ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan has taken a step back in Jim Harbaugh’s third season.
After winning 10 games in each of his previous two years, the Wolverines can’t finish the season with more than nine victories after losing 31-20 to No. 8 Ohio State. They also fell to 1-5 under Harbaugh against the rival Buckeyes and Michigan State Spartans.
“It gets old after a while, just saying, ‘Oh we’re gonna get better,'” defensive end Chase Winovich said. “At the end of the day, you have two options: You can get worse or you can get better.”
Michigan started strong against the Buckeyes, holding them to negative 6 yards of offense in the first quarter and taking a 14-0 lead early in the second. After allowing Ohio State to come back, the Wolverines took the lead again and carried a six-point lead late into the third quarter.
In the end, though, the result was all too familiar for the maize and blue.
The Buckeyes made enough plays to win for the sixth straight year and 13 of 14, guaranteeing that no one on the Wolverines’ roster has experienced a victory in the rivalry.
“The hardest part for me is just, you come here to win this game and our senior class wasn’t able to do it,” quarterback John O’Korn said while choking up with emotion. “I hold myself responsible for a lot of that. I can’t imagine a worse feeling right now.”
O’Korn was pressed into playing because of injuries to teammates.
Brandon Peters wasn’t cleared to compete after having a concussion last week and Wilton Speight is still recovering from a hit that left him with broken vertebrae two months ago.
O’Korn, a fifth-year senior who transferred from Houston after his second season in college, missed tight end Tyrone Wheatley to end the first drive and struggled for much of the game to connect with open teammates. He finished 17 of 32 for 195 yards with a 3-yard TD pass to Sean McKeon that put the Wolverines up 14-0 early.
With a chance to lead Michigan on a go-ahead drive late in the game, O’Korn dropped back with time to throw and lofted a pass deep where only defensive back Jordan Fuller could catch it and the Buckeye did come down with the interception.
“John misread the coverage,” Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh and his staff may have missed an opportunity to move the ball more effectively against Ohio State without having to rely on O’Korn to make accurate passes. The Wolverines seemed to have missed a similar opportunity in a loss to Michigan State.
Chris Evans averaged 6.1 yards a carry and Karan Higdon averaged 5 per rushing attempt against the Buckeyes, but each was handed the ball just 11 times. On a stormy night against the Spartans, Higdon averaged 5.4 yards a carry and had just 12 rushing attempts in a loss.
When Harbaugh did seem to make the right call against Ohio State, O’Korn simply could not do his part.
The quarterback sailed a pass over Evans on a fourth-and-4 from the Ohio State 39 midway through the fourth quarter. That took away another chance to possibly win a game that Michigan players, coaches and fans desperately are craving.
On defense, the Wolverines had a chance to shut down a backup quarterback and couldn’t do it.
Dwayne Haskins replaced J.T. Barrett, who said his injured right knee was aggravated by an unidentified male who accidently bumped him on the sideline before kickoff. Instead of taking advantage of Haskins’ lack of experience, Michigan’s defense could not make enough plays to get him off the field.
“We had a few mistakes offensively. We had a few mistakes defensively,” Harbaugh said. “I think we had a few more than they did.”
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