COLUMBUS — “Wish I could have got a couple wins in it,” Tyree Kinnel said, four minutes into the most excruciating press conference of his life. “That’s the toughest part, I guess. I’m gonna have to sleep on it for the rest of my life, that I did not get a win in this game.”
Then his voice cracked.
“Other than that,” he continued, ultimately keeping composure, “I’m blessed to be here.”
It’s not easy to lose this game under any circumstance. In this specific circumstance, it couldn’t have been any harder.
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Michigan came into Columbus favored on Saturday — and with good reason. It had the better roster. It had the better team.
Ohio State gave up 51 points to Maryland last week, looking out of focus. The Buckeyes’ linebackers — and really, their entire defense, has struggled at various points all year. Their offense has been one-dimensional.
This was the Wolverines’ best roster since Jim Harbaugh has been in Ann Arbor — really, since a whole lot longer than that. They came out of a gauntlet of a schedule relatively unscathed, winners of 10 straight headed into Saturday. Ohio State is still Ohio State, but winning this game felt a whole lot more realistic than it did in recent years.
And if they had won, a trip to Indianapolis that doubled as a formality awaited. So did the College Football Playoff. So did the allure of becoming a national contender year-in and year-out — dominating the Big Ten under Jim Harbaugh, with Ohio State fading into the background.
This game, make no mistake, was a tipping point.
Sixty-two points later, Michigan was right back where it started, and Kinnel was on the podium, trying to put into words a stunning loss, and the wave of disappointment that came with it.
Dwayne Haskins and Ryan Day shredded the Wolverines’ defense with crossing route after crossing route. Michigan’s defensive line failed to get pressure in a sense more complete than you would have thought possible. The offense left points on the field in the first half and failed to do much of anything in the third quarter. By the time it started moving again in the fourth, the blowout was on.
What started as a day of promise ended with Ohio State students storming the field, the Wolverines walking into the tunnel single-file, heads down, having lost, 62-39.
And then there was the aftermath. A parade of players with an interlude from Harbaugh, volleying away questions about why and how things could have gone so awry.
“What went wrong for you guys today?” one reporter asked Chris Evans.
“The score,” he replied.
“The progress you guys made this year — do you feel like today was a step backwards for you and your team?” another asked Jim Harbaugh.
“Like I said, it didn't go good,” Harbaugh said. “Didn’t end up good. And I would say — and we take responsibility for us.”
In the end, it was Kinnel who provided blunt, unyielding clarity.
“They completely beat us everywhere,” he said. “Run game, pass game. Everyone to blame.”
That’s the truth of it. This game came down to more than three ill-timed drops from Zach Gentry, or a handful of coverage mishaps from Brandon Watson.
It came down to poor red zone offense. Killing a drive with a false start on fourth-and-2. A failure to defend crossing routes. And, according to Kinnel, a confidence that got Michigan ahead of itself.
Those small things compounded, and when the Buckeyes pounced, the Wolverines simply had no answer.
Kinnel will leave Ann Arbor with three close calls against Ohio State, but no wins. That’s becoming a commonality for departing seniors. This year was Michigan’s best chance to reverse the trend — a program defining moment — and Michigan failed to capitalize on it.
Just as in the past, that failure will define the program.