After a season full of unsatisfying wins, Ohio State had nothing to do other than savor a 62-39 victory over Michigan on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
Call it the freedom of being able to play without expectations or the joy of being an underdog, but the 10th-ranked Buckeyes seemed to have few cares against the No. 4 Wolverines, who were favored by around four points most of the week.
There will be College Football Playoff rankings to consider in a couple of days and a Big Ten championship game against Northwestern to prepare for, but a win was a win for once Saturday.
Fans and analysts are often more critical of a team than coaches and players are of themselves, but that was rarely the case this season for Ohio State.
The Buckeyes entered the year with their eye on a return to the College Football Playoff (after a one-year absence), and they acknowledged how a leaky defense or suspect running game could hurt them when they got there — if they got there, of course.
Eventually that dominated conversation more than all the good things Ohio State was doing, and it started to seem like there was nothing the Buckeyes could do that would be good enough despite putting together another season with double-digit wins even before Michigan came to town.
And then Saturday saw Urban Meyer push back against the narrative that his team has been disappointing this season.
“A win is frustrating for you or someone else,” he said after being asked where the team that hung 62 points on the No. 1 defense in the country had been all year. “A win is not frustrating for us. A win — there’s a lot of good football players out there. A lot of great programs. And I kind of think that’s disrespectful to other people that work really hard at trying to win games.
“So, with all due respect, there’s never a bad win. Someone might say: Why didn’t you run it or throw more; you missed a tackle? That’s okay, you win that game. And our guys, obviously, showed up and played great today.”
He raised eyebrows earlier in the week when he said he did not think he would use Ohio State’s status as an underdog to motivate the team, but that might have turned out to be the right move — even as Michigan running back Karan Higdon guaranteed a victory for his team and defensive end Chase Winovich put the Buckeyes on his “revenge tour” after the Wolverines dominated Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State.
“I mean, we didn’t need to be underdogs to score points,” quarterback Dwayne Haskins said after throwing five touchdown passes. “We didn’t need the revenge tour. We didn’t need the guaranteed win. We know what this game means to our school, to our teammates and to our coaches.”
Then again, that extra stuff probably didn’t help the Wolverines snap their now-seven-game losing streak in the series, either.
“We always just want to execute every play, every game plan we have we want to execute, but I think today something is different,” senior receiver Parris Campbell said. “Guys go out there with a chip on their shoulder, just with everything we’ve been through, what (Michigan) players said this week, the ammo that they gave us — guys definitely think about that. That’s not something we take lightly, the things that are said. We don’t take those things lightly. I think guys just went out there and played with a chip on their shoulders, played for the love of our brothers and that was the end result.”