Playing without its de facto leader, Ohio State simply would not be denied in its bid for perfection.
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The fourth-ranked Buckeyes closed the first year of Urban Meyer’s tenure in Columbus with a rousing 26-21 win over arch-rival and 20th-rated Michigan on a blustery Saturday afternoon at the venerable Horseshoe. This was the 109th edition of college football’s greatest rivalry, known far and wide as The Game. It was played out before a record crowd of 105,899 at Ohio Stadium and a national television audience.
This OSU team, which can’t go to the Big Ten or national championship games due to NCAA probation, found a way to win despite missing All-Big Ten defensive end John Simon. The Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0) also overcame a number of miscues in the course of this game with a stingy second-half defensive effort and a strong running game slamming the door on the visiting Wolverines (8-4, 6-2).
Ohio State can’t go to a bowl game, but that didn’t stop Meyer and his team from celebrating on the Ohio Stadium turf – with thousands of their closest friends – for 20 minutes or more after the game. When it was done, Meyer put the credit on his team’s 20 outgoing seniors, who stayed with the program last winter when they could have easily walked away and played elsewhere immediately.
“The most important thank you goes to our senior class,” Meyer said. “It’s the most selfless group I've ever been around.”
Pending the outcome of tonight’s game between No. 1 Notre Dame and USC in Los Angeles, OSU could end the regular season as the nation’s only unbeaten team. While they can’t play in the BCS national title game, Meyer was asked if OSU merited consideration for the Associated Press media poll national title. Meyer stopped short of taking that bait.
“The quote I'd like out there is I think this team could play and compete with any team in the United States of America as of now,” Meyer said. “I didn't say that several weeks ago because we couldn't. I'm not going to get into the what ifs and you can't control what you can't control.
“What if we would have done this, what if we would have done this? We're 12-0. I'm going to see to it when you walk into that Woody Hayes facility this team will never be forgotten, because they deserve that.”
The result on Saturday made this Ohio State just the sixth in the 123-year history of the football program to finish undefeated and untied. Ironically, the last time to achieve that feat – the 2002 national championship team – was on hand to celebrate their 10th anniversary.
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Simon suffered a knee injury in last week’s win at Wisconsin. Likewise, Michigan played without running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who was injured in the Wolverines’ win over Iowa last week.
The Buckeyes circled the wagons without their captain and leader. It was quite a moment in the stadium as he made the long walk from the locker room to the other end of the field for the senior day ceremonies, dressed in his No. 54 jersey and street clothes.
Without him, the defense got to Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner four times for sacks and forced two critical fumbles. After trailing 21-20 at halftime, Ohio State allowed Michigan just 60 yards total offense and four first downs in the second half.
“John Simon is the heart and soul of who we are as the 2012 football team,” Meyer said. “And I had a bad feeling early in the week when I saw his knee. It was a bursa sac (issue). It's not a structural issue, it's just the swelling we couldn't get out. And my man was in the training room early in the morning until late at night doing everything they could.
“When they DQed him, it was like a possessed group on defense. I know why. Because our brother was down and we presented him the game ball, which was deserving.”
Offensively, OSU quarterback Braxton Miller led the way. He was 14 of 18 passing for 189 yards and a touchdown and also carried the ball 20 times for 57 yards.
“Our quarterback threw for almost 200 yards against the number one pass defense in America,” Meyer said. “He played his heart out as well.”
Miller evened his record against Michigan to 1-1 and improved to 16-6 in two seasons as the starter for the Buckeyes.
Braxton Miller vs. Michigan
“It’s a perfect season, you can’t ask for anything better,” Miller said. “You have to get all the wins you can, especially against The Team Up North and at home.”
He added, “I’ve never been around a team like this. The toughness and the swag we have had throughout the whole year, I’m just thankful this team is 12-0.”
Running back Carlos Hyde bulled his way to 146 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries.
“He's developing into one of the best backs in the country,” Meyer said. “He's a powerful guy. He's come a long way.”
When OSU got the ball back after an interception by C.J. Barnett with 4:50 left, Hyde picked up 27 yards and two first downs on four carries to put the game away.
“I was being patient and trusting my read and when I found that read I had to make sure to explode through the opening,” said Hyde, who ended the year just shy of 1,000 yards with 970 yards. “This is exactly why I came here, to play in big games like this against our rival in the ‘Shoe. Having a shot at being undefeated made it even more special.”
Corey “Philly” Brown had eight catches for a career-high 95 yards and a touchdown for OSU, while Devin Smith had two grabs for 63 yards. Drew Basil also drilled four of his five field goal attempts for the Buckeyes, including a 52-yarder into swirling winds on the final play of the first half.
Denard Robinson started at quarterback for Michigan, but he did not throw a pass. Still, Robinson was effective as a runner with 122 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Devin Gardner handled the throwing for UM, completing 11 of 20 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown. But he lost two fumbles and his interception to Barnett ended UM’s final threat.
“It is hard to win when you turn the ball over four times and don’t convert third and short opportunities,” said UM coach Brady Hoke. “We played well enough to win at times, but we gave up too many 4 and 5 yard runs in the end.”
Robinson added, “We had too many turnovers. That’s why we lost. In order to win this game, you have to have control of the ball. Unfortunately, we did not have much success running the ball in the second half.”
Robinson had been suffering from an elbow injury, but said he had recovered enough to be able to throw. Strangely, Michigan never called any passes for him to keep the OSU offense honest.
"I can throw,” Robinson said. “We went with the plays coach was calling and we thought would be successful."
The Buckeyes outgained Michigan 396-279 and held the ball for nearly 37 minutes. OSU won despite committing nine turnovers for 74 yards and losing two fumbles. Time and again, the Buckeyes defense rose to the occasion when UM threatened to regain the lead in the second half.
“I have to give credit to our defensive staff,” Meyer said. “My comment (to the staff), after I saw Denard Robinson sneak out of there for a long run was, ‘Stop the quarterback run.’ That's the input I had. Probably the same I think 107,000 people said that as well. But Coach Fickell and Coach Withers running that defense did an excellent job, I mean, excellent job against some good athletes.”
Safety Christian Bryant, who had four tackles and a forced fumble, said the Buckeyes did it all for their outgoing seniors.
“I thank the seniors for giving us faith and working hard throughout the whole season,” he said. “It feels great (to be 12-0). We had to take it out for the seniors. That was our motto this season, and that’s what we did.”
The Buckeyes lingered on the field afterwards as students and fans streamed in from every direction. Together, they sang Carmen Ohio and danced for a good while.
“It was a very emotional time,” Meyer said. “And obviously this is the state I grew up in. This is the state I made a comment on last November, December, whenever it was, that our objective is to make the great state of Ohio proud.
“I imagine tonight there's a lot of people in this great state very proud of what their football their football team, no one else's, this is the state of Ohio's football team.”
As It Happened
Michigan won the toss and elected to defer. Ohio State got first possession at its own 25 after a touchback. The Buckeyes needed six plays to find the end zone. Hyde carried on the first three plays for a total of 15 yards. On first down at the OSU 40, Miller executed a play fake and threw deep down the middle to Devin Smith for a 52-yard gain down to the 8.
Miller then hit Michael Thomas for a 5-yard gain on a screen before Hyde scored on a 3-yard touchdown run. On the touchdown, Hyde made UM’s Keith Heitzman miss in the backfield and then powered in with UM’s Thomas Gordon hanging on. OSU led 7-0 with 12:41 left in the first quarter.
Michigan’s first possession ended disastrously as OSU freshman end Adolphus Washington hit Gardner, forcing a fumble that OSU’s Zach Boren recovered at the OSU 33-yard line.
“I got in there and got the strip,” Washington said. “I just hit the ball and hoped one of my teammates would pick it up. Since day one when I got here, I have been learning every day.”
But Miller slipped on a scramble attempt, losing 18 yards on a sack and the Buckeyes had to punt it away.
Michigan was backed up to its own 17, but needed just three plays to score. Gardner threw an incompletion before Vincent Smith scampered for 8 yards. On third-and-2 at the 25, Gardner stood in and hit Roy Roundtree down the right sideline. OSU safety C.J. Barnett took a bad angle, turning Roundtree loose down the sideline. Safety Christian Bryant tried to make the tackle, but UM’s Drew Dileo shielded him off and Roundtree took it in for the 75-yard touchdown that tied it at 7-7 with 7:10 left in the first quarter.
OSU then drove from its own 29 down to the Michigan 24. But illegal procedure penalties on Nick Vannett and Marcus Hall and a holding penalty on Philly Brown killed the drive. OSU settled for Drew Basil’s 41-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead with 37 seconds left in the first half.
The Buckeyes got a defensive stop on UM’s ensuing possession, but OSU’s Brown fumbled the punt and UM’s Marvin Robinson recovered it at the OSU 25-yard line. Given new life, Michigan scored in five plays. Again, the Buckeyes had a third-down stop, but OSU’s Noah Spence was flagged for roughing Gardner. Gardner converted that miscue with a 1-yard touchdown run that put Michigan up 14-10 with 10:42 left in the first half.
OSU’s next possession ended after a third-down sack by UM’s Frank Clark. OSU had an empty formation and right tackle Reid Fragel failed to bump Clark, who blindsided Miller. OSU returned the favor moments later, though, as Buckeyes Zach Boren and Ryan Shazier took turns sacking Gardner on blitzes.
The Buckeyes took possession after a punt on their own 41. OSU needed six plays to find the end zone. Hyde got it going with tough runs of 15, 11 and 11 yards. On first down at the 14, Miller threw to Brown in the right flat. He turned upfield and dove at the pylon for the 14-yard touchdown that briefly put OSU back up 17-14 with 1:30 left in the half.
Michigan took over on its own 25 after a touchback. On first down, Robinson ran a quarterback sweep for 8 yards. The Wolverines showed no urgency as the clock crept inside one minute. On second-and-2, UM ran the same play with Robinson following a convoy right. OSU’s Travis Howard and Christian Bryant smashed into Robinson and each other, but the tough Robinson kept chugging and eventually sprinted away from everybody on an amazing 67-yard touchdown run. UM led 21-17 with 40 seconds left in the half.
“It was a collision between me and Travis,” Bryant said. “He hit (Robinson) on the right side and I hit him on the left side. Travis and I actually collided and hit heads on that play, and (Travis) was shaken up afterwards. Those are plays we need to overcome like we did in the second half.”
Brown returned UM’s squib kickoff to the OSU 35. Miller kept it for 17 yards on first down and then hit Brown for 5 yards and Hyde for 8 more. After an incompletion on first down, the Buckeyes had just five seconds left. Meyer sent in Basil and he drilled a 52-yard field goal on the final play of the first half, cutting UM’s lead to 21-20.
“I just wanted to go out there and hit a solid ball,” Basil said. “It wasn’t my best shot, but it went through. I secretly I had my Xbox controller out there maneuvering it.”
Michigan had the ball to start the second half, but quickly found itself in a fourth-and-2 predicament at the 48-yard line. Hoke originally sent the punt team on, but then called timeout and decided to go for it. Bad decision as Robinson tried to go up the middle and was slammed for a 2-yard loss by OSU’s Shazier.
The Buckeyes then drove down to the Michigan 11. But on fourth-and-2 there, Meyer opted for a 28-yard Basil field goal. The kick was good and OSU led 23-21 with 8:12 left in the third quarter.
There were more missed opportunities ahead. OSU’s Bryant hit Robinson to force a fumble, which OSU’s Nathan Williams recovered. The Buckeyes moved down and had second-and-1 at the 4, but Miller never saw UM’s Gordon coming off the edge for a sack. A high snap on third down led to a 12-yard loss and Basil’s 39-yard field goal slid wide left.
Later in the third quarter, Miller squirmed free for a 42-yard gain. But three plays later, he was hit by UM’s Jake Ryan and fumbled. UM’s Clark recovered it at the UM 36-yard line with 13:51 left in the game. But Michigan could not capitalize and had to punt it away with 11:55 left.
Michigan regained possession at its own 8 with 9:18 left. On second-and-10 from the 19, Gardner stood in to throw. But OSU’s Michael Bennett grabbed him from behind and Johnathan Hankins hit him to force a fumble. After a wild scramble, OSU’s Travis Howard recovered it at the Michigan 10 with 8:19 left.
But again the Buckeyes could not fully capitalize. Hyde got 5 yards on first down. He was stopped for no gain on second down and Miller was dropped for a 2-yard loss by UM’s Clark on third down. Basil hit a 25-yard field goal to make it 26-21 with 6:26 left in the game.
At this point, the Buckeyes – with all of their missed opportunities – had left 22 points on the field in the second half.
Meyer admitted he briefly “lost it” on the sideline as the Buckeyes could not land the knockout punch.
“If I had it again, I know 34 (Hyde) would have been pounding that ball to put it away,” Meyer said. “Once again we're not exactly where we want to be offensively. We will. And with a lot of hard work. But I don't want to get into that now. But we'll be where we need to be soon.”
Miller added, “I think they contained me really well. I wasn’t able to run outside. On third down, they do some tricky type things with the nose standing up and four guys on one side. They confused me a little bit. But other than that it was good.”
After the kickoff, Michigan took over on its own 31-yard line. OSU’s Bryant broke up a couple of Gardner pass attempts. But Gardner hit Gallon for a 10-yard gain and a first down. A holding penalty backed UM back to its own 31. On second-and-20 there, Gardner threw down the left side but Barnett made the interception with 4:50 left.
“Defense is a team effort,” Barnett said. “The pass looked a little bit high. It floated. We got some pressure. Orhian Johnson got a great re-route on the receiver. Travis helped get the pass lofted and I was just in the right place at the right time.”
The Buckeyes took over and behind hard running from Hyde was able to run out the remaining time, touching off a huge onfield celebration. The big play came on third-and-7 with Hyde rumbling for a 13-yard gain. Michigan used all of its timeouts, but could not get the ball back.
As the PA announcer correctly said, “See you next year!”
* Sophomore Michael Bennett started in place of Simon. He had a sack and forced fumble. Washington, Shazier and Boren also had sacks.
Boren, who was a fullback until midseason, led the team with nine tackles. Since moving from fullback to linebacker during Week 7 of the season, Boren posted 49 tackles, including a combined 21 stops in the last two weeks.
Bradley Roby had eight and Shazier was next with five, including 2-1/2 for losses.
* Barnett’s interception late in the fourth quarter was the second of his career.
* Basil established a career high for field goals made in a game, going 4-for-5. He made a 41-yard field goal in the first quarter and a career-long 52-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter and finishes the 2012 campaign 8-of-10 overall.
The 52-yarder was the Buckeyes’ first field goal of 50 yards or more since Aaron Pettrey connected on a 50-yard field goal against Illinois in 2009.
* Smith’s 52-yard reception in the first quarter marked his fourth reception of 50-plus yards this season.
* The game marked the fourth time Carlos Hyde rushed for over 100 yards this season and his sixth career game with 100-plus yards.
* Miller’s 42-yard run in the third quarter was his fifth of 40 or more yards this season.
* OSU’s Urban Meyer is now 1-1 against Michigan. His 2007 Florida team lost to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl. UM’s Brady Hoke is now 1-1 against Ohio State.
* With 109 meetings, the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry ranks 16th among the most-played rivalries in Division I-A history. Michigan still leads the all-time series 58-45-6. The 95-year streak of games between the schools ranks 10th in NCAA Division I-A for the longest uninterrupted series.
Michigan still leads 27-25-2 all-time in games played in Columbus. Ohio State had its seven-game winning streak in the series stopped by last year’s 40-34 Michigan win in Ann Arbor. But the Buckeyes have now won 10 of the last 12 games in the series overall, including the last six played in Ohio Stadium. Michigan last won back-to-back games over OSU in 1999-2000.
* Ohio State won the Big Ten Leaders Division championship outright, even if the Buckeyes can’t play in the Big Ten championship game or in the postseason due to NCAA sanctions. Michigan had a chance to tie Nebraska for the Leaders Division crown with a win.
* Regarding the Big Ten, Michigan holds the all-time lead with 42 conference titles. But UM has not won the Big Ten since 2004. Ohio State is next with 35 championships, although the official total is 34 after the school vacated the 2010 championship.
* The Buckeyes are one of two unbeaten teams nationally. Ohio State is joined only by No. 1 Notre Dame (also 11-0 going into tonight). While the Buckeyes can’t play in the BCS national title game, they could gain some traction as the possible AP poll national champion if they survive as the season’s only unbeaten.
* The Buckeyes have reached 12-0 to start a season for the third time in school history.
OSU is now 3-3 all-time in games to get from 11-0 to 12-0. That includes losses in to UCLA in the 1976 Rose Bowl (23-10), to USC in the 1980 Rose Bowl (17-16) and Michigan in 1995 (31-23) and wins over Illinois in 2002 (23-16 in overtime) and over Michigan in 2006 (42-39 in the famed one-versus-two game).
* This win gave Ohio State an unbeaten regular season for the 13th time. (That includes three seasons where there was a regular season tie.)
It also marks just the sixth time in the program’s 123-year history where OSU finished the entire season unbeaten and untied. It also happened in 1916 (7-0), 1944 (9-0), 1954 (10-0), 1968 (10-0) and 2002 (14-0).
* In the last 12 meetings in which one team came in unbeaten, that team has left unblemished just six times (OSU in 1979, 2002 and 2006; Michigan in 1971, '92 and '97).
* This game matches two of the top five winningest college football programs. Michigan leads the list with 903 wins, followed by Texas (866), Notre Dame (864), Nebraska (856) and Ohio State (837).
* This is the third team Meyer has led to an 12-0 start in his 11th year as a head coach. His 2004 Utah team finished 12-0, while his 2009 Florida team started 12-0 before finishing 13-1. Meyer has led six of his 11 teams to 10 wins or more.
Only one other first-year OSU coach has started 12-0. Carroll Widdoes was 9-0 in 1944 and eventually won his first 12 games before a loss.
* Meyer’s teams are now 73-14 when ranked.
* This was the final home game for 21 OSU seniors, including nine starters (RT Reid Fragel, WR Jake Stoneburner, DE John Simon, NT Garrett Goebel, DE Nathan Williams, MLB Zach Boren, OLB Etienne Sabino, CB Travis Howard and punter Ben Buchanan).
* This is the 19th time OSU and Michigan met on Thanksgiving weekend. That trend will continue for at least the next two seasons. OSU is 9-9-1 in Michigan games played over Thanksgiving weekend.
* Twenty-four Michigan players are from Ohio, including seven starters (DE Frank Clark, DB Jordan Kovacs, OL Elliott Mealer, OL Patrick Omameh, WR Roy Roundtree, LB Jake Ryan and RB Fitzgerald Toussaint).
* The Game was televised for the 46th straight year and 57th time overall. Since 1967, every game has been televised including 27 national television appearances. ABC has the broadcast for the 26th consecutive year and all of those were national telecasts except 1995 (split-national with Florida-Florida State). The 2005 game was shown on ABC regionally and on ESPN outside the region. The first game televised in the series was in 1947.
* Members of Ohio State’s 2002 national championship team were recognized between the first and second quarters of Saturday’s game. Former head coach Jim Tressel joined many of that season’s players on the field at that time. His players hoisted him up and the crowd gave him and his team a rousing ovation.
* The Buckeyes wore special Nike uniforms for this game. This uniform was a replica of those worn by the 1968 national championship team. They were scarlet jerseys with large gray numerals front, back and on the shoulder pads. The gray pants featured wider stripes.
* Ohio State’s 12-game winning streak is tied for the seventh-longest in school history. The record of 22 straight wins was set between 1967-69.
* Michigan seems likely to play in the Capital One Bowl or the Outback Bowl against an SEC opponent.
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