February 28, 2024

ANN ARBOR, Michigan — For Michigan and Ohio State, the entire season often comes down to what happens in The Game.

The bitter rivalry puts the Buckeyes and the Wolverines against each other in what is built up the entire season as the one that matters. It matters when you win and it matters when you lose, and after Michigan’s 30-24 win, coach Ryan Day and the Buckeyes have now lost three in a row to the Wolverines.

It’s the first time Michigan has won three games in a row against Ohio State since 1995-97.

“We know what this game means to so many people, and so to come up short is certainly crushing,” Day said after the game. “Not only because you invest your whole year in it, at Ohio State, what this game means, and so there’s a locker room in there that’s devastated. It wasn’t a lack of effort, but again, we didn’t win the rushing yards, we didn’t win the turnover battle, so you’re not going to win this game.”

Day is now 1-3 against Michigan, and this time it was a loss with coach Jim Harbaugh watching at home as he serves a three-game suspension. Offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore was the interim head coach for the fourth time this season and was able to take down Day and the Buckeyes at home in Michigan Stadium.

Coming into this game, Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles hoped to limit the explosive plays that hurt them in 2022 against the Wolverines and emphasized improving the defense as a whole. The defense held Michigan to just one play over 30 yards, compared with five plays over 40 yards in 2022, but the Wolverines kept chipping away and never let up.

“Not enough. Ultimately, you got to win this game,” Knowles said. “I certainly feel like we were a play short. So that’s something that I got to keep working on.”

Ohio State’s defense had allowed just three rushing touchdowns all season coming into the game but gave up two on the ground to running back Blake Corum. That included a 22-yard run that put Michigan up 24-17 in the third quarter. After being held to under 40 rush yards in the first half, Michigan finished with 156 yards on the ground for the game.

The dagger for Ohio State came on Michigan’s final drive in the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes gave up 42 rushing yards during a seven-minute drive that burned enough time off the clock to nearly put the game away.

“I don’t know ultimately what the final numbers were, but I feel like when you go into this game, you got to win with rushing yards and it didn’t happen,” Day said. “They had more than we did, and that’s a big part of controlling the game. Certainly has to do with the last couple of drives. And then also the turnover battle, I’d like to say it’s more than that, but I’m not sure it is.”

Offensively, quarterback Kyle McCord threw two costly interceptions. The Wolverines scored after the first, while the second ended the game.

“It hurts, that’s really the only word for it,” McCord said. “To work that hard for that opportunity and just to come up a few plays short hurts. There’s no way around that, so it’s a tough one.”

In the short term, the opportunity in front of the Buckeyes was a chance to play in the Big Ten championship game and a potential berth in the College Football Playoff. Their conference championship hopes are dashed, as Michigan will now play Iowa. But there is still a slim chance at the playoff. Ohio State lost to Michigan last season and was still able to make it into the top four. While there is still a possibility to make it in, the loss means it is out of Ohio State’s control.

When asked about the playoff, Day said he hasn’t been able to think that far ahead with his focus on preparing for this game to end the regular season.

“We have a very good team. We came up short today and it’s devastating, but I believe in our players,” Day said. “I think we have a veteran team. I think we have a team that is solid in all three phases. I’d have to see what else is out there. Honestly, I’ve just been so focused on this game. I appreciate the question, I just don’t have a great answer for you right now.”

Looking long term, however, Day will now have to answer questions about the program and what it can do to beat Michigan. Despite going 11-1 on the season, the loss will reverberate because of this rivalry. Day has gone 55-4 against all opponents not named Michigan but is 1-3 against the Wolverines. Those four games will be the focus going forward as Ohio State looks to pick up the pieces from its third loss to Michigan in as many years.

“The biggest thing is that games like this come down to one or two plays,” McCord said. “And you prepare all offseason and prepare all year long and your season really comes down to a handful of plays, whether you make them or you don’t. And I think that just goes to show the margin of error, especially in games like this, are so slim.”

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