ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Ohio State defensive end Jonathon Cooper thought he was having a good week of practice.
So he made a request to his coaches.
Cooper wanted to return for the Buckeyes for the game at Michigan. If he could play only once more this season, why not against the Wolverines?
"I feel like this game would mean more to me and my brothers," Cooper said after a 56-27 win. "I wanted to end the regular season undefeated. I wanted to make sure I gave everything I got. Not only is this the rivalry game, but I felt like this was the last time I could play emotionally."
It was Cooper’s last game of the season because he plans to redshirt and return for a fifth season. To redshirt under recently implemented NCAA rules, he can appear in no more than four games.
The fourth game came Saturday at Michigan Stadium, a step that was taken once Cooper lined up opposite Chase Young on the defensive line on the first play.
Playing alongside departing seniors, many of whom were a part of the same recruiting class four years ago, Cooper, one of seven captains, helped the Buckeyes win their eighth straight game over the Wolverines.
Cooper’s biggest sequence came early in the third quarter when Michigan needed to mount a second-half rally, trailing 35-16 after the Buckeyes had scored a touchdown on the opening series of the second half.
As quarterback Shea Patterson dropped to pass on a second-and-10 near midfield, Cooper charged into the backfield. Patterson tried to sidestep him, moving forward in the pocket, but Cooper grabbed his jersey from behind and Patterson ducked before linebacker Baron Browning could arrive to level a punishing hit.
It left the Wolverines in a third-and-16, and they punted on the next play.
"This season has been very tough, very hard," Cooper said, "but I honestly wasn't going into this game thinking, ‘Oh, I want to make this big-time play or big-time sack.’ Every single week, whether I'm playing, I want to make sure I give everything to this team, everything that I have, whether it's on the field or off the field. And I'm happy that I made that play.
"It means the world to me that my teammates were here and I stepped up for them."
The pressure from the Buckeyes contributed to some of Patterson’s struggles in the second half.
Cooper finished with three tackles, including a tackle for loss. The sack was his first this season, coming in his first game in more than a month. He has spent most of the season dealing with the effects of a high ankle sprain suffered in August.
Cooper could return for the Big Ten championship game or the College Football Playoff, bolstered by the effort. He admitted the prospect could be enticing, but once he decided to redshirt weeks ago, he wanted to stay committed, no matter if his final fourth game went well or it didn’t.
"I feel like what's best for me, and also for the team and my family, is still to redshirt," Cooper said.