By Will Burchfield
If Jim Harbaugh was of one mind and Urban Meyer was of the other, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett was smack dab in the middle.
“Honestly, when I got hit, I wasn’t 100 percent certain, to be honest with you,” Barrett said, referring to his 4th-and-1 conversion in double overtime of Ohio State’s 30-27 win over Michigan. “I looked at it. But when I fell, I fell on top of people. So I don’t know exactly what it was going to be.”
It ended up being a first down, of course, a first down that translated to a game-winning, season-saving touchdown on the ensuing play. But it was very nearly a turnover.
“I’m glad I got it,” Barrett added. “The review said it was good.”
As the play transpired, Meyer was confident that Barrett had gained the necessary yardage.
“Yeah, I was standing right there. I thought he had it,” Meyer said.
That confidence dissolved into panic when the play was sent to video review.
“That stopped the heart for a second,” said Meyer. “When the official said, ‘They’re buzzing me for the spot,’ I thought, ‘Oh my goodness.'”
But the ruling on the field was upheld, a ruling that will take its own place in the annals of this rivalry, and one play later another ruling was handed down: Ohio State (11-1) is likely headed to the College Football Playoff. Michigan (10-2) is likely headed elsewhere.
Afterward, Harbaugh was still fuming about the questionable spot. Where Meyer saw a first down, his adversary saw a defensive stand.
“My view of the first down,” Harbaugh said, holding his hands about a foot apart for demonstration, “is it was that short.”
It wasn’t the only call that had Harbaugh in a post-game lather. He seethed at a pass interference penalty on Delano Hill late in the fourth quarter when it appeared Michigan’s defense had forced a three-and-out.
“They got a gift interference call. The ball was uncatchable (and) past the receiver when our guy made contact,” Harbaugh said.
He smoldered at the lack of a pass interference penalty on Ohio State’s Gareon Conley in double overtime when he broke up a pass intended for Grant Perry on 3rd and 4.
“Grant Perry is getting hooked, turned before the ball gets there,” Harbaugh said.
And he fumed at the unsportsmanlike penalty he received for flinging his play sheet into the air and hurling his headset to the ground after an unfavorable call late in the third quarter.
“What, if you throw a hat, throw your script toward the sideline, that’s a penalty? I asked (the official) that, and he said, ‘Well it is in basketball,'” Harbaugh said. “I go, ‘Well this isn’t basketball.’ Well, he told me that he officiates basketball. I don’t know the relevance. He said it would have been a technical in basketball. Yeah, I’m bitter.”
Harbaugh has been similarly angry with officiating crews in the past, especially in the wake of a close loss. He admitted so afterward.
“Not to this level, though, as I sit here now. I thought those were some outrageous calls, including the one that would have ended the game,” he said, almost chuckling in disbelief. “They had a good camera angle on it, the ball doesn’t make it to the line. Gave them a first down.”
Where Harbaugh held up his hands to indicate Barrett’s shortage, Meyer held up his to illustrate Barrett’s gain.
“My A.D. at Florida actually always used to tell me, ‘If you can’t get that far, you’re not a championship team,” Meyer said, referring to the university where he used to coach. “We used to talk about that all the time, and I agree with him. So that actually crossed my mind. If you can’t get that, we’re not a championship team anyway.”
Harbaugh wasn’t as inclined to talk about his team afterward. His mind was fixed on something else.
“I’m bitterly disappointed — in the officiating,” he said, emphasizing the latter phrase so as not to be mistaken. “Can’t make that anymore clear.”