Ohio State vs. Michigan: Top 25 performances in rivalry’s history

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There is a reason why college football fans across the country refer to it as “The Game.”

It’s the same reason Buckeye fans won’t refer to Michigan by name, instead calling it “that team up north,” and why Wolverine fans simply refer to Ohio State as “Ohio.”

The century-old bitterness that exists between Michigan and Ohio State is what makes it one of the greatest rivalries in sports. There is no trophy that goes to the winner of this game, there is no banner to be raised for a victory. What the winner really comes away with is more important than any of that — pride.

The Buckeyes and Wolverines will face off on Saturday for the 117th time (Noon ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app), in a game that has massive College Football Playoff implications. It is just the third time since they have met as undefeated teams since 1973, and the first since 2006.

Of course, there have been plenty of memorable performances throughout this rivalry’s rich history. But what individual performance from “The Game” was the greatest of all time?

Here is a look at the top individual performances from the Ohio State-Michigan football rivalry, ranked in order from 1-25.

1. Michigan RB Tshimanga Biakabutuka, 1995

Michigan entered this game as heavy underdogs, facing a dominant Ohio State team featuring All-American Eddie George. But this day belonged to Biakabutuka, who ran all over the Buckeyes, ending their perfect season and national championship hopes. Biakabutuka carried the ball 37 times for a career-high 313 yards and a touchdown in Michigan’s 31-23 win. His memorable performance is the second-highest single-game rushing total in Michigan history and a performance that will forever be talked about in Michigan football lore.

2. Ohio State QB Troy Smith, 2006

As good as Smith’s stat line was, it was his performance combined with the magnitude of this game that makes it worthy of the No. 2 spot on this list. Smith was dominant in a contest deemed the “Game of the Century,” the first 1-2 matchup ever in the storied rivalry, that just so happened to be played a day after the death of legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler. Smith dazzled throughout, throwing for 316 yards and four touchdown passes to four different players, locking up the 2006 Heisman Trophy in the process. The win secured a spot for the Buckeyes in the BCS National Championship Game.

Ohio State Heisman winner Troy Smith on ‘The Game’

Ohio State Heisman winner Troy Smith on 'The Game'

RJ Young chats with Ohio State QB Troy Smith, discussing the memorable matchup between Ohio State and Michigan in 2006.

3. Ohio State LB Chris Spielman, 1986

Ohio State has produced its fair share of All-American linebackers, but Spielman was among the best to ever wear the scarlet and gray. After losing two games to begin the season, Ohio State rattled off nine straight victories before hosting Michigan. While the Wolverines went on to win the game, 26-24, Spielman put together one of the greatest defensive performances in college football history. The do-it-all linebacker notched 29 tackles to break Ohio State’s single-game tackles record. It was an iconic performance from Spielman, whose game solidified his status as an All-American that year and helped shape his legacy at Ohio State.

4. Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins, 2018

From a pure statistics standpoint, this will go down as one of the greatest QB performances in recent Big Ten history. The Haskins put together a masterpiece in 2018. Haskins threw all over the Wolverines’ defense, leading OSU to its highest point total ever in the rivalry. He averaged an eye-popping 20 yards per completion in this game, including four touchdowns of 24-plus yards. Haskins’ six touchdowns in this game brought his season total of 42, which set the Big Ten record. The win stamped the Buckeyes’ spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, where they would go on to cruise to a 45-24 win over Northwestern. 

Dwayne Haskins breaks Drew Brees’ Big Ten record

Dwayne Haskins breaks Drew Brees' Big Ten record

The Buckeyes rolled over the Wolverines thanks in large part to a huge performance from Dwayne Haskins.

5. Michigan HB Tom Harmon, 1940

In the final game of his storied college football career, Harmon led the Wolverines to a memorable 40-0 victory over Ohio State. He completed 11 of 12 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 139 yards and two scores, while also intercepting three passes. The do-it-all star also kicked four extra points in the victory. Harmon would go on to win the Heisman Trophy that year.

6. Michigan QB Denard Robinson, 2011

Michigan entered its 2011 matchup against Ohio State looking to snap a school-record seven-game losing streak against its rival. Thanks to the play of Robinson, the Wolverines were able to do just that. The talented do-it-all signal-caller threw for 167 yards, rushed for 170 yards and accounted for all five of Michigan’s touchdowns in a memorable 40-34 victory. 

7. Ohio State RB J.K. Dobbins, 2019

There have been plenty of standout performances from the running back position in this classic Big Ten matchup. But Dobbins’ showing in 2019 was one of the best in the 116-year rivalry. The standout carried the ball 31 times for a career-high 211 yards and four touchdowns in OSU’s 56-27 win. Dobbins’ performance helped stamp the Buckeyes’ ticket to the Big Ten Championship Game, where they defeated Wisconsin and went on to play in the College Football Playoff.

J.K. Dobbins scores three first-half TDs against Michigan

J.K. Dobbins scores three first-half TDs against Michigan

Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins carved up the Michigan defense during rivalry week, going for three TDs in the first half.

8. Ohio State RB Chris “Beanie” Wells, 2007

Ohio State traveled to Ann Arbor in 2007, looking to secure consecutive outright Big Ten titles for the first time in a half-century. Wells made sure his team capitalized on the chance for history. He ran for a career-high 222 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Buckeyes to a 14-7 victory, their fourth straight win in the series. Holding onto a slim 7-3 lead early in the third quarter, Wells busted open a 62-yard run for a touchdown, which sealed the victory.

9. Ohio State WR David Boston, 1998

There is a long list of All-American wide receivers to play at Ohio State, but none of them had a performance against Michigan like Boston did in 1998. The Buckeye put on a clinic that day, hauling in 10 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns in Ohio State’s 31-16 win. Boston left Ohio State with a then-school record 191 receptions, 2,855 receiving yards and 34 receiving scores.

10. Michigan RB Hassan Haskins, 2021

Ohio State had won 15 of 16 against Michigan heading into the 2021 showdown, but Haskins and the Wolverines made sure to put an end to the run. Haskins ran for 169 yards and matched a school record with five rushing touchdowns as Michigan beat Ohio State, giving Jim Harbaugh his first win as a coach against the Buckeyes.

11. Ohio State LB Arnie Jones, 1972

While Spielman’s memorable 29-tackle game in 1986 is the greatest defensive performance in this rivalry, Jones’ outing all the way back in 1972 wasn’t too far behind. The talented Buckeyes’ linebacker was all over the field that day, recording a jaw-dropping 24 tackles while helping hold Michigan to just 11 points.

12. Michigan LB Erick Anderson, 1991

Of all the talented players Michigan has had on the defensive side of the ball throughout the program’s rich history, Anderson may have been the most accomplished of all of them. He is the only player in program history to lead the team in tackles four consecutive years, totaling 390 stops from 1988-91. He saved his best performance for last, recording 17 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack and one fumble recovery in the Wolverines’ memorable 31-3 win in 1991. Anderson was named the co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten that season, as well as a first-team All-American and the winner of the Butkus Award as the best collegiate linebacker in the country.

13. Michigan DB Charles Woodson, 1997

While the numbers might not be as jaw-dropping as other individual performances in this rivalry, what Heisman Trophy winner Woodson did in 1997 was remarkable. Matched up against one of the most talented, physically gifted wide receivers in the nation in Ohio State’s Boston, Woodson held the All-American to just three catches, while adding three tackles, a crucial interception at the goal line, a 37-yard catch that set up a Michigan touchdown, and most notably, a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown right before halftime. It was a true “Heisman moment” for the Wolverines star.

14. Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott, 2015

Elliott had plenty of outstanding performances during his time at Ohio State, but the standout running back saved his best for last. Elliott rushed for 214 yards and two touchdowns in 2015, helping lead OSU to a commanding 42-13 win over Michigan. Elliott surpassed 1,500 rushing yards for the season in the contest, joining the great Archie Griffin as the only players in Ohio State history to reach that mark more than once.

15. Michigan RB Jamie Morris, 1986

Chris Spielman was not the only standout in Michigan’s 26-24 win over Ohio State back in 1986. Morris put on a show of his own that day, carrying the ball 29 times for a jaw-dropping 216 yards and two touchdowns in the victory. Morris broke the school’s all-time rushing record for both yards in a season (1,703) and career (4,392) during his time at Michigan.

16. Michigan QB Devin Gardner, 2013

While the Wolverines came up just short in the 2013 game, it certainly wasn’t due to the lack of production from Gardner. The signal-caller put on a passing clinic in this game, completing 32 of 45 passes for 451 yards and four touchdowns. He also added a rushing touchdown as well. Gardner’s 451-yard outing is the second-highest total in a game in program history.

17. Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde, 2013

As sensational as Gardner was in 2013, Hyde was equally impressive. The Buckeye carried the ball 27 times for 226 yards and a touchdown in the Buckeyes’ 42-41 win. This marked the second time Hyde went over 225 yards in a game during his magical 2013 campaign.

18. Ohio State QB Troy Smith, 2004

Smith’s first start under center in “The Game” could not have gone much better. The do-it-all signal-caller threw for 241 yards and two scores and rushed for a game-high 145 yards and a touchdown in the Buckeyes’ 37-21 victory. Smith had never run for more than 62 yards nor passed for more than 192 yards before this game.

19. Ohio State FB Bob Ferguson, 1961

Ferguson put on a clinic in 1961. The Buckeyes’ fullback ran all over the Wolverines, totaling 152 yards and four touchdowns in the team’s 50-20 win. He went on to win the UPI College Football Player of the Year, the Maxwell Award and was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy.

20. Michigan RB Chris Perry, 2003

The 2003 version of the rivalry was littered with future pros, including the likes of Santonio Holmes, A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter for Ohio State, and Braylon Edwards, Steve Breaston and Leon Hall for Michigan. However, it was another star that shined brightest for the Wolverines. Perry ran all over the Buckeyes in 2003, totaling 154 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, while adding another 55 yards on receptions in the Wolverines’ 35-21 win. Perry went on to finish fourth in Heisman Trophy voting that season.

21. Ohio State RB Jim Otis, 1968

When you rush for 140-plus yards and find the end zone four times, you’re going to have a spot on this list. Otis did just that in a commanding 50-14 win over Michigan back in 1968. In addition to his 143-yard, four TD outing against the Wolverines, Otis was named a consensus All-American and ranks second to Archie Griffin among Ohio State running backs in career rushing yards per game. He was selected to the Ohio State Football All-Century Team.

22. Michigan WR Marquise Walker, 2001

Ohio State featured a dominant secondary in the early 2000s, led by three-time All-American Mike Doss. But in the 2001 version of “The Game,” Walker got the best of Doss and the Buckeyes. The All-American recorded 15 catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns in the matchup. However, Ohio State got the last laugh, pulling away with a 26-20 win.

23. Ohio State DE Vernon Gholston, 2007

The 2007 version of this rivalry featured several future pros for both sides. Michigan’s offense was loaded from top to the bottom, with the likes of Chad Henne, Mike Hart and Mario Manningham, but Gholston wreaked havoc in this matchup, recording five tackles, three sacks and four tackles for loss. He helped hold the Wolverines’ high-powered offense to just three points as Ohio State notched its fourth consecutive win over Michigan. Gholston went on to break the school record with 14 sacks that season.

24. Michigan RB Mike Hart, 2006: One could make the argument that the 2006 version of “The Game” was the most thrilling matchup of this historic rivalry. With both teams entering the game undefeated and ranked No. 1 and 2 in the nation, it had the billing of a can’t miss game, and it certainly lived up to the hype. While quarterback Troy Smith dazzled for the Buckeyes, Hart who put on a show for the Wolverines. The standout rushed for a game-high 142 yards and three touchdowns in the Wolverines’ 42-39 loss.

25. Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson, 2021

The last time Michigan and Ohio State met, Hutchinson was all over the field in the Wolverines’ memorable 42-27 victory. The All-American recorded three sacks and broke a single-season program record in the victory. Hutchinson’s dominant performance helped secure the Wolverines’ first-ever spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, where they went on to beat Iowa and advance to the College Football Playoff.

Aidan Hutchinson puts himself in Heisman conversation

Aidan Hutchinson puts himself in Heisman conversation

Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson had the game of his life against Ohio State, nothing three sacks.

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