Sun, Dec 15, 2019

Make it eight straight for Ohio State as the No. 1 Buckeyes beat No. 13 Michigan 56-27 on Saturday to extend their series winning streak over the Wolverines to eight games. The victory also keeps Ohio State alive and likely at the top of the College Football Playoff race, as it will move on to the Big Ten Championship Game next week. The loss drops Michigan to 9-3 on the season, though its three losses have all come to teams currently in the top 12 (No. 10 Penn State and No. 12 Wisconsin the others).

Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins was the star of the show. Dobbins rushed for 211 yards and four touchdowns, and he also caught two passes for 49 yards. Any time Ohio State needed to make something happen on offense, it put the ball in his hands, and he made it happen. Of course, Dobbins had some help from his quarterback, as well.

Justin Fields finished the game with 302 passing yards and four touchdowns. There was also a scary moment in the third quarter when Fields took a shot to his left knee; he was on the turf clutching his knee in pain for a while before eventually walking off the field. After missing a few plays, Fields returned and immediately rifled a touchdown pass on his first play back in the game.

As for Michigan, QB Shea Patterson finished with 305 yards passing but completed only 18-of-41 throws. His day was made more difficult by a Michigan run game that didn’t find much success. The Wolverines finished with 91 yards rushing, averaging a meager 3.5 yards per rush.

All of it resulted in Ohio State getting the best of its rival for the eighth straight season. Not only has Ohio State won the last eight, but its five wins against Jim Harbaugh have come by an average of 19 points per game, 26 over the last two meetings. 

Here are four takeaways from this latest Ohio State win in The Game.

1. Dobbins is the best player on the Buckeyes offense: I’ve been banging this drum for a while, and this game just drove the point home. As mentioned above, Dobbins had 211 yards rushing today and four touchdowns. That gives him 1,657 yards and 19 rushing touchdowns on the season. Fields gets all the attention — and he deserves plenty of it — because he was a five-star QB and a high-profile transfer from Georgia, but Dobbins is the key to the entire thing.

Dobbins has had plenty of big games this season, as this was the eighth time he’s rushed for 100+ yards in a game this year. The only games Dobbins didn’t cross the century mark in were against FAU, Miami (Ohio), Maryland and Rutgers. Ohio State won those four games by an average of 47.25 points. The only reason he finished short of 100 yards in those games is that he didn’t play most of the second halves.

This was his first 200-yard performance of the season, and he saved it for the most important game on Ohio State’s schedule. It feels like there’s a new Heisman candidate on the Ohio State roster every week, and while I think defensive end Chase Young is the favorite to be a finalist, I’d argue Dobbins deserves more votes than Fields does so far. Just slightly. Of course, given the love affair with quarterbacks, Dobbins will likely receive the fewest.

2. Ohio State’s playoff spot is likely secure: There’s a lot of football left to play, and plenty can happen over the next seven days, but I wonder if this win didn’t clinch a playoff spot for the Buckeyes. Unless they’re blown out of the water in the Big Ten Championship Game next week, it’s hard to imagine four teams having a better resume than the Buckeyes at that point. If Ohio State loses a close game, it won’t be a conference champion, but it will be 12-1 with wins over ranked teams like Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Cincinnati. Its lone loss would have come against a likely top 10 team in Minnesota or Wisconsin. Given its dominance during the season, I can see the committee forgiving the Buckeyes for a close loss in a conference title game.

3. Michigan lost this game in the second quarter: The Wolverines looked like they were going to make a game of this early. The score was 14-13 at the end of the first quarter, and after Ohio State took a 21-13 lead in the second, Michigan responded well. The Wolverines drove down the field and had a first-and-goal. That’s when things fell apart and the course of this game shifted.

Patterson fumbled a snap from the shotgun formation, and Ohio State pounced on it. It was a massive blow for the Wolverines, but the defense seemed to bail the offense out, forcing Ohio State to punt at midfield. But then another mistake happened. Michigan was offside on the punt, giving Ohio State a free first down. A few plays later, the Buckeyes were in the end zone, and a game that had been on the verge of being 21-20 a few minutes before was now 28-13.

Michigan responded well, anyway. It drove down the field on its next possession and had a third-and-goal from the 5-yard line. Patterson found Donovan Peoples-Jones in the end zone for a touchdown, but Peoples-Jones allowed the Ohio State defenders to knock the ball from his hands as he went down to the turf. The pass was ruled incomplete, and Michigan had to settle for a field goal. Ohio State then knelt to head into the half with a 28-16 lead and scored on its first possession of the second half, effectively ending the game.

4. Michigan’s biggest problem in this rivalry is its defense: There was so much attention on the Michigan offense coming into the 2019 season.