COLUMBUS — The thesis promoted by some was that one team's domination does not a great rivalry make. Run that through the rinse and reduce it to common language and you end up with the sentiment that Ohio State-Michigan is not what it used to be.
Don't try to sell that philosophy to the Buckeyes, however, since their 37-7 victory over Michigan Saturday came with all the trappings that a season-ending head-knocker between hated adversaries should possess.
Ohio State beat the Wolverines for a seventh straight time, and in the process won a sixth consecutive Big Ten championship and likely locked down a trip to a BCS bowl game. With all of that to play for, was facing Michigan a watered-down experience this time around?
“Maybe it was to some people in the football world, but I can guarantee you it didn't mean any less to anyone in our locker room,” Ohio State senior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said.
“We always take it as the biggest game of the year. We work all year for this game. And with everything that was on the line, I can't imagine how this game could lose any importance: It's Ohio State-Michigan.”
Despite Michigan's recent well-documented struggles and the lopsided trend the series has followed, this game was scoreless after the first quarter, and Ohio State had just a three-point lead midway through the second period.
“We knew from the beginning it would be a dog fight,” Ohio State senior offensive lineman Justin Boren said. “The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is always tough.”
Michigan pushed deep into Ohio State territory on its first possession before running out of downs at the 28. The next time the Wolverines had the ball, quarterback Denard Robinson led them on a long drive from the UM 14, and he scrambled 10 plays later down inside the Ohio State 10 yard line before fumbling. Nathan Williams recovered for the Buckeyes at the 9.
No. 8-ranked Ohio State was driving as the first period ended, with a 39-yard pass reception by Sanzenbacher providing the big play. The Buckeyes settled for a 33-yard Devin Barclay field goal and a 3-0 lead a few seconds into the second period.
The Buckeyes (11-1, 7-1) then were set up at the Michigan 35 by an 18-yard punt, and from there they moved to the 7 yard line in four plays. Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor hit Sanzenbacher angling over the middle for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
“That helped,” Sanzenbacher said, “because it was early in the game and we wanted to get those points on the board. You know against their offense, we couldn't score enough points to keep them out of the game.”
Robinson used Michigan's no-huddle attack to take his team 80 yards in 10 plays, with Robinson carrying four times for 42 yards. The Wolverines made it 10-7 with eight minutes left in the half as Michael Shaw went one yard for the touchdown and Brendan Gibbons kicked the extra point.
On the ensuing kickoff, Jordan Hall hit an opening, burst down the Ohio State sideline, cut back to avoid a couple Michigan defenders, and scored on an 85-yard return.
That gave the Buckeyes a 17-7 lead.
“That was a critical point,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said, “because they worked very hard to go down and get their touchdown, and all of a sudden it took us 20 seconds to answer.
“Jordan Hall is a great football player. I wish there were more opportunities for him to have the ball in his hands.”
After quickly halting Michigan, Ohio State went back to work at its 38. Pryor hit Toledoan Sanzenbacher for 25 yards and then found DeVier Posey for a 34-yard touchdown and a 24-7 lead.
The Buckeyes forced another Robinson fumble near midfield with about two minutes left in the first half, and pushed to the Michigan 16 before a Pryor pass was picked off by Michigan defensive back and Clay grad Jordan Kovacs to end the half.
Robinson suffered two dislocated fingers in the first half and was replaced by Tate Forcier to start the third quarter. Forcier's first pass was intercepted by Ohio State's Travis Howard.
The Buckeyes then drove to Michigan's 32-yard line, where running back Dan “Boom” Herron slipped a couple of tackles near the line, then sprinted in for a touchdown and a 31-7 lead.
Midway through the third quarter, Herron had a 98-yard touchdown run called back to the Michigan 19 because of a holding call on Sanzenbacher, and Ohio State settled for a 36-yard Barclay field goal. He added a 23-yarder with about a minute left in the third quarter for a 37-7 advantage.
Herron finished with 175 yards on 22 carries.
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, who saw his team hold Ohio State's running backs to just four yards rushing in the first half and put together several fruitless drives, was disappointed his team could not maintain a higher level of play throughout the afternoon.
“I wish we would have played better, and I expect better out of this team,” Rodriguez said.
“The bottom line is that we didn't finish drives. They [Ohio State] made plays, but a lot of that is on us.”
The Wolverines (7-5, 3-5) were averaging more than 36 points a game, and 514 yards of offense, but were held to one touchdown and just 351 yards of offense.
“It always hurts more to lose to Ohio State,” Michigan defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said. “Everyone is accountable for the loss.”