Ohio State had a plan: Keep the ball away from Desmond Howard. It was a good plan. But the Buckeyes couldn’t make it work.
Howard had a 93-yard punt return, the longest in Michigan history, and finished with 213 all-purpose yards Saturday to help the No. 4 Wolverines defeat No. 18 Ohio State, 31-3, and clinch the Big Ten championship outright.
“We intended to punt the ball out of bounds all day,” Ohio State Coach John Cooper said. “Now you can see why. That punt return was the play that really broke our backs. Desmond Howard is a phenomenal athlete. I think they ought to give him the Heisman Trophy right now.”
With his mother and father cheering along the sidelines, Howard reached the end zone after the punt return and struck the pose of the Heisman statuette before he was bowled over by his teammates.
“I told my parents that if I scored against Ohio State, I’d do something special,” Howard said.
Michigan, 10-1 overall and 8-0 in the Big Ten, has won six of the last seven games against Ohio State (8-3, 5-3), including all four during Cooper’s tenure as coach of the Buckeyes. Ohio State announced moments before kickoff that Cooper had been granted a three-year contract extension.
“I’m happy about the contract,” Cooper said. “I think we’re on the right track and we’ve made progress.”
Michigan will play Pacific 10 champion Washington in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. Ohio State will play Syracuse in the Hall of Fame Bowl on Jan. 1.
Howard had eight yards rushing, 96 on three pass receptions, 93 on the punt return, and 16 on one kickoff return. He has gone over the 100-yard mark in all-purpose yardage in 19 of the last 23 games, including the last 12 dating to the 1991 Gator Bowl. He has scored 210 points in those 23 games.
Howard, a leading candidate for the Heisman, has scored 23 touchdowns this season. His 93-yard punt return, which put Michigan ahead by 24-3 in the second quarter, broke the school record of 88 yards by Dave Brown against Colorado in 1974.
After hauling in a 41-yard punt by Tim Williams, Howard split two tacklers at the 10-yard line and then broke a tackle at the 18. He moved to the Ohio State sideline, picked up a block from Dwayne Ware at the 30, and went the rest of the way untouched.