Scent of a champion: No. 1 Michigan holds off Ohio State, 20-14 Woodson's heroics help Rose-bound Wolverines finish 11-0 regular season

November 23, 1997|By Danielle Rumore | Danielle Rumore,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson held a long-stemmed rose under his nose, inhaled and said, "Can you all smell that? Yeah, I think you can."

Woodson and the top-ranked Wolverines can smell a national title, too, after completing their first unbeaten regular season since 1971 yesterday with a 20-14 victory over No. 4 Ohio State before a record 106,982 at Michigan Stadium.

The Wolverines' first Big Ten title since 1992 sends them to the Rose Bowl to face Pacific-10 champion Washington State on New Year's Day with a clear path to their first national championship since 1948. Michigan is assured of a No. 1 ranking in both major polls heading into Pasadena after No. 2 Florida State (ranked No. 1 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll) lost to Florida yesterday.

The Buckeyes (10-2 overall, 6-2 Big Ten) cut a 20-0 deficit to 20-14 early in the fourth quarter, courtesy of two Michigan turnovers, but the Wolverines (11-0, 8-0) preserved the victory despite three Ohio State scoring opportunities in the final 12 minutes.

"The Ohio State team had a tremendous fight in them," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "I know it's a tough loss, but they have nothing to be ashamed of."

The loss leaves Ohio State coach John Cooper 1-8-1 against Michigan in his tenure. The Wolverines have beaten the Buckeyes the past three seasons, ending their Rose Bowl bid two years ago and their national title hopes last season.

Yesterday's game was a classic defensive battle. The Wolverines entered the game with the nation's top defense; the Buckeyes were seventh. The Wolverines had the nation's best scoring defense; the Buckeyes second best.

Neither team could muster consistent ground or passing attacks yesterday for most of the game. In fact, Michigan's final two touchdowns came on a 78-yard punt return and a 43-yard interception return, respectively. Ohio State's two scores came on a 56-yard touchdown pass and a 2-yard run after a Michigan fumble.

"We have a sign that says, 'Offenses win games and defenses win championships.' I think you know why that's true today," Carr said. "Our defense won the game for us. I said, 'Let's punt [in the fourth] so we can play defense.' "

Ohio State's usually potent two-quarterback system struggled. Quick-footed Stanley Jackson started the game but was replaced with strong-armed Joe Germaine at the start of the second quarter. Germaine struggled, throwing for just 84 yards on 5-for-17 passing and was sacked five times. Jackson opened the second half and threw two interceptions, his only ones this season.

The Wolverines opened the scoring in the second quarter. Faced with a third-and-12 from his own 47-yard line, quarterback Brian Griese hit an open Woodson across the middle with a 37-yard pass. Fullback Chris Floyd moved the ball down to the 1-yard line before running back Anthony Thomas scampered in for the score.

Woodson, who also picked off an Ohio State pass in the end zone, gave the Wolverines their second touchdown, returning a punt for a 78-yard score.

"I felt like I was in a zone," Woodson said. "Just a feeling that nobody was going to catch me. With all the hype around this game, we just weren't going to lose here. I wasn't going to let us."

Besides his offensive heroics, Woodson also limited Ohio State split end David Boston, who had made media headlines after guaranteeing a victory earlier in the week, to just three receptions for 68 yards, although one was a 56-yard scoring pass.

The Wolverines finished their scoring in the third quarter after cornerback Andre Weathers ran back an interception 43 yards.

The Buckeyes crept back into the game in the third quarter with Boston's touchdown and a 2-yard touchdown run by Pearson after Griese fumbled deep in Michigan territory, but the Wolverines' defense finished the job.

Pub Date: 11/23/97

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