Instant Observations: Buckeyes fall apart in second half, lose again to Michigan

For the first time since 2000, Ohio State is going to have to cope with back-to-back losses to rival Michigan. The Wolverines, for the second straight year, outplayed and outcoached the Buckeyes in the second half, to send Ohio State to 11-1 and now looking for help to try to sneak into the College Football Playoff.

Instant Observations from a shocking second half meltdown….

1. Couldn’t have scripted a much better start for the Buckeyes in this game. With Michigan deferring, it seemed like there was an added importance on getting into a groove offensively and the Buckeyes delivered with a brilliant opening drive. At the time, it felt like it might just be one of those days for the Wolverines.

2. But the way the first half played out was a bit ominous for Ohio State. With C.J. Stroud throwing for nearly 200 yards and zero turnovers and Ohio State dominating statistically on both sides of the ball in the running game, you would have expected a situation where the Buckeyes were up at least a couple of scores. Instead, carrying that three-point lead into the break, it felt like Michigan stole 10-14 points in the 1st half.

3. Still, Ohio State had the lead at halftime and was the statistically superior team in the first half. There was no excuse for how things would play out in the second half. We can talk about things that can’t truly be measured like toughness and “grit” but ultimately the Buckeyes were outcoached and outplayed today

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4. Some of the same things we’ve seen plague this team in big games over the years, reared their ugly head today. The Buckeyes had little trouble moving the football between the 20’s, but settled for far too many field goals and were too conservative on fourth down decisions. There were a few decisions that Ryan Day is going to want to have back

5. Jim Knowles did some really good work this season with the Ohio State defense, but today wasn’t nearly good enough and it’s going to leave quite a blemish if this team doesn’t continue on to the playoffs and redeem itself. You have to wonder if the defensive staff out-thought itself today. The Buckeyes played more aggressive in the back end than they have all season, with some C1 and C0, and it cost them with numerous breakdowns leading to easy big plays for Michigan. Should Ohio State have played coverage and forced McCarthy to process more, especially given how the run defense played in the first half? It certainly seems so, but that is the benefit of hindsight.

6. The whole game had a pretty 90’s feel to it with a little bit of reverse-Tresselism going on. Ohio State had the good end of things statistically for a while, but Michigan was the team who made the most of their opportunities, converted in key situations, hit big plays when they were there, and didn’t commit the dumb penalties.

7. The running back pass was pure Tressel. Every year he seemed to have one or two plays to dial up at the right time to turn a close game. Harbaugh was the one who dialed it up this time. This was just a total reverse of what Ohio State fans have grown accustomed to seeing over the past 20 years, the shoe is now on the other foot until the Buckeyes forcefully remove it.

8. But then the decision by Jim Harbaugh to go for the long field goal there in the fourth quarter is a head scratcher. Yes, Moody is an outstanding kicker, but you’ve dominated the second half and a make there doesn’t change much, the Buckeyes still need two scores. It gave some energy to the stadium, to the Ohio State sideline, and perhaps more importantly it gave the Buckeyes a much shorter field to work with.

9. It turned out not to matter as the game continued to play out much as it had the first three quarters. Ohio State failed to find the end zone on the ensuing drive after moving it easily down the field and Michigan counter-punched with a big play touchdown.

10. Nobody is going to want to talk about this right now, I get it. But the reality is that the CFP committee has to take four teams again this year. Clemson eliminated itself today by losing to South Carolina, meaning there are going to be some really interesting decisions to make if UGA beats LSU next weekend as expected and if USC and/or TCU lose in the next 8 days. The way Ohio State went full Purdue at the end of this one won’t be a positive for their case, but be prepared for the debate over the next two weeks as despite today’s debacle, there is very much a non-zero chance that Ohio State will make the College Football Playoff anyway.

11. Last year, while disappointing, couldn’t be considered stunning given a bad defense played like a bad defense. This year feels different and, again unless this team is able to continue into the CFP and redeem itself, it’s going to be a lot of soul-searching this off-season. The rivalry is officially back.

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