ANN ARBOR — Brady Hoke went for two.
Heck; why not?
Nobody expected Michigan to be in such a position. The Wolverines came in having lost three of their last four and had produced very little offense along the way.
And here they were, down by a single point, a whopping 83 of them up on the scoreboard already, 32 seconds on the clock.
It was the unranked Wolverines vs. No. 3 Ohio State, winner of 23 straight. As this great rivalry goes, the 110th meeting was surely a mismatch.
And then it wasn’t. It was instead among the best of all time.
“An instant classic,” said OSU coach Urban Meyer.
So Hoke, whose UM team had just scored a touchdown, had just capped off a startling 603 yards of total offense, tried to squeeze out three more yards and two more points.
“I would have done the same thing,” Meyer said. “Absolutely; go win the game. Both offenses were in sort of an unstoppable mode. So, yeah, go win it.”
And the Buckeyes did.
Michigan’s attempt at a two-point conversion died in the arms of OSU safety Tyvis Powell, who angled in front of UM receiver Drew Dileo and stole Devin Gardner’s short pass.
The Buckeyes survived 42-41.
“We played the game to win,” Hoke said. “I thought about it, and we did it.
“We wanted to go win the football game.”
Meyer called a time out, saying his defense was “blown out” and needed a chance to catch its breath.
It also gave Michigan time to re-think its decision.
“Ohio State's head coach called a time out and we went over and [Hoke] asked us, asked the seniors, ‘Do you want to go for it?’ I don't think there was one guy that said no. Every single person said yes,” left tackle Taylor Lewan said.
“It felt like we'd win the game right there,” Gardner said.
When it ended, the Buckeyes weren’t worried about what the poll voters will think of their defense, or lack thereof. They weren’t worried about the BCS standings, although the Auburn stunner over Alabama makes things fairly interesting, or their bowl aspirations. They weren’t even thinking about next weekend’s Big Ten title game against Michigan State.
“It was such a crazy ending, I think everybody’s head is still spinning,” said tight end Jeff Heuerman, whose TD catch late in the third quarter gave OSU a 35-21 lead. “Twelve plus twelve, 24, right? Yeah, 24 straight wins. Nobody’s ever been able to say that at Ohio State. We’re just living [in] this moment.”
Not only 24 straight wins but also nine in the last 10 meetings with Michigan, whose coach had taken enough shots lately that his athletic director put an entry supportive of Hoke on his blog the other day.
But Hoke coached as if he had the better team and for parts of 3½ hours maybe he did, at least when his team had the ball, which was quite a change after averaging just 216 yards of offense over the previous four games.
UM’s misdirection passing game, especially on screens and using tight ends, was superb. Gardner completed 32 of 45 attempts for 451 yards and four touchdowns. After falling behind by two scores, when the game might have tilted heavily in OSU’s direction, Gardner came back with three fourth-quarter TD passes and suddenly it was a kick to tie or a deuce to win.
“We had to play our best football,” Hoke said. “We also wanted to take the game into the fourth quarter … I thought the kids played awfully hard the entire game. In the fourth quarter, they played even better.”
So the two-point try was an easy decision, one that didn’t surprise the Buckeyes.
“They didn’t want [overtime],” said OSU running back Carlos Hyde, who set an OSU vs. Michigan record with 226 of the Buckeyes’ 393 rushing yards. “They knew what was going to happen. There’s no doubt in my mind we would have scored.”
And there was no doubt in Hoke’s mind or in the minds of his players that going for broke was the thing to do.
“I was all for it,” said Jeremy Gallon, who had a nine-catch day for 175 yards. “I’m sure a lot of guys felt the same way. No regrets. The only regret was when the clock struck zero. That was the hard moment. We didn’t finish.”
Dileo lined up in the left slot, then went in motion to the right to create a triple stack of receivers.
But the Buckeyes claimed to know what was coming and it certainly seemed that way. On film, Powell said, he had seen UM run a slant route with the back receiver in the triple stack so he kept one eye on Dileo, the other on Gardner and flew in at the last second to blow up the play and save the day.
Heuerman wasn’t at all surprised with the way Michigan played or with how his Buckeyes responded.
“You know what needs to be done,” he said. “We’re trained for the hard moments.”
And this is a game that is almost always hard.
Meyer suggested Woody and Bo might not have thought much of the score.
“More like 10-9 for them,” he said, smiling.
But they would have appreciated the effort.
“They would have seen two teams playing as hard as they can,” Meyer said, “which is what this rivalry is all about.”
Another classic; even when it was unexpected.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.