ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A closely contested first half gave way to all too familiar problems for No. 2 Ohio State in the second half as No. 3 Michigan outlasted the Buckeyes for a 30-24 win and a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game next week.
Rod Moore’s interception of Kyle McCord with 25 seconds to play sealed the victory for Michigan, setting off a frenzied celebration inside Michigan Stadium as the Wolverines won their third consecutive game in the rivalry for the first time since 1995-97.
McCord finished with 271 yards and two touchdowns, but his two interceptions proved to be crucial as both came in pivotal moments that served as bookends to the loss.
Ohio State (11-1) outgained Michigan in total yardage, 378-338, but lost the rushing battle once more as Michigan wracked up 122 rushing yards in the second half and 156 for the game. Blake Corum led all rushers with 88 yards on 22 carries, and he added two touchdowns.
“In this game, you gotta win the rushing yards and you gotta win the turnover battle,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said after the game. “We did neither of those things. If that’s not going to happen, we’re not going to win this game.”
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy wasn’t asked to do much on the day in a continuation of an emerging theme for the Wolverines offense. However, he finished with 148 passing yards and a touchdown and added several key scrambles to extend drives.
Both defenses got off to a fast start to begin the game, trading stops before the Wolverines came up with the first big momentum swing of the day.
Will Johnson intercepted McCord on the first play of Ohio State’s third drive, and Johnson returned the interception to the Ohio State 7-yard line to set up Michigan’s opening touchdown.
Corum punched it in from a yard out on fourth down to capitalize on the turnover and push Michigan ahead 7-0 midway through the first quarter.
Ohio State answered with its first points of the day on a 43-yard field goal from Jayden Fielding to cut the Michigan lead to 7-3 after a quarter of play.
Michigan (12-0) appeared on the verge of seizing full control of the game early in the second quarter when McCarthy’s 22-yard touchdown to Roman Wilson increased the Wolverines’ lead to 14-3. The touchdown was reviewed as Denzel Burke came away with the ball after wrestling it away from Wilson, but the call on the field stood.
In a sizable hole and in desperate need of an answer, McCord and the Ohio State offense perhaps engineered its best drive of the season. A 32-yard completion to Cade Stover moved the ball into Michigan territory, and Emeka Egnuka hauled in a 3-yard touchdown from McCord to cap a seven-play, 73-yard drive and close to within a score.
Trailing 14-10, Ohio State had a chance just before halftime to draw closer, but Fielding’s 52-yard field goal try sailed wide left as time expired on the half. Facing a fourth-and-two, Day elected to let the clock run and take the long field goal attempt.
After the game, Day said he wanted to ensure Michigan, which still had two timeouts, didn’t get the ball back with a chance to get points.
Despite being down on the scoreboard, Ohio State outgained Michigan in total yardage 193-119 in the first half.
Michigan received the opening kickoff of the second half and turned the possession into three points as James Turner’s 50-yard field goal gave the Wolverines a 17-10 lead.
As it did often on the day, the Ohio State offense delivered when it felt as if the game was teetering on slipping away. TreVeyon Henderson capped off a massive 12-play, 75-yard drive with his lone touchdown of the game to level the score at 17-17 with 5:35 left in the third quarter.
Henderson finished with 60 yards on 19 carries to go along with the touchdown.
Ohio State’s momentum was shortlived, though, as Michigan built a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter thanks to Corum’s second rushing touchdown of the day and a 37-yard field goal from Turner.
McCord and the Ohio State offense again rallied to draw within a single score. McCord and Marvin Harrison Jr. connected for a 14-yard touchdown to cut the Michigan lead to 27-24.
Harrison finished with five catches for 118 yards and the touchdown despite seeing double coverage on nearly every snap, solidifying his place as one of the best in program history in what was likely the last college game for the draft-eligible and consensus top-five pick in the NFL Draft.
As was the story of the entire second half, the Ohio State defense couldn’t get a stop when it desperately needed one.
Taking over at its own 25 and trying to nurse a three-point lead, Michigan proceeded to chew seven minutes of clock on a 13-play, 56-yard drive that netted another field goal from Turner and forced Ohio State to go the length of the field with just one minute and no timeouts.
Michigan scored points on all four of its possessions in the second half.
A pair of completions to Harrison and Julian Fleming quickly moved Ohio State into Michigan territory at the 37-yard line as the clock ticked under 30 seconds. With a new set of downs, McCord was hit as he threw a pass on first down, and Moore was able to come up with the interception to seal the win.
“(The emotions) are hard to describe,” Day said. “I’m just sick at the fact we came up short (again) in this game. You work your whole year for it and we came up short.”
With the loss, Ohio State will miss the Big Ten Championship Game for the third consecutive season and will likely miss the College Football Playoff barring multiple major upsets. Asked if he believes his team is worthy of playoff consideration, Day said he hasn’t given it much thought.
“Playing in this game, everything is just so focused on the game,” he said. “I’d have to process it, but I think we have a really good team. We came up short today, and it’s devastating, but I believe in our players … I do believe this team can play with anybody in the country.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.