ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Domination has not satisfied Ohio State’s hunger.
The No. 1 Buckeyes throttled Michigan 56-27 Saturday at Michigan Stadium, their school-record eighth straight victory over the Wolverines.
They used their superior raw talent, of course. This is a gifted team, perhaps as complete as any Buckeyes team in memory as they finished the regular season 12-0 heading into next week’s Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin.
But they firmly believe their dominance against Michigan is because they believe the rivalry simply means more to the Buckeyes.
That’s why quarterback Justin Fields was determined to come back from what initially looked to be a devastating knee injury and returned within minutes to throw a beautiful touchdown pass. That touchdown — the third of Fields’ four — made it 42-16 and snuffed out realistic hopes of a Michigan comeback.
That’s why defensive end Jonathon Cooper decided to use this as his final game of the season before redshirting instead of saving it for the postseason.
That’s why J.K. Dobbins raised his ferocious running to an even higher level in running for a career-high 211 yards and four scores.
Fields said he knows some of Michigan’s players, so he has an idea of what they do — or don’t — to prepare for the game.
“I just think we take it more serious than they do,” Fields said. “We prepare for it all year. Like (strength) coach Mick (Marotti) said, we're preparing for the next year right now. So I think it just means more at Ohio State.”
The gap between the teams is widening. A year ago, the Buckeyes were underdogs when they embarrassed the Wolverines and their top-ranked defense 62-39. This year’s margin was even bigger.
No. 13 Michigan (9-3, 6-3 Big Ten) hung in for a while thanks to a passing game that repeatedly burned the Buckeyes. Ohio State was without versatile cornerback Shaun Wade all game and Damon Arnette for most of the second half. Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson completed 14 of 19 passes for 250 yards in the first half, which ended with Ohio State ahead 28-16.
Ohio State went 75 yards in six plays to score to open the second half, and Michigan didn’t get closer than 12 points the rest of the way.
Patterson completed only 4 of 24 passes for 55 yards in the second half. Michigan’s run game never got consistently untracked. Michigan ran for only 91 yards, and much of that came when the outcome was settled.
“There were a few things that they did that we just hadn't seen on film, which has kind of been a trend all season,” defensive tackle Robert Landers said. “It just came down to us making the proper in-game adjustments and halftime adjustments.”
Michigan’s defense never did figure out Ohio State’s offense as it rolled up 577 yards. Dobbins ran behind Ohio State’s powerful offensive line for chunks of yardage all game.
The big scare for the Buckeyes, though, came in the middle of the third quarter when Fields got hit and grabbed his knee completing a pass to Austin Mack.
Fields revealed after the game that he had sprained his medial collateral ligament in his left knee late against Penn State, and the hit aggravated it. He was on the turf for a couple of minutes and then walked into the medical tent. But he quickly emerged and returned to the game.
On his first play back, he rolled left to buy time and lofted a perfect pass to Garrett Wilson for a 30-yard touchdown play.
“I thought it was a magical moment,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “I thought it was a Heisman moment.”
Fields, who had a shaky start, finished with 302 yards on 14-of-25 passing. He has thrown 37 touchdown passes this year with only one interception.
By the middle of the fourth quarter, Michigan fans were leaving the Big House in disappointment yet again as a sizable number of Buckeyes fans reveled in another victory in the rivalry.
It was Day’s first as head coach, and he acknowledged feeling the pressure of succeeding Urban Meyer in needing to win this game.
“I can’t say enough about what this coaching staff has done, (as well as) the leaders — the way J.K. Dobbins played today, the way (cornerback) Jeff Okudah was gritty today, the way our defensive staff put together unbelievable adjustments at halftime,” Day said.
“This was everybody. In games like this, it comes down to players, and our big-time players played well.”