The clock stops at 2,926.
Shortly after being named head football coach at the University of Michigan last January, Brady Hoke had a large scoreboard installed inside the team’s practice facility on campus at Schembechler Hall. The large board listed the number of days since the Wolverines had defeated their bitterest rival, Ohio State.
Before Saturday the toll stood at 2,926 days or seven years. Seven long years.
Beating Ohio State had become an obsession for Wolverine Nation.
“Every meeting, every practice, every day we end everything with, ‘beat Ohio,” said Michigan center Dave Molk. “It’s something coach Hoke bought here.”
How much more emphasis on beating Ohio Stat was there this year than last year?
About 1,000 times more,” said Molk.
And it paid off Saturday in front of 114, 132 at the Big House and a nationwide television audience. Michigan improved to 10-2 this season and finished 8-0 at home for the first time ever with a 40-34 victory over Ohio State.
The big clock goes back to zero.
“It’s a win that solidifies our program and shows everyone where we are as a team,” said senior defensive lineman Ryan VanBergen. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team play with more focus or determination.”
Michigan hadn’t beaten Ohio State since 2003 and hadn’t come close in recent years. Last year Ohio State won, 37-7.
This is no everyday rivalry. In 1999, ESPN called it the biggest rivalry in sports in the 20th century. No. 2 on the list was Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier.
“It’s special,” said Hoke. “Not because of me or any of the coaches. It’s the kids and they played their hearts out today.”
Lately this season Michigan has been winning thanks to its defense but the Wolverines had to battle back all day after Ohio State scored on its initial drive of the day, culminating in a 54-yard pass from Braxton Miller to Corey Brown as the receiver was all alone and walked to the end zone.
“After that play we went to the bench on defense and said, ‘No More,”” said Michigan defensive back Jordan Kovacs. “We needed the offense to bail us out and they did.”
Miller, the Ohio State freshman quarterback played a strong game, running for a touchdown and 100 yards on 17 carries and throwing for two touchdown passes and 235 yards. But as good as Miller was, Michigan’s Denard Robinson was even better.
It was vintage Denard. He accounted for five scores on the day, throwing for three scores and running for two more – the third time in his Michigan career he had turned that trick. He ran for 170 yards and hit 14 of 17 passes for 167 yards and no interceptions.
Michigan ends the regular season with two 1,000-yard rushers, Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint, who had 120 yards in the contest.
“It’s never easy for us,” said Hoke. “It wasn’t the prettiest game but it was a lot of fun.”
Michigan tried to put the game away in the final minutes with a touchdown but one was called back when replay officials ruled that Touissant was stopped short of the goalline and another apparent score was nullified by two penalties.
That meant Ohio State, trailing by six, had a chance to win in the final seconds. But with time running out, Courtney Avery’s interception began a Michigan celebration.
After the contest the Wolverines partied on the field, hugged, and several went into the stands to celebrate with fans.
Michigan reportedly is in line to land a BCS bowl but Hoke dismissed the talk.
“That’ s not my decision,” the coach said.
The Big Ten has always landed two team in the BCS and the winner of next week’s Michigan State-Wisconsin Big Ten championship will gain the automatic berth. Michigan with only two losses would probably be a more attractive bowl team than the loser of that game.
“I’m not even going to think about that now,” said VanBergen. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to top this win today.”
For more info: mgoblue, annarbor.com, espn