OSU’s short passes made it long day for Michigan

Edward Sutelan
Ohio State receiver K.J. Hill Jr. scoots in on a 1-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes shredded the Wolverines defense with short passes on crossing routes. [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]

It became a sight all too familiar for the Michigan defense.

An Ohio State receiver darting from one side of the field to another, catching a pass 5 or 10 yards from the quarterback before angling upfield and taking off down the sideline.

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On Ohio State’s first drive Saturday, three receivers caught such passes before gaining 16, 11 and 24 yards, the last to Chris Olave from quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. for a touchdown.

Those crossing routes proved key to Ohio State’s offensive success Saturday in a 62-39 victory, and though the Michigan players suggested improvements were made at halftime, the results did not show it.

“We made adjustments at halftime,” safety Tyree Kinnel said. “We addressed the issues that we had in the first half and they came out and beat us with something else in the second half. Credit to them and their coaches. They had a great game plan.”

Though Michigan seemed to adopt a new plan, using more zone coverage as the game wore on, the results did not seem to change. A mix of mesh- and seam-route passes to Olave and Johnnie Dixon provided enough variety in the game plan from Ohio State offensive coordinators Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson.

Eventually, that familiar slant route worked again for Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill for fourth-quarter touchdowns as Ohio State scored its most points ever on its archrival.

The struggles were something beyond anything Michigan could have expected. The Wolverines had faced only one other offense in the top 30 in passing, SMU, which put up 209 yards in a 45-20 loss to Michigan on Sept. 15.

By halftime, Michigan had surrendered 222 passing yards to Ohio State, with those short passes burning a secondary that had not been tested by a group of receivers as fast. By game’s end, that total had reached 318 yards, including five touchdowns.

“They got some real speed plays. Crossing routes hurt,” Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Threw the ball down the field well, they did a nice job throwing and catching those. I thought their protection was really good. And we didn’t get the pressure on the quarterback that we wanted to.”

Ohio State’s longest touchdown of the game was a similar sight, with Campbell darting across the field, only this time it was before the snap and behind the line of scrimmage.

He took an immediate handoff from Haskins and darted up the right sideline 78 yards to the end zone, a trail of Michigan defenders in his wake.

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