair of red-zone touchdowns in the first half.
Michigan certainly needed that big performance.
The Wolverines were abysmal in their loss to Iowa last week, gaining just 158 total yards in a 24-21 loss. The offense, which runs through Gardner, was hampered as he threw for just 98 yards.
Michigan looked like a completely different team against Ohio State, and that's because of Gardner's excellent play. Without him, this game would have been the blowout many anticipated.
When the Game Is on the Line, Urban Meyer Is Keeping the Ball on the Ground
After two Michigan touchdowns erased Ohio State's 35-21 second-half lead, the Buckeyes got the ball back with five minutes left, desperately needing an answer.
Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde, once again, came through for the Buckeyes.
Miller got the drive going with a 32-yard run on first down. Hyde finished it off, running for 21 yards on four carries, including the one-yard go-ahead touchdown.
Urban Meyer didn't call for a single pass on the six-play, 65-yard drive. When the Buckeyes needed a touchdown, they turned to one of the most dangerous backfields in the country, and Miller and Hyde delivered.
Ohio State's Offensive Line Deserves the Game Ball
Although players such as Miller and Hyde get most of the credit, Ohio State's offensive line was the difference.
The Buckeyes' O-line bullied Michigan's defensive front. Ohio State rushed for 393 yards on just 46 carries, giving the Buckeyes 8.9 yards per rush.
The loss of right guard Marcus Hall, who is one of four seniors up front, could have crippled the Buckeyes. Pat Elflein, a redshirt freshman out of Pickerington, Ohio, stepped in and played an outstanding game.
Left tackle Jack Mewhort, left guard Andrew Norwell and center Corey Linsley were all very good as the Buckeyes consistently pounded the left side of Michigan's defense.
The game ball should go to the big guys up front.
Ohio State's Defense Still Has Some Serious Issues
Much like Michigan's offense, Ohio State's defense has had an up-and-down season.
The Buckeyes seem to be alternating between dominant and ghastly performances. Against Michigan, it was certainly the latter.
Ohio State gave up 41 points and 603 yards to an offense that only produced five touchdowns in the last four games, two of which came in overtime against Northwestern.
The Buckeyes looked to be getting on track at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second, forcing three consecutive punts after Michigan opened the game with three consecutive touchdown drives.
After Ohio State secured a 35-21 lead in the third quarter, Michigan became unstoppable. The Wolverines scored three touchdowns and gained 167 yards in the fourth quarter alone. The only play Ohio State's defense made down the stretch was on Michigan's two-point conversion attempt.
Bradley Roby was consistently beat, as his man—Jeremy Gallon—caught nine passes for 175 yards and a touchdown. The defensive line created very little pressure in pass situations and got pushed off the ball in the run.
Luke Fickell has to rally the troops before the Big Ten title game.
The Buckeyes Needed to Survive a Scare
Almost every team that finishes the year undefeated survives an unlikely scare.
Last year, the Buckeyes were pushed to the edge by a 3-3 Purdue team that had no business hanging with Ohio State, in Columbus no less. The Buckeyes trailed the Boilermakers by eight with less than a minute to go, but backup quarterback Kenny Guiton orchestrated a comeback for the ages as Ohio State went on to win 29-22 in overtime.
This year's Buckeyes survived Northwestern's upset bid in Week 6, but this game had a similar feel to the 2012 Purdue game.
Michigan made all of the plays and largely outplayed the Buckeyes. The game came down to one snap, and with an undefeated season hanging in the balance, a scarcely used freshman in Tyvis Powell came to the rescue.
It's games like these that usually end perfection. Ohio State persevered.
This Rivalry Needed This Game
Ohio State has dominated the series recently, winning nine of the last 10 games over Michigan, one of which (2010) was vacated due to NCAA violations.
The one-sided nature of the rivalry was, inevitably, wearing on the appeal of The Game.
A contest like this, though, reminds everyone why many consider this the greatest rivalry in all of sports.
It wasn't just the second-quarter brawl that spilled out after Dontre Wilson's second-quarter kickoff return. It wasn't just about Michigan making it a much closer game than many expected.
It was about two teams that have a genuine dislike for each other. It was about two teams laying everything they had on the field for 60 minutes.
That was the most entertaining game this rivalry has seen since the 2006 game that featured the country's top-two teams. Win or lose, that's good for both teams.
All stats via NCAA.com.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.