You couldn’t tell from the press box.
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett took a fourth-and-1 keeper right at Michigan defensive back Delano Hill, and that’s when the 2016 top-five showdown between the Buckeyes and Wolverines was defined by two words.
It was so close. Barrett got the first down — which was confirmed by replay — and Curtis Samuel’s 15-yard TD run on the next play gave Ohio State a 30-27 double-overtime win.
That game will be replayed at 7 tonight, and it’s a moment that has defined the continual one-sided nature of The Game since.
No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan met at Ohio Stadium with identical 10-1 records heading into their annual rivalry game. The Wolverines had a chance to clinch a spot in the Big Ten championship game with a victory.
The Buckeyes had won four in a row in the rivalry under Urban Meyer, including a 41-13 blowout the previous season in the first meeting with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
The stakes were high in the 11th top-five showdown between the teams.
Michigan had a 10-7 lead at halftime and took a 17-7 lead with 6:38 left in the third quarter on a TD run by Khalid Hill. The Wolverines were conservative on offense, however, and the Buckeyes tied the score at the end of regulation.
The teams exchanged TDs in the first overtime, but the Wolverines settled for a field goal in the second overtime after Wilton Speight failed to connect with Grant Perry on third down. There was debate whether that was a missed pass interference call.
Ohio State answered with Barrett’s first-down run and Samuel’s TD, and that gave Meyer a fifth straight victory against Michigan.
Harbaugh’s ‘bitter’ disappointment
Harbaugh’s press conference afterward became the viral moment. He channeled Bo Schembechler’s energy from the 10-10 tie in 1973 by saying he was “bitterly disappointed” in the officiating and insisting that Barrett was short of the first down. He also voiced displeasure at “graphic displays” of pass interference.
Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers also pushed an Ohio State fan after the game when Buckeyes fans stormed the field. The Wolverines had to settle for a berth in the Orange Bowl, where they lost 33-32 to No. 10 Florida State.
Ohio State watched two-loss Penn State win the Big Ten championship the following week, but the College Football Playoff committee put the Buckeyes in the Playoff instead of the Nittany Lions. The Buckeyes lost 31-0 to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.
“The Spot,” however, was the main point of contention. The referees’ background was questioned. Both sides made Zapruder-like tapes to show their angle of Barrett’s run. It’s a play that lives near the top of the list of memorable moments in the rivalry’s history.
The Wolverines are 27-12 the past three seasons under Harbaugh, but the recurring nightmare against Ohio State continues.
Michigan lost 31-20 in 2017 as part of a five-loss season. The return trip to Columbus in 2018 came with yet another chance to get revenge on the Buckeyes, and that flopped in a 62-39 blowout loss. Ohio State tacked on a 56-27 blowout in Ann Arbor last season.
Harbaugh is 0-5 against the Buckeyes heading into 2020, and it’s fair to wonder what would be different had the Wolverines stopped Barrett short in 2016. Michigan has not won a Big Ten championship since 2004, and for all the improvements Harbaugh has made his tenure still lacks a defining win against the school’s biggest rival.
Ohio State since
The Buckeyes have won eight straight games against Michigan and can match the rivalry’s longest win streak with a win against the Wolverines in 2020.
Keep in mind Michigan hasn’t won at Ohio Stadium since 2000.
The Buckeyes have showed no signs of giving up that grip. Ohio State is 38-4 and has won the past three Big Ten championships, and the transition from Meyer to Ryan Day has been seamless in terms of recruiting.
The Buckeyes will be ranked in the top five across most polls with a talented roster led by Heisman Trophy finalist Justin Fields, and they will be the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten and make the College Football Playoff again.
The gap between the programs remains, and 2016 is the last time it was close.