COLUMBUS, Ohio — Rarely has a one-loss season been so chaotic.
But for Ohio State and coach Urban Meyer, there’s always The Game to look forward to. And even with all the dysfunction that has engulfed the Buckeyes this season — from Meyer’s suspension and health issues to major deficiencies on defense — the one thing that hasn’t changed is Meyer and Ohio State own Michigan much the same way as he has owned every other rival during his head-coaching career.
Meyer put it on the “school up north” yet again in a 62-39 thrashing of the Wolverines on Saturday at Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes’ seventh straight win in a rivalry that is becoming less of one each year. And just like that, the Buckeyes will find themselves right in the middle of the College Football Playoff hunt if they can beat Northwestern next week in the Big Ten championship game.
“Extremely proud of our players, the way they’ve fought through it,” Meyer said. “And like someone was saying, nothing’s ever good enough. Obviously, we had some adversity earlier in the year — not some, but big-time adversity. And to come back against your rival and play like that, that’s a focused team that loves each other and cares about each other.”
The “adversity” Meyer was referring to included his mishandling of claims of domestic violence by former assistant Zach Smith’s ex-wife, Courtney Smith, prompting a lengthy investigation by the university during the summer and, ultimately, Meyer’s three-game suspension.
Even without Meyer for the first three games, the Buckeyes managed to win their first seven games before getting thumped by 29 points on the road by Purdue, triggering a four-game stretch in which the Buckeyes gave up a total of 137 points, culminating with a 52-51 overtime escape against Maryland last week.
Meyer appeared visibly shaken on the sideline in the Maryland game. He revealed earlier this month that he underwent surgery in 2014 for a congenital arachnoid cyst on his brain and has managed it with medication. The images of him bending over on the sideline and having to gather himself were painful for anyone to watch.
But Meyer showed no signs of discomfort on Saturday as the Buckeyes beat Michigan for the 14th time in the past 15 matchups.
“The last time they won against us, I was just a little boy,” Ohio State defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones said. “We did not want to be part of the team that gave them their first ‘dub.'”
Of course, with Meyer, rivalry games might as well be money games for the team he’s coaching. He’s now 38-5 against his biggest rivals at Ohio State (Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State), Florida (Georgia, Florida State and Tennessee) and Utah (BYU and Utah State).
Parris Campbell, who scored two of Ohio State’s seven offensive touchdowns against a Michigan defense that entered the game ranked No. 1 in the country, said the Buckeyes were “just lying in the weeds” all week when everybody else had dismissed them as Team Turmoil.
“We’re never going to give up no matter what anybody on the outside says,” Campbell said. “We’ve been through tons of adversity all year. We’ve heard the doubt. We’ve heard the hate. But we stay in tune with ourselves. We stay close and keep swinging, and today was the result of everything we’ve been through.”
And for what it’s worth, Meyer is still unbeaten when the Buckeyes are the underdog.
“I mean, we didn’t need the underdog score point. We didn’t need the [Michigan] revenge tour. We didn’t need the guaranteed win,” said Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who torched Michigan for 318 passing yards and five touchdowns. “We know what this game means to our school, to our teammates and to our coaches.”
Michigan never really had any chance to stay with the Buckeyes’ speedy playmakers on offense. Most of the time, the Wolverines’ defenders looked like they were running in quicksand, whether they were being carved apart on crossing routes, deep routes or a 78-yard touchdown by Campbell on a jet sweep.
“From my viewpoint, I felt like we could do anything we wanted on offense,” Campbell said. “We had momentum. We were rolling. Everything was open, and going into the second half, we carried that and rolled with it.”
As rejuvenating as this win was for Meyer and the Buckeyes, it was equally devastating for Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines. Harbaugh became the first coach in Michigan history to lose his first four games to Ohio State, and it’s the most points Michigan has ever allowed in a regulation game.
“I’m just blessed to be in this type of rivalry. The best part is living my dream and playing in it,” said Michigan safety Tyree Kinnel, who’s from Huber Heights, Ohio. “I wish I could have gotten a couple of wins. That’s the toughest part.
“I’m going to have to sleep on that the rest of my life.”
Meanwhile, the rest of the country might want to make sure it doesn’t sleep on an Ohio State team that seems to be putting it all together at just the right time.
“We’re still here. Don’t count us out,” Ohio State offensive tackle Isaiah Prince said.