These were hollow threats, though. Wolverine Quarterback Rick Leach and Wingback Jim Smith are a deadly (if infrequent) passing combination, and speedy Running Backs Rob Lytle, Russell Davis and Harlan Huckleby came into the game averaging roughly six yards a carry. Ohio State, on the other hand, had a fullback ( Pete Johnson) with two bad ankles, a senior quarterback (Jim Pacenta) with only three career starts and a tailback (Jeff Logan) who was pretty good but was no Archie Griffin. "I had the feeling we could blow those guys out," said O'Neal when the game was over. "They just didn't seem to have the offensive threat they've had in the past."
In the first half, neither team did. It was conga football at its most absurd—one, two, three, kick!—everything the Ohio State-Michigan game usually is, only worse. The Buckeyes' Tom Skladany punted four times, and the Wolverines' John Anderson three before Michigan made the game's initial first down. When it finally was accomplished, on a nine-yard run by Lytle with 12 minutes gone, it seemed totally out of place. How quaint! The Buckeyes did not muster a 10-yard drive of their own until their sixth possession. Later in the half, though, they put together a serious march to the Michigan 10. Then, on a second down and eight, Pacenta faked a hand-off and, under extreme pressure from an unexpected blitz, looped a pass in the approximate direction of Tight End Greg Storer. Unfortunately, Storer was neither alone nor very close to the football, and one of two Wolverines accompanying him, Jim Pickens, picked the ball off. It was a horrible decision by Pacenta—most high school quarterbacks in Ohio would have taken the eight-yard loss—and an odd call by a coach who had said just two days before, with much pride, that "only rushing teams win the Big Ten title." Later, even Woody admitted, "I don't have an alibi. I just called a bad play. But I will always wonder what might have happened if we had been able to score." A fair guess is 22-3.
The scoreless first half did not dishearten Schembechler. "Coming into the game," he said later, "I felt there was no way they were going to stop us. Then at halftime I honestly didn't believe they'd score. I knew that our defense could hold them if we didn't give up the ball deep in our own territory. As for ourselves, I felt we could score if we just straightened out and started executing what we'd done all year."
Entering the game, Michigan ranked first nationally in rushing, scoring and yards gained per offensive play. It had a strong option attack featuring Leach, a sophomore on the path to greatness, and Lytle, a senior whom Schembechler considers "the best back I've ever coached." Whether operating as a tailback (as he did against Ohio State) or at fullback (as he did last year and much of this season), the 195-pound Lytle had been outstanding. He entered the game as the school's record ground-gainer (3,085 yards) and with the best yards-per-carry average (7.1) in the country. He is durable, too, never missing a single practice or game with an injury and admitting to two cracked ribs suffered before the season began only after they had knit.
However, despite the best efforts of Leach and Lytle, Ohio State contained the Michigan outside game in the first half. "We were getting some yardage on them inside," said Lytle, "but it was sporadic. In the second half they tried to shut off the middle more and it left the option and pitch open. But a lot of it was my fault, too. I kept looking for the big play even though it wasn't there. I just told myself in the second half that I'd better get my butt in gear."
On the first play of the third quarter Leach went right for nine yards. Three plays later Lytle went left for 15. Then it was Leach right for 20 and Lytle right for 11. Their speed was spreading Ohio State's defenders like a rubber band. Fullback Davis finally capped the 80-yard drive by slipping through right tackle from the three.
After the kick-off the Buckeyes waited three plays before unleashing their most potent weapon, Punter Skladany, who finished the day with a 52-yard average on eight kicks. But another of several fine returns by Smith gave the Wolverines the ball at their 48, and it took them only five minutes to score again. Lytle started the drive with a 16-yard burst around the right side, and Wing-back Smith kept it alive when he picked up 16 more to the Buckeye nine on a tricky reverse pitch to the left. Davis scored his second touchdown on another three-yard bolt off tackle. Schembechler had promised "another dull game just like the others," but after the touchdown he tried an unorthodox and risky twist. Realizing that a 14-14 tie would deny his team the Rose Bowl again, Schembechler ordered a two-point attempt. But not just any two-point play. No, on this one, added especially for the game, Michigan lined up in kicking formation and let the holder, Jerry Zuver, race the ball around right end for a 15-0 lead.
Zuver also played a decisive role when he intercepted a Pacenta pass and returned it 13 yards to the Buckeyes' 15. Three plays later Lytle scored from the three, his 15th touchdown this season.
Lytle finished with 165 yards in 29 carries as the Michigan offense bettered its 362-yard rushing average by four. The defense, led by Morton's 14 tackles, held Ohio State to 104 yards total offense, 225 yards below its average.
Although it was Michigan's fifth shutout of the year, it was the first time Ohio State had been blanked since a 10-0 loss to the Wolverines in 1964. In fact, as Bo himself was quick to point out, the Buckeyes did not score a touchdown against them at home two years ago either, kicking four field goals in their 12-10 victory. "You know, I got more and more confident about this game as the week went on," Schembechler said. "I would have been sick if we hadn't won. Now I can envision the Rose Bowl being for the national championship."