The beauty of Saturday’s showdown between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan is that it was not simply a matchup of playoff contenders in a heated rivalry game, but it was such a stark contrast in styles.
Ohio State is the sports car, all flash and speed with more skill position talent than the average Big Ten team has in a decade.
Michigan is a Jeep, a rugged machine designed for brute force. The Wolverines win not by sprinting past opponents, but by running over them.
And if that had been the script that played out Saturday — and, for much of the first half, it was — the Buckeyes might be headed to the Big Ten title game.
Instead, Jim Harbaugh’s team showed it’s far from a one-trick pony. On Saturday, Michigan was Meryl Streep, effortlessly slipping into a new role, cast against type, and playing the part perfectly.
In the end, of course, Michigan still ran the ball for 252 yards and still forced two Ohio State turnovers and held the Buckeyes to 5 of 17 on third and fourth down, but that was simply the denouement. Michigan won through the air, through style, pizzazz and an almost comical level of brazenness from Harbaugh that he has rarely shown in the course of his coaching career.
Back in September, Harbaugh gambled on McCarthy as his starter, benching the QB who took the Wolverines to the College Football Playoff in 2021, Cade McNamara, in favor of the more versatile sophomore. For much of the season, the gamble paid minimal dividends, with McCarthy deferring to his run game in a series of entirely formulaic wins against lesser opponents, like a poker player checking again and again waiting for just the right hand to go all in.
Saturday, McCarthy was dealt one ace after another.
Entering the game, Michigan had just 12 completions of 30 yards or more all year. Against Ohio State, McCarthy delivered four of them, including touchdown throws of 69, 75 and 45.
And if McCarthy’s shredding of an overmatched Ohio State secondary wasn’t enough, Michigan used its linebacker-turned-running back to throw a 15-yard jump pass on third down in what was less a play call and more akin to slipping a whoopee cushion onto Ryan Day’s seat just as he sat down for Thanksgiving dinner. It was designed to embarrass as much as to succeed. Such is the beauty of a rivalry like this one.
Perhaps as shocking as Michigan’s role reversal on offense was the way Ohio State simply cashed in its chips down the stretch. The Buckeyes mustered just 3 points in the second half, turned the ball over twice, and watched as Michigan’s Donovan Edwards reeled off touchdown runs of 75 and 85 yards on consecutive drives. Had Ohio State kept the game close, fought to the end, took Michigan to the brink — perhaps there’d still be a reasonable case to put the Buckeyes into the College Football Playoff.
Instead, the epitaph on their season will read, “Lost by 22 at home to that teaX up north.”
It’s hard to know what this means in the bigger picture for Michigan. Last year, the Wolverines made the playoff, but their fate always felt all but assured, a sacrificial lamb just happy to live long enough to get a free trip to South Beach before getting whipped by Georgia.
Saturday showed something more to the 2022 incarnation though. While Day punted away chances to close the gap in the second half, Harbaugh seemed like a hedge fund manager on a heater at a Vegas craps table — all gas, no brakes, tipping the waitress with $100 bills on every fresh glass of 2% milk she brings. While Ohio State was unable to maneuver the foothills in its souped-up sports car, Michigan showed it can sling it around the field, then run it down your throat. And while the Buckeyes were knocked from their place atop the list of contenders for Georgia’s throne, Michigan may well have delivered a statement that reverberates well beyond Big Ten country. This team is for real.
Gamecocks ice the ACC
There was a time, two whole weeks ago, when the South Carolina offense was a mess. This was a different era, of course, back before our long national nightmare waiting for Taylor Swift tickets and well before Matt Rhule could locate Nebraska on a map. Many people had only seen “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” twice. So much has changed since then.
Back in those dark days of mid-November, South Carolina was embarrassed by Florida 38-6 and its offense was in shambles.
But now, the Gamecocks have the hottest offense in the country and Spencer Rattler suddenly looks like … well, 2020 Spencer Rattler.
After throttling No. 5 Tennessee 63-38 last week, the Gamecocks put on an encore performance by toppling No. 8 Clemson for the first time since 2013, 31-30, and effectively ending the ACC’s playoff hopes in the process.
South Carolina’s special teams recover the fumble to regain control in final minutes.
Rattler was dazzling again, completing 25 of 39 passes for 360 yards and two touchdowns, while adding a third on the ground.
Clemson’s DJ Uiagalelei, on the other hand, was a mess, completing 8 of 29 throws, as the Tigers turned the ball over three times while wasting a 14-0 lead.
Will Shipley ran for 132 yards on the ground, but had just two carries on Clemson’s final four drives.
Now, the ACC championship game will feature two teams that both lost their rivalry games to close out the year, with North Carolina losing to NC State 30-27 Friday night in 2OT.
South Carolina, on the other hand, will wrap the regular season with a likely top-25 ranking and enough cache to warrant some serious buzz heading into their bowl and beyond. The Gamecocks won eight regular season games for the first time since 2017 and snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Tigers — handing Dabo Swinney his first home loss in 41 games to boot.
Freeze ends cold
Since then, however, the wheels have come off, and Hugh Freeze appears to still be flying down the highway, rims sparking, bumper hanging off, en route to Auburn.
Freeze is in talks to take the vacant head-coaching job at Auburn, which three weeks ago might’ve seemed a home run hire for the Tigers.
Now? Well, hard to blame Freeze for Saturday’s result. New Mexico State had only beaten one FBS team by 35 or more in the past 20 years, so clearly the Aggies were due.
Saturday’s was the cherry on top of the embarrassment sundae Liberty has enjoyed the past three weeks. First came a loss to UConn, getting the Huskies bowl eligible for the first time since the Taft administration (Note: We didn’t fact check that, but it feels right). Then came a loss to a 2-8 Virginia Tech that hadn’t won since mid-September. And now, an absolute demolition by New Mexico State.
Of course, there’s a lot more that will go into Auburn’s ultimate decision than just three mostly meaningless games. The important thing on The Plains is to ensure the Tigers get a coach who will happily college a $40 million buyout in 2025.
Big bets and bad beats
Clemson closed as a 14.5-point favorite against South Carolina on Saturday, which should’ve been a sure thing for the Tigers. Dabo Swinney was 62-1 straight up when favored by two touchdowns or more. Alas, the Gamecocks don’t care about history. They only care about melting faces and covering spreads. South Carolina won outright, a money line payout of +430.
One bettor dropped $753,535 on a money line bet on Ohio State at -315. That wasn’t all that smart.
Largest reported Michigan-Ohio St game: $753,535 Buckeyes moneyline (-315). Bet was placed Friday in New Jersey with @WynnBET. It would win $239,214.
— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) November 26, 2022
Michigan’s win will make for a lot of rough Sunday mornings in Ohio, and at least one in Las Vegas.