ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The 11th-ranked University of Michigan football team closed out its regular season on Saturday (Nov. 24) with a 26-20 loss to Ohio State in front of the second largest crowd ever in Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines' attempt at a second-half comeback fell short, as Michigan (8-3, 6-2 Big Ten) could not overcome a 23-point halftime deficit and was denied a share of the Big Ten Conference title with Illinois (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten).
The Buckeyes' lead was built largely on the efforts of senior tailback Jonathan Wells, who amassed 129 yards on 25 carries and scored three touchdowns, and a defensive front that held Michigan's offense scoreless in the first half for the first time this season. Senior receiver Marquise Walker (Syracuse, N.Y./Henninger HS) made 15 catches, breaking the Michigan all-time record for career receptions, and had 160 yards with two touchdowns to pace the Maize and Blue. He also set the season record for receptions (81) and tied his own single-game U-M record with 15 catches.
Ohio State struck first on defense after being forced to punt to open the game. Michigan's third play from scrimmage, a pass to senior Shawn Thompson (Saginaw, Mich./Nouvel HS) from quarterback John Navarre (Cudahy, Wis./Cudahy HS), skipped off of the tight end's hands into the Ohio State secondary. Buckeyes safety Mike Doss was under the ball and was able to advance the turnover to the Michigan four-yard line. Wells finished off the drive with a two-yard run off the right tackle for the early 7-0 advantage.
Three possessions later, Walker got the chains moving for the first time, with a 15-yard reception on the left flank from Navarre. Calvin Bell (Simi Valley, Calif./Simi Valley HS) advanced the ball 16 yards on his signature reverse, keyed by a Navarre block downfield. Another completion to Walker came up short of the first down, however, and Hayden Epstein (Cardiff, Calif./Torrey Pines HS) was forced to punt.
The Buckeyes then took the opportunity to assert their running game with a 20-yard rush by Wells to kick off the drive. Jamar Martin followed with a five-yard run up the middle, which set up a similar run by Wells. Buckeye quarterback Craig Krenzel's pass to Chris Gamble brought up fourth and inches. Undaunted, Ohio State kept its offense on the field and got more than the yard it needed with Wells' 46-yard run through the right side of the line to put the Buckeyes up 14-0 with 14:07 remaining in the half.
An injury to Shane Olivea stirred the Buckeyes as Krenzel found tight end Darnell Sanders, who out-jumped Todd Howard (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook HS) for an acrobatic 17-yard reception. With a nine-yard rush, Wells nearly blasted through the Michigan line a third time but was stopped with a first down at the 22. Three unsuccessful rushes later, the Buckeyes lined up for a 39-yard field goal attempt. The ball sailed wide to the left, and the Wolverines were took possession with 6:50 remaining.
On the play following a 14-yard scramble, Navarre's pass was tipped at the line. Buckeye defensive lineman Tim Anderson came down with the ball on Michigan's 28 with just over six minutes on the clock. An offsides penalty advanced the ball five yards before Wells drove past the Wolverine line for his third touchdown of the game, an 11-yard touchdown run that made the score 21-0.
With 1:21 remaining and Michigan looking to move the ball downfield, the Buckeyes' Kenny Peterson infiltrated the backfield and blindsided Navarre, jarring the ball loose. Ohio State recovered the fumble at the 21. As a temporary relief to the Michigan faithful, Howard intercepted Krenzel's pass in the end zone to escape the threat.
Jermaine Gonzales (Pontiac, Mich./Orchard Lake St. Mary's HS) entered the game at quarterback with time running out in the half. On the second play, however, the snap came early and sailed into the end zone. Gonzales reacted astutely by swatting the ball out of bounds to only relinquish a safety and send the teams into the tunnel with Ohio State ahead, 23-0.
Michigan looked to reverse its fortunes in the second half. Its hopes were reinforced by Ohio State's kickoff, which sailed out of bounds. Walker's catch and an offsides call against the Buckeyes gave the Maize and Blue a first down. Chris Perry (Advance, N.C./Fort Union Military [Va.]) was then able to take advantage of a gaping hole in the defense to advance the ball 30 yards. Two looks later, Navarre, under great protection, found Walker streaking across the middle of the end zone. The catch cut the deficit to 16 and was Walker's 162nd, surpassing Anthony Carter's (1979-82) previous school record of 161 career grabs.
Michigan's defense responded and the two teams traded punts until Perry broke through the Buckeye line for a first down with two and a half minutes left in the quarter. Navarre's 47-yard bullet found Walker's hands through double coverage as Michigan approached the goal line. Walker had a chance to catch Michigan's second score, but the ball bounced off his outstretched hands as he eluded a falling defender. On fourth down, Epstein's 27-yard field goal attempt was unsuccessful, and the Wolverines came away without any points after a promising drive.
The Wolverines created another chance with 11:03 left in the game, when Anthony Jordan (Jersey City, N.J./St. Peter's Prep) blocked Ohio State kicker Andy Groom's punt and Roy Manning (Saginaw, Mich./Saginaw HS) fell on the ball at the eight. B.J. Askew (Cincinnati, Ohio/Colerain HS) made the turnover count with a two-yard draw through the middle of the line. Navarre's rollout pass for the two-point conversion was unsuccessful, leaving the score at 23-13 with just over 10 minutes remaining.
On the first play of Michigan's next drive, a pass intended for Walker was tipped en route, allowing Doss to intervene. The Buckeye safety advanced Navarre's third interception of the afternoon to the nine-yard line with seven and a half minutes on the clock. However, several penalties pushed Ohio State back to the 32. Krenzel's completion to Sanders set up a field goal that extended his team's lead to 26-13 with less than six minutes remaining.
Timely passes from Navarre to his receiving corps culminated with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Walker to put the Wolverines within reach for the first time, 26-20, with 2:26 to play. The onside kick by Adam Finley (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove HS) was fielded by Ohio State with 2:35 left on the clock. Michigan had one more chance with the ball on its 20 and nine seconds remaining. The Wolverines could not convert, allowing Ohio State to maintain its six-point victory.
Michigan will await selection for its 27th consecutive bowl game.
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