Michigan denies Ohio State, 35-21

Wolverines clinch berth in Rose, end Buckeyes' bid to defend national title

November 23, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The computer geniuses who actually understand the confusing machinations of the Bowl Championship Series standings can go back into their techno-caves now that the Michigan Wolverines cleared up another potential controversy yesterday at "The Big House."

With a convincing 35-21 victory over Ohio State before an NCAA-record crowd of 112,118, fifth-ranked Michigan clinched its first outright Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth since 1997. The defeat in the 100th meeting between the teams denied the fourth-ranked Buckeyes any chance of defending their national championship in the Sugar Bowl.

The loss by Ohio State likely paved the way for a matchup between top-ranked Oklahoma and Southern California, which came into the day ranked second in the human polls but third behind the Buckeyes in the BCS. It also kept third-ranked LSU in the picture after the Tigers beat Mississippi, 17-14.

Despite injuring his hamstring early in the game, Michigan tailback Chris Perry rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries against an Ohio State team that had been leading the country in rushing defense. Perry, who leads the Big Ten in rushing and all-purpose yardage, also caught five passes for 55 yards.

It was the Wolverines' first win over their archrival in three years, ending two long seasons of frustration for quarterback John Navarre, who silenced his critics with 278 yards and two touchdowns on 21-for-32 passing. Navarre also saw an apparent 86-yard touchdown pass called back by a penalty.

"It's special," a teary-eyed Navarre said afterward, clutching the Big Ten championship trophy that had eluded the Wolverines since he came here. "It means a lot. We stubbed our toe a couple of times early in the season. There was no quit in us."

After losing at Oregon and at Iowa, Michigan (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten) turned its season around with a dramatic comeback win at Minnesota. That comeback - the Wolverines trailed 28-7 and won, 38-35 - fueled a dominating stretch of six straight wins, including yesterday.

Michigan put Ohio State's vaunted defense on its heels early with some wide-open play calling by typically conservative coach Lloyd Carr, then pounded the Buckeyes on the ground with Perry. The result was a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.

"When we've got guys like Chris and Braylon [Edwards, the team's leading receiver], they've got to decide who they want to stop," said Navarre, who hit Edwards seven times for 130 yards and two touchdowns, including a 64-yarder in the second quarter. "That opened up the passing game for us."

It eventually opened up the field for Perry. Though the Buckeyes began to cut their deficit with a touchdown late in the first half, Perry's 30-yard run early in the second half helped give the Wolverines a 28-7 lead and seemed to leave Ohio State like the rest of Michigan's overwhelmed opponents at home.

"I think Michigan, as we've said all along, does an excellent job of being balanced," said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, whose offense was one-dimensional with a running game that produced just 54 yards on 25 carries.

As has been their nature since Tressel came to Columbus three years ago, the Buckeyes came back and made things interesting. Despite watching quarterback Craig Krenzel leave the game when he reinjured his non-throwing shoulder, Ohio State (10-2, 6-2) cut Michigan's lead to 28-21 with 13:53 left.

After the crowd, which included some 400 to 500 former Michigan players, became a bit nervous when Ohio State cornerback Chris Gamble immediately intercepted Navarre, the Michigan defense stiffened, sacking backup quarterback Scott McMullen on third-and-nine at the Buckeyes' 37.

"As a defense, getting that stop was huge," said senior defensive tackle Grant Bowman. "There is so much momentum in a game like this, and we were able to get it back. After we scored again, it was hard for them to get back in the game."

On Michigan's subsequent possession, Navarre hit tight end Tyler Ecker for 30 yards on a crucial third-and-four from the Michigan 46. Perry then took it the rest of the way, going 9 yards on first down and the remaining 15 for a touchdown to ice the game.

"It feels fantastic," said Perry, who accused Ohio State's Will Smith of trying to injure him by yanking his leg in the first quarter. "As Coach Carr said, you come here to win the Big Ten championship. We finally earned it this year. It is ours."

Carr, who has often come to the defense of his quarterback, took a shot at those who have criticized Navarre in the past.

"Make no mistake at Michigan, the big games are Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State - and he was the winning quarterback in each of those games [this year]," said Carr, who will get some of the critics off his back as well. "I've had some great quarterbacks here, and he is one of them."

And make no mistake - Ohio State's run at a second straight national championship is over.

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