OSU proves its ranking in up-and-down victory over Michigan

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – All season, and during each game of the 24-game win streak, the talk around Columbus and Buckeye fans was why Ohio State wasn’t ranked higher.

Why were the Buckeyes behind Florida State? Why was Ohio State not getting any love in the BCS and in the other polls? Why was Ohio State only an afterthought and a “if someone loses” when talking about contenders for the National Championship Game?

After Saturday’s 42-41 win over Michigan, the reasons all of those questions were posed became quite clear: The defense is holding this team back.

Before the case is stated , I know what Ohio State die-hard fans are going to say.

“Well it’s a rivalry game, so the records don’t matter.”

“It wasn’t at Ohio Stadium, so the one-point win was big because it was at The Big House.”

“We’ve still won 24 games in a row, and no other team in the country has done that.”

While those statements are true, true and true again, it doesn’t overshadow the fact that Ohio State’s shaky defense was completely exposed on Saturday, giving up 603 yards to a Michigan offense that had totaled 866 yards in the other four games played in the month of November combined.

The defensive holes displayed on Saturday mimicked a slice of Swiss cheese. The secondary gave up 451 yards passing and four touchdowns.

On one of those touchdowns, an 11-yard pass to Drew Dileo, there wasn’t an Ohio State defender within 10 yards to even attempt to break up the play. All day long, Michigan receivers had plenty of separation and were able to have their way with Ohio State – especially receiver Jeremy Gallon, who racked up 175 yards.

While the rush defense played slightly better, it was by far their worst outing of the season. They gave up the most yards of the year on the ground (152) and Howland graduate and current Trumbull County rushing record holder De’Veon Smith broke off a 38-yard run – the longest the Buckeyes had given up this season.

So, before fans start booking tickets for Pasadena – whether it is for the Rose Bowl or for the National Championship game – remember that Ohio State has to beat Michigan State in order to get to one of the two January games.

And if the Buckeyes play the way they did today next week in Indianapolis, Ohio State might not be going to Pasadena at all.

Maybe Saturday’s 42-41 near loss to Michigan was exactly what the Buckeyes needed going into preparations for the Big Ten Championship. Maybe the game will serve as a wakeup call that they can be defeated and it’s not normal to win 24 straight games.

All year, Ohio State’s best defense has been its offense. Even in a case like Saturday, it was OK that Michigan put up 41 points because the Buckeyes put up 42. Well, against the Spartans, a team only allowing 12.5 points per game, Ohio State will have to be able to make a stop at some point and not rely on the offense to bail out the defense.

Without a doubt, Saturday’s game will go down as one of the better ones in the history of the rivalry. And it was the classic definition of a rivalry – complete with the throw-the-records-out and all-bets-are-off cliches said by both teams.

But at the end of the day, Ohio State – a team ranked third in the country – made the Michigan offense (a team not ranked and struggling) look like a top-rated offense on an Xbox video game.

That’s not going to win national titles. And if things aren’t cleaned up, it won’t even win a Big Ten title.