Then the nation’s best offense took the field. It did not look the part. The Buckeyes, askew after a bobbled fair catch seemed to have positioned them closer to the grandstands than to their own bench, went three-and-out. They had picked up just one yard, after C.J. Stroud fumbled a premature snap and fell forward onto the ball.
Soon enough, the Wolverines stood on Ohio State’s 39-yard line. Cade McNamara threw a pass to Roman Wilson to gain 24. A two-score lead appeared imminent, and Michigan entrusted that prospect to McNamara’s gilded arm. The ball rocketed toward the end zone, but Bryson Shaw, a sophomore safety for Ohio State, found it first.
Shaw delivered the ball to his own 22, a far finer place than Ohio State had started from when it last had possession. The Buckeyes began another northward march, toward Michigan’s student section and its band and almost too many maize-shaded pompoms to fathom, much less count.
They diced up the Michigan defense: a series of rushes that gobbled up 56 yards, short passes that added up to 19. The sputtering started when, on second down with the goal line just three yards away, a pass to Chris Olave went incomplete.
The stadium — and if you do not at least fleetingly buy into the notion of home field advantage, test your hypothesis in Ann Arbor some Saturday — thundered and roared and hollered and menaced on third down, forcing a false start.
And then Aidan Hutchinson, who started the day with a share of the Big Ten’s lead in sacks, stormed through Ohio State’s line to force Stroud to the ground for a six-yard loss. (Later in the day, Hutchinson picked up his 13th of the year, a single-season record for Michigan, which is in its 142nd season of varsity football.) The prospect for a tied score dimmed, replaced by the Buckeyes’ hopes for a 31-yard field goal, which they made.