The year was 2006 and for the first time in rivalry history, Ohio State and Michigan entered their annual match-up ranked number one and two in the country.
“The Game”, historically a noon kickoff, would begin at a rare 3:30PM start time for television ratings. Weighing on Michigan was the death of legendary coach Bo Schembechler just the day prior. For Ohio State, a trip to the national title game was on the line, all while Heisman hopeful Troy Smith looked to solidify his candidacy with a strong performance.
Both teams came into the game with perfect records. Ohio State began the year ranked number one, a ranking solidified by notable victories over previous No. 2 Texas and the No. 13 Iowa Hawkeyes. Michigan had started the year ranked 14th, but after winning all of their games, including a victory over then-No. 2 Notre Dame came in to the last week of the regular season right behind the Buckeyes.
Michigan running back Mike Hart proclaimed that he had returned for his senior year to not only beat the Buckeyes, but also to win a national championship. The Buckeyes were determined to make him eat his words.
Hart scored on the opening drive of the game, giving the Wolverines an early seven point lead. Troy Smith responded with a drive that resulted in a touchdown pass to Roy Hall. The drive had consisted of 14 straight passing plays, an oddity under Tressel, but also an indicator of the coach’s confidence in his senior quarterback.
The Ohio State offense was not all passing, as proven by a powerful, 52-yard run up the middle by a freshman named Beanie Wells. Wells’ big play gave the Buckeyes a 14-7 lead. Later in the first half, a play-action pass fooled the Michigan defense and resulted in a 39-yard TD to speedster Ted Ginn Jr. Ginn would finish the game with 104 yards, torching Michigan corner Leon Hall for most of the game in the process.
Quarterback Chad Henne, a future starter in the NFL, found wide receiver Adrian Arrington for a touchdown, bringing the score to 21-14. The Buckeyes would respond with Troy Smith’s touchdown pass to Anthony Gonzalez. Ohio State led at halftime 28-14.
Michigan opened the second half by scoring with each of their first two possessions. A touchdown run by Mike Hart was followed by a field goal by kicker Garrett Rivas and suddenly, Ohio State found their lead cut down to 28-24. Antonio Pittman then entered the scoring column with a 56-yard touchdown run, increasing the Bucks’ lead to 35-28.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Michigan’s Hart scored his final rushing touchdown and brought the Wolverines back within four points. On the following drive, Michigan linebacker Shawn Crabel was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Troy Smith. Instead of facing 4th down, the Buckeye’s continued their drive and scored 3 plays later on a touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie. Michigan again fought back and responded with another touchdown, followed by a successful two point conversion catch by wide receiver Steve Breaston.
With just over two minutes left in the game, the Buckeyes were able to run out the clock and preserve a final score of 42 to 39.
Many across the nation wondered if a rematch between Ohio State and Michigan would be billed for the national title game. Ohio State wound up playing a Florida team coached by Urban Meyer in the National Championship while Michigan went on to the Rose Bowl and played USC. Jim Tressel was considered to be in the prime of his coaching tenure while Lloyd Carr was fired after the following season.
Many of the players from the 2006 game went on to play in the NFL. Both quarterbacks would make starts professionally while running backs Mike Hart, Antonio Pittman, and Beanie Wells, all saw playing time on pro teams. Wide receivers Roy Hall, Brian Robiskie, Anthony Gonzalez, Steve Breaston, Mario Manningham, and Ted Ginn Jr. all also played on Sundays in the NFL. Other notable players from both sides that went pro include: Alan Branch, Lamar Woodley, Leon Hall, Alex Boone, Vernon Gholston, and James Laurinaitis.
This legendary match-up was a rare case of a game that actually lived up to the hype. Fans on both sides will remember the game for the rest of their lives as never before had the stakes been as high as they were on November 18th, 2006.