Ohio State's C.J. Stroud: One game doesn't define us. What about two?


Three years ago, after leading Ohio State to its eighth straight win over Michigan, former Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields said The Game "just means more at Ohio State."

On Saturday, after losing to Michigan for the second year in a row, Fields' successor C.J. Stroud said, "I don't think one game defines us. I don't think this game defines this team. I would take this team against anybody in the country every week, man."

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If one game doesn't define Stroud and Ohio State, what about two? Michigan beat them last year to finally punch back and buried them Saturday in Columbus to officially seize control of the rivalry. Stroud wasn't to blame for Ohio State's defense in either loss, but he was far from perfect himself.

When it felt like the Buckeyes had Michigan on the ropes in the first half on Saturday, their Heisman hopeful quarterback couldn't deliver the knockout blow.

"This is the game, man. This is the one," said Stroud. "Everything I had, I tried to give it. I tried to make plays even sometimes when they weren’t there. I tried to do everything I possibly could, but this game is really on me. I gotta do more. This is the one that we really wanted, 365 days of everyone laughing and talking. I thought we started out strong, just laid an egg in the second half."

Did they ever. After leading 20-17 at the break, the Buckeyes were outscored 28-3 in the final two quarters. Stroud said "credit to Team Up North's defense," which made the plays it needed to, including 11 third down stops and another on fourth down, despite surrendering nearly 500 total yards.

Stroud, who entered Saturday's game with 35 touchdowns on four picks on the season, threw two touchdowns and two picks in what he acknowledged could have have been his final game in Columbus. If so, he'll leave Ohio State without a win against Michigan.

"People are going to say I never won The Game, and I understand. People are going to say I never won a Big Ten championship, and I understand," he said. "When it comes to that, I just have to eat it, man. It’s life. It’s tough. I said it earlier this week, I want to be known as the best, and I don’t think I will have that respect from Buckeye Nation anymore. Even if I do, I appreciate it, but I wish I could have done more. I wish I could have won these games."

Stroud has had a tremendous career for the Buckeyes, one that will lead him to the NFL. But he will be remembered for his record against the Wolverines as much as anything. He said the blowback from losing last year's game was "a harsh pill to swallow," especially the talk that came from Michigan's camp.

"But they had the right to and they have the right to again," said Stroud. "it’s going to be tough again, but this program is tough and we’ll be able to handle it. Just gotta move on and lick our wounds again. Hopefully we end up making the playoff and still trying to contend for a national championship, but this one game does not define this team."

Ohio State does have an outside chance of qualifying for the College Football Playoff at 11-1. Ryan Day said he hopes the selection committee considers the Buckeyes' "body of work and what we've done." As for what's next for Ohio State after losing its biggest game of the season two years in a row, Day said, "I don’t know exactly what is next right now, but that’s life at Ohio State.

"I certainly know what this game means to everybody. When you lose, it all come back to me," he said. "I’m the head coach and that’s probably what hurts the most."

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