ANN ARBOR — The collective breath left Ohio State as 21 players dispersed from the end of a third-quarter play and No. 16 remained down on the Michigan Stadium turf.
Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett was injured, and when he eventually stood up, he walked straight into Ohio State’s locker room.
It would be the Dwayne Haskins show for the rest of Saturday afternoon. Haskins entered the game completely cold, down six in a rival stadium, didn't even have his mouthpiece in on the first play — and promptly saved No. 8 Ohio State’s season with the game-winning touchdown drive in a 31-20 victory against Michigan.
“It was really unreal, honestly,” Haskins said. “[I’m] the first person you think would be nervous, but honestly, I wasn’t.”
VIDEO: Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh
Ohio State (10-2, 8-1 Big Ten) beat Michigan (8-4, 5-4) for the sixth consecutive year and 13th time in 14 years.
The Barrett situation took a stranger turn after the game, when Ohio State coach Urban Meyer revealed the genesis of the injury happened because of a cameraman bumped into Barrett on OSU’s sideline, causing Barrett’s right knee to buckle inward.
Barrett said he was able to loosen the knee enough to play the entire first half and the start of the third quarter, but the knee “locked up” again on a third-quarter run. Meyer was furious with the incident and called for an investigation, and said Barrett’s status was in doubt immediately before taking the field.
“We were worried he wasn’t going to be to [play],” Meyer said.
The Wolverines had a dream start against the Buckeyes. Michigan scored first on fullback Khalid Hill’s 2-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, during which Ohio State ran nine plays for minus-6 yards.
The Wolverines took a 14-0 lead on the first play of the second, a 3-yard touchdown pass from John O’Korn to tight end Sean McKeon.
The afternoon almost took a disastrous turn for the Buckeyes on the ensuing drive when Barrett threw a pass directly at Michigan safety Josh Metellus, who dropped the interception. On the next play, Barrett put Ohio State on the board with a 21-yard touchdown run.
“That would have been big,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said of the potential interception. “There were some mistakes made. That was one of them.”
Barrett’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Baugh tied the game before halftime, but Michigan took back the lead midway through the third on Karan Higdon’s 2-yard touchdown run. However, Ohio State blocked the extra point.
Barrett fell injured on the next drive and gave way to Haskins. Haskins converted a critical third-and-13 with a perfect pass to Austin Mack, then set up the winning score with a 22-yard scramble later on the drive.
Ohio State did not trail again.
“As a 19, 20-year-old young man, that’s incredible,” Buckeyes center Billy Price said of Haskins. “I told him, ‘Hey, trust the offensive line. Trust us — we’re getting our jobs done up front. Just make good decisions and don’t turn the ball over.’”
After Sean Nuernberger’s fourth-quarter field goal to put Ohio State ahead 24-20, the Michigan defense gave its offense one final shot by holding the Buckeyes to a field goal attempt with just fewer than three minutes to play.
Then Nuernberger missed a 43-yarder, giving the Wolverines the ball with 2 minutes, 47 seconds to play and an opportunity for a game-winning drive.
The chance at late-game magic was short-lived. O’Korn — who missed a number of open receivers in the game — made a devastating mistake. His badly overthrown ball on first down had no Wolverine in the vicinity, and Buckeyes safety Jordan Fuller easily intercepted the pass to end the threat.
Buckeyes running back Mike Weber, a Detroit native, iced the game with a 25-yard touchdown run inside the final two minutes, and Ohio State hung on in a battle of backup quarterbacks.
“It’s crazy to go win the biggest rivalry in sports,” Haskins said. “I never thought it would actually be a reality. I was always just preparing — meetings, learning, asking questions, and I got my number called [Saturday].
“It worked out for me, thankfully.”
Harbaugh, who fell to 0-3 against Ohio State, expressed disappointment for another senior class that graduated without beating the Buckeyes.
“I have the same regret: I wish the seniors could have gone out with a win," Harbaugh said.
The Buckeyes already had clinched their place in the Big Ten championship game next week, but they also kept alive their hopes of qualifying for the College Football Playoff.
And with them, the Buckeyes earned another pair of gold pants to boot.
“I never lost against the team up north,” senior defensive end Tyquan Lewis said. “It feels great to say that.”
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