Another dominant Ohio State win proves the slog remains tough for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan
There's a gap between Ohio State and Michigan, and it's not closing fast enough for the Wolverines
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- There was that painful moment -- among many on Saturday -- when Jim Harbaugh must have been reminded how tough the slog is going to be at Michigan.
During a third-quarter pass rush, Michigan defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson pushed Ohio State tight end Luke Farrell into the left knee of the franchise known as Justin Fields. The Heisman Trophy candidate slowly rose from his back to his backside to the sideline, perhaps taking Ohio State's national championship hopes with him. Buckeye Nation gasped.
Fields then entered the mystery that is the sideline medical tent having reinjured a sprained MCL. Somewhere deep in the Michigan psyche had to be the hope this was some kind of opening. Ohio State led at the time, 35-16.
Safe but not secure. Not yet. In fact, the game looked like it was being left to the immortal Chris Chugunov, the senior backup quarterback with 95 career passes.
Five plays later, though, Fields somewhat miraculously reentered the game and somewhat remarkably threw a 30-yard dart to Garrett Wilson for his third touchdown pass of the game.
"It was a magical play," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. "A Heisman moment."
Harbaugh has won at a high level while at Michigan but never against Ohio State. Until he does, a slog it will be.
"I'll answer your questions, not your insults," Harbaugh said to one reporter who wanted to know just what is that separates the teams after another beat down loss to the Buckeyes.
Talent gap? Coaching gap?
Harbaugh's answer is the first overt indication that his Ohio State frustration is … frustrating.
So that is what passes for hope these days at Michigan -- an almost-injury to the opposing star quarterback.
Ohio State's final margin, 56-27, at the Big House was actually greater than last year's 62-39 embarrassment at The Shoe. The gap between Harbaugh's group and That Team Down South remains significant. Michigan has been outscored by 26 points per game in the last two meetings.
That's not an insult. That's fact.
Now, what is Harbaugh going to do about it?
A streak that stretches back over the last decade and a half has seen Ohio State win 15 out of the last 16 meetings. The Buckeyes have won eight in a row. Most significantly, Harbaugh is now 0-5 against his team's greatest rival.
A difference between these teams doesn't seems as wide as it has ever been. A record 62 points in the series by Ohio State last year was followed by Day hanging half a hundred on Michigan in his first game as Ohio State's coach.
"Ever since I took the job, it's been on my mind," Day said. "I know what this game means to the people of Ohio."
Enough to almost never take your foot off the pedal. Day has been calling plays the last two seasons -- last year as offensive coordinator -- that scored a total of 111 offensive points.
Meanwhile, Harbaugh uttered the same clichés he has in the previous four losses.
"They played really good," he said. "They played better today."
They've played better most of the time since 2004 , the last time Michigan won the Big Ten. Ohio State heads to the Big Ten Championship Game ranked No. 1, undefeated at 12-0 and rolling.
"I just think we take it more seriously than they do," Fields said. "It means more at Ohio State. "
That quote will have to live on Michigan bulletin boards until next year. An answer about whether the Wolverines can do anything about it will wait at least that long.
At least now we know all of it bothers Harbaugh. The nation's No. 4 defense was shredded for 577 yards. Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins had a career-high 211 yards .
"I'm not even close to being satisfied. I feel like there's so much more I can do," Dobbins said.
The Heisman Trophy race is three-headed at Ohio State. Fields now has 37 touchdown passes to go with one interception. Dobbins has run the ball 67 times in the last two games. Defensive end Chase Young was mostly quiet against Michigan with no tackles, but he was holding his breath with the rest of Buckeye Nation when Fields went down.
"When somebody is injured, it feels like it's not about football," Young said. "He's my brother. I feel like he's the best quarterback in the country."
Fields revealed that he originally sprained his MCL last week against Penn State. He did not appear in the postgame to answer questions after that 28-17 win. This time, after a visit to that medical tent, he switched to a bigger knee brace. Problem solved.
If anything, Ohio State got better after Fields returned. The Buckeyes were at least inspired. Michigan was outscored 28-11 in the second half.
"To make that throw just goes to show he has the heart of a lion," Day said. "For him to ad lib and make that throw, that's about as good a throw as I've seen in a long time. His heart and character and competitive toughness are as good as I've been around."
There were small victories, not for either participant. If Clemson and LSU were watching -- and eventually they will, every single snap -- Michigan provided whatever blueprint remains on how to beat the top-ranked Buckeyes.
The nation's No. 1 defense gave up 27 points and almost 400 yards. Shea Patterson became the first Michigan quarterback to throw for at least 300 yards in three consecutive games.
But that elite Ohio State defense clamped down in the second half. Patterson was 4 for 24 in the final 30 minutes.
If you are looking for progress, consider this: Patterson is out of eligibility, and Michigan has given up 118 points in the last two meetings -- a series record (seven of those points came on a blocked punt return last season).
Meanwhile, across the country, another coach pilloried for losing to his rival was at the top of his profession. Who remembers Dabo Swinney once lost five in a row to South Carolina?
Ohio State can probably look forward to facing the powerhouse that is now Clemson at some point in the College Football Playoff.
For now, Ohio State can look back to what it's accomplished.
"Continuing the legacy," Young said.
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