COLUMBUS — It feels like a lifetime ago.

Last year, when the Michigan football team finally broke its decade-long curse against Ohio State, when the Wolverines stormed the snow-covered streets of Ann Arbor and when Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh considered it just “the beginning.”

It was Wolverine’s biggest win of the millennium. And on Saturday in Columbus, Michigan, they did it again.

Whenever they needed to, the third-ranked Wolverines (12-0 overall, 9-0 Big Ten) dealt blow after blow against Ohio State (11-1, 8-1) as they beat the Buckeyes, who were in second place, 45-23.

The game was different this year than last year and it was evident from the start. Ohio State’s offense took the field first and immediately went to work. A 12-play, 81-yard drive capped by a touchdown by receiver Emeka Egbuki proved to the Buckeyes that this year will be different.

Less than five minutes into the game, Michigan found itself in an unfamiliar situation: for the first time all season, the Wolverines did not score first. Discomfort was evident everywhere.

Sophomore quarterback JJ McCarthy has been erratic. He pulled it out of his pocket before it was necessary, there were not enough shots – nothing came of it.

And yet, Michigan hung in the game, and it was solely because of its defense. After giving up a touchdown early in the drive, the Wolverines defense regrouped — allowing just three points over the next three possessions.

Without junior running back Blake Korum playing a role and sophomore running back Donovan Edwards not at full strength, the Wolverines couldn’t get anything going on the ground in the first half, averaging less than a yard for the transfer from 11 attempts.

Michigan’s offense didn’t look like it would, but somehow that was okay. On two straight plays, McCarthy found senior wide receiver Cornelius Johnson for long touchdowns and the game turned on its head. After an extremely surprising first half, the Wolverines somehow found themselves down by only three times before the break. Ohio State had a chance to bury Michigan, but couldn’t.

The Wolverines made the Buckeyes pay for it.

After a 4th-and-one conversion on their own side of the field, Michigan drove down the field and McCarthy found the freshman tight end for a 45-yard touchdown. The horseshoe fell silent.

The Wolverines’ defense handled Ohio State’s explosive offense day and night from the Buckeyes’ opening drive masterclass.

Michigan felt the momentum shift and never looked back.

Two drives later, the Wolverines finally found their running game. Their offense slowly drained the life out of a once-voracious Ohio State crowd during a nearly eight-minute drive. The anxiety hanging over the Horseshoe was as nauseating as it was palpable when McCarthy ran in a three-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal to push Michigan’s lead to 11 right away early in the fourth quarter.

With just a one-point-and-goal lead, the Wolverines faced their biggest offensive possession of the season. On their first play, Edwards found the biggest hole of the game to his right and burst through it for a 75-yard touchdown — game over.

Last season, Michigan finally broke through against the Buckeyes, showing that it’s no longer just the second-best team in the Big Ten, doomed to an eternity of living in its opponent’s shadow.

But this year; this year was different.

In the first unbeaten clash between the arch-rivals since 2016, the Wolverines prevailed, and did so in hostile surroundings. Not only was it Michigan’s first win in Columbus since 2000, its first wins against the Buckeyes and its first 12-0 record since 1997, it showed there’s a new team at the top of the Big Ten.

And this team – Michigan – are the champions of the East.

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