Coaches in the Michigan-Ohio State game always say that defense wins the game. Without a doubt, the coaches were right this time.
Michigan’s defensive line stopped Greg Frey on fourth and one at the Ohio State 30 with 1:38 left, setting the table for J.D. Carlson’s 37-yard field goal as time ran out to give the 15th-ranked Wolverines a 16-13 Big Ten victory Saturday.
Ohio State needed to beat Michigan while Big Ten-leading Iowa either lost or tied at Minnesota in order for the Buckeyes to get to the Rose Bowl.
“I think this was a Woody Hayes-type game, and the way it should be played,” said Gary Moeller, who played under the late Ohio State coach and is in his first year as Bo Schembechler’s successor at Michigan. “I’m sure Bo Schembechler would agree.”
As usual, the teams played it close to the vest, as was usually the case when Hayes and Schembechler roamed the sidelines. And, just like the old days, the game was decided on pivotal plays down the stretch.
The biggest came when Frey was stopped on an option keeper, giving the Wolverines a final shot at the winning field goal. Carlson, who missed a 38-yarder with 4:16 left, kicked the game-winner as time expired.
“Let me repeat that our defense was really the key to the win,” Moeller said. “Going in, we felt we had to shut down Ohio State’s running attack and, overall, we did. We stopped them on fourth and one, took over and scored the winning points.”
Ohio State Coach John Cooper said there was really no decision involved in electing to go for the first down deep in his own territory late in the game.
“I’ve been telling this football squad ever since the Indiana game that I really felt like we had a chance to go ahead and win and go to the Rose Bowl,” Cooper said.
“So why not go for broke? A tie didn’t do us any good at all. It would have put us in the Gator Bowl. If I go for a tie and Minnesota beats Iowa, then I couldn’t face our football team.
“We felt like we could make the first down, obviously,” Cooper said. “Give Michigan credit. They stuffed us on that play and consequently put the ball in the middle of the field and kicked the field goal.”
Moeller said, “I can appreciate how Coach Cooper feels on that fourth-and-one call. Against Michigan State, I called for a two-point conversion and it didn’t work and we lost the game (28-27).”
Frey said, “We all wanted to go for it. There was no breakdown. They called the right defense for the play. They angled outside and forced me to cut it up. When I cut up, there was nothing there.”
Michigan middle guard T.J. Osman said, “I’m not surprised they went on fourth and one. They wanted to win, just like us. I just tried to control the line of scrimmage. I spun out of a block. I saw Frey coming toward me. I just grabbed him around the waist and saw others coming to help me.”
Michigan (8-3, 6-2) is headed for the Gator Bowl, with No. 19 Ohio State (7-3-1, 5-2-1) going to the Liberty Bowl.
Freshman Ricky Powers rushed for 128 yards in 27 carries for the Wolverines, who have beaten Ohio State the past three years. The victory was Michigan’s fifth in a row.
Elvis Grbac completed eight of 16 passes for 104 yards with one interception for Michigan, which was outgained 284 yards to 248.
Frey hit 13 of 26 for 157 yards with three interceptions.
Robert Smith, the leading freshman rusher in Ohio State history, was held to 43 yards in eight carries, all in the first half.
Michigan has a 49-33-5 advantage in the 87-game series, which began in 1897.