Truer words were never written after Saturday’s debacle in the Horseshoe. Happy Hate Michigan Week to everyone fortunate enough to live outside of that Hell on Earth. Last year I detailed some of the historical background of the fierce rivalry that is Ohio State-Michigan and the impact of the most recent Ohio State coaches in the post “I’m from O-HI-O!” Today, in honor of the big game that will be played at noon this Saturday, I have prepared an appreciation of one of the great games in the lengthy series: the 2005 contest in Ann Arbor.
A lot can happen in 10 years. Just ask the kids from School of Rock. They may have grown up, but fortunately for me and other Buckeye fans the Wolverines have grown down since the release of that movie. Head Coach Lloyd Carr retired from Michigan following the 2007 season and the brief tenures Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke were forgettable for Wolverine fans. A lot can happen in one year too, though, and first year coach Jim Harbaugh has the maize morons back in the hunt for the Big 10 Conference Championship much in the same way that he quickly turned around the San Francisco 49ers in his previous coaching employment. Although, after Ohio State’s ugly home loss to Michigan State a few days ago, The Game between the Buckeyes and Wolverines will not be the outright decider of the who wins the Big 10 East Division, it will persist in being an intriguing opening match-up between two of the best coaches in college football, one that may very well begin an era similar to the Hayes-Schembechler 10 Year War. At least that is what many hope for. Even though this game will be Harbaugh’s first as a head coach in the classic contest, it certainly is nothing new to him as he was a quarterback for Bo Schembechler as a student at the school up North. Whether Saturday’s big game is a highlight of Harbaugh’s coaching or not, his efforts have not been lost on the Dead Schembechlers, the Ohio State superfan band who have crafted songs of insults for the Michigan coaches before him dating back to Lloyd Carr (my favorite of these is “Brady Hoke is a Big Fat Fuck” complete with the Brady Hoke doughnut communion), and now have one for Harbaugh himself.
The present state of this legendary rivalry is resurgence from when it fell off after Carr’s retirement, but before that we saw many great games, even when Carr was always getting the better John Cooper when he started 5-1 against Ohio State, as well as when Jim Tressel was getting the better of Carr, who finished 1-6 against the Buckeyes. During that final seven game stretch of Carr’s career against Jim Tressel’s Ohio State teams, there were momentous upsets and evenly matched shootouts, but the game we’re remembering today was a comeback for the ages for the Ohio State faithful.
In 2005, Ohio State came into The Game ranked #7 with an 8-2 record, but the two losses were to terrific teams: eventual national champion Texas, and Penn State, who shared the Big 10 with Ohio State and won the Orange Bowl. Ohio State finished ranked #4 at season’s end, while Texas and Penn State were #1 and #3 respectively. They would go on to beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl to cap off a season much like what Michigan State had last year. The only losses the team suffered were to teams in the final top 3 and they finished with a win over a top 5 team.
Michigan entered ranked #15 with a 7-3 record that included a win over Penn State, and they had home field advantage, so The Game looked to be an evenly matched affair, although Ohio State was favored to win by a field goal. With playmakers like dual threat quarterback Troy Smith and targets like his phenomenally athletic high school teammate Ted Ginn Jr. and future Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes at wide receiver, the Buckeyes looked primed to compete at the highest level. However, while Ginn Jr. and Holmes were major factors in the game, the clutch performer on the receiving core would be found elsewhere….
For any interested in seeing a replay of the game, check it out here.
The game started off well offensively for the Buckeyes. Troy Smith led a methodical opening drive and scored the first touchdown of the game on a run. Kicker Josh Huston missed the extra point, but later made a field goal to put the Buckeyes up 9-0 early in the second quarter.
Defensively things appeared to be dicier right out of the gates. Ohio State had great success at stopping teams in 2005 thanks to their trifecta of talented linebackers that included A.J. Hawk, Anthony Schlegel, and Bobby Carpenter. Carpenter suffered an ankle fracture on the first play of the game and had to stay on the sideline on crutches. An untested freshman from Minnesota was tasked to fill in for him for the entire game. His name was James Laurinaitis.
Okay, so that one worked out more than all right. Laurinaitis went on to have an even more prolific career at Ohio State and has made a name for himself in the NFL. At the time though, we didn’t know anything more than our star went out and a freshman was playing in his place!
The Wolverines took a long time to get something going offensively, but they put together a good drive and quarterback Chad Henne capped it off with a touchdown pass to the side of the endzone. Ohio State responded with a field goal before the end of the first half to go into the locker room leading 12-7.
A fumble deep in Ohio State’s own territory gave the Wolverines a great opportunity to take the lead, but the Buckeye defense held firm and Michigan walked away with only a field goal. Before the quarter ran out, Michigan scored a rushing touchdown with hurt Mike Hart’s replacement, then got a two-point conversion on a Chad Henne run. A Chad Henne run! Unbelievable as it was, the maneuver put Michigan up 18-12.
Following a methodical drive in the fourth quarter, Michigan scored another field goal to go up two scores with a 21-12 lead with 7:49 left in the game. Ohio State had to score on their next possession and hope that they got the ball back for another. Fortunately for them, they did thanks to Troy Smith’s mobility and this great play (with a bad call) for a touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes to pull the Buckeyes within two points. Trailing now only 19-21, Ohio State had to boot a shorter kick thanks to the celebration penalty on the touchdown, and the Wolverines brought it to almost midfield (they also almost fumbled it, but Steve Breaston was not about to let that happen). The Buckeye defense stepped up again and stopped the Wolverines. Coach Tressel even declined a 10 yard holding penalty on Michigan in favor of taking the loss of down and trusting his defense to hold. And hold they did. Michigan lined up for a long 50+ yard field goal into the wind, but everyone correctly guessed it was a fake punt, yet it was an effective one that booted the Buckeyes down to their own 12 yard line with only 4:18 to go.
So began one of Ohio State’s most storied drives. Knowing a field goal would win the game, all the Buckeyes had to do was get in range for Josh Huston to send them home victorious. Doing so, was not going to be easy though.
Displaying his mobility and athletic prowess, as well as his affinity with Ted Ginn Jr. and Santonio Holmes, Troy Smith danced away from defenders and made plays through the air and on the ground to inch Ohio State closer to victory. But it was receiver Anthony Gonzalez who secured the play of the game (and the season) on a catch he made inside the 5 yard line to set up running back Antonio Pittman’s winning score. Gonzalez was pushed out of bounds by Michigan defender Grant Mason, but came back in as a legal receiver because he did not leave the playing field on his own volition. After a tango for 22, Troy Smith fired the ball down the field to Gonzalez who went high to get it and held it securely all the way back down to the ground. Ohio State went up 25-21 after a failed two-point conversion, but prevented Michigan from making a miracle comeback with 24 seconds left.
That is how a well coached and played game on all sides of the ball by both teams played out. One of the best in the rivalry that I’ve ever seen, topped by only one other game, the following season’s contest, in terms of entertainment. That game also featured the magnificent Troy Smith and many of the same players on offense, defense, and special teams, as well as many of the same for Michigan, but we’ll talk about that more next year.
Last year I was lucky enough to go to the Ohio State-Michigan game and got to see the halftime unveiling of Troy Smith’s plaque on the Ring of Honor at Ohio Stadium, which now contains the 6 Buckeyes to win the Heisman Trophy and two of the earliest heroes of OSU football: Chic Harley and Bill Willis.
Troy Smith was a great player and leader who was always fun to watch play ball. The best players entertain us the best and the best rivalry showcases these players and games. I do not know exactly what to expect this Saturday, nor in The Game in the future, but I do know that it will always be a passionate affair unmatched by any other regardless of records. Here’s hoping it and other games are entertaining, free of injury, clean of controversy, and fun for the players and fans.
Thanks for reading and watching. If you have any questions or comments leave them here or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to rush back next week for more fun and have a Happy Thanksgiving in the meantime.