PDT Sports Editor
COLUMBUS — After a one-season hiatus from elite status, the Ohio State Buckeyes find themselves back in the winning category against their bitter rival and owners of a flawless 12-0 record.
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller passed for 189 yards and touchdown and also added a 56 yards rushing while running back Carlos Hyde rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown in the Buckeyes’ 26-21 win over the Wolverines Saturday afternoon.
“It’s a perfect season, you can’t ask for anything better. You have to get all the wins you can, especially against The Team Up North and at home,” Miller said.
Despite being banned from the Big Ten Championship game and a bowl game, the win allowed Ohio State an outside chance of winning the Associated Press National Championship if the teams in top five of the BCS rankings suffer losses in the coming weeks.
The chilly temperature and snow flurries provided a November backdrop to the 109th edition of The Game that saw both teams combine for six turnovers in a sloppy contest.
Ohio State wasted little time as Carlos Hyde punched it in from three yards out to cap a six play, 75-yard scoring drive to open the game. Drew Basil’s extra point made it 7-0.
“That’s exactly why I came here, to play in big games like this against our rival in the ‘Shoe,” Hyde said.
Adolphus Washington forced a fumble during Michigan’s first drive that was recovered by Zach Boren, but the Buckeyes could not capitalize on the Wolverines’ mistake and punted away.
Michigan responded only a minute later with a 75-yard touchdown pass from Devin Gardner to Roy Roundtree and the extra point knotted it at 7-7 with 7:10 left in the first quarter.
Ohio State’s subsequent drive was marred with penalties, but ended in a 41-yard field goal from Basil to wrap the first quarter scoring at 10-7. It would be the first of five attempts for the junior kicker on the day.
The Buckeye defense, playing without injured senior defensive end John Simon, held the Wolverines to 279 yards of total offense in his absence.
“And I had a bad feeling early in the week when I saw his knee. It was a bursa it’s not a structural issue, it’s just the swelling we couldn’t get out,” Ohio State coach Meyer said. “And my man was in the training room early in the morning until late at night doing everything they could.”
According to the coach, the loss of the defensive leader was a motivator.
“When they de q’d 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,” Meyer said.
Michigan received a gift in the second quarter when Corey Brown muffed the ball and the visitors recovered at the Ohio State 32-yard-line. Given a short field to defend, the defense saw the lead disappear following the special teams blunder. Five plays after the mistake, Devin Gardner (11-20, 170 yards, TD, INT) ran a quarterback sneak into the end zone to make it 14-10 Michigan with 10:42 remaining in the first half.
After trading possessions, Ohio State found the end zone again when Brown (eight receptions 95 yards, TD) dove to the pylon on a 14-yard touchdown reception from Miller. Basil’s extra point made it 17-14 Buckeyes with 1:30 left in the half.
The Wolverines scored two players later as Denard Robinson, who finished with 122 yards rushing after rotating between running back and quarterback, broke through Ohio State tacklers on the way to a 67-yard touchdown with 40 seconds left in the half.
While Robinson was lethal in the first half, the Buckeyes bottled him up following the break.
“My comment was, after I saw Denard Robinson sneak out of there for a long run, stop the quarterback run. That’s the input I had. Probably the same I think 107,000 people said that as well,” Meyer said “But Coach Fickell and Coach Withers running that defense did an excellent job, I mean, excellent job against some good athletes.”
With the score at 21-17 in favor of the visitors, Ohio State managed to get into field goal range after a pair of completions to Hyde and Brown. Basil’s 51-yard field goal attempt as the clock expired was true and narrowed the deficit to 21-20 at the intermission.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke rolled the dice on the opening drive of the third quarter, going for it on fourth and short at the Wolverines’ 48-yard-line. The Ohio State defense, as it did the entire game, stepped up in a key situation this time in the form of a 2-yard loss to force the turnover on downs. Ryan Shazier made the stop.
“I felt good about our offense because they had just gotten two first downs in a row and I had confidence in our defense as well, so we went for it,” Hoke said.
The Buckeyes translated the good field position into another field goal with 8:12 remaining in the quarter to make it 23-21 Ohio State.
Christian Bryant broke the ball away from Robinson on the next drive and Nathan Williams recovered, but Basil missed a 39-yard field goal eight plays later.
The defense forced another punt and the Buckeyes were driving to start the fourth quarter when Michigan’s Jake Ryan forced a Miller fumble and Frank Clark recovered for the Wolverines at their 28.
After trading punts, the Buckeyes forced another fumble when sophomore Michael Bennett stripped Gardner and Travis Howard recovered at the Michigan 10-yard-line.
It was another big play by a defensive underclassman.
“Those guys sometimes you recruit guys that are overrated. The names you just mentioned are not overrated,” Meyer said. “They’re going to be great players here. They’re going to be great players here and I appreciate the effort. On top of it, wonderful people.”
Basil added another field goal four plays later to make it 26-21 Buckeyes with 6:26 to play.
Michigan’s bid to go ahead late in the fourth quarter was ended when C.J. Barnett intercepted a Gardner pass at the Michigan 48 with 4:50 left in the contest.
From there, Hyde sealed the victory with two rushes that went for first downs on the drive. Miller then knelt the Buckeyes to their sixth unblemished record in school history.
“He’s developing into one of the best backs in the country,” Meyer said of his junior running back. “He’s a powerful guy. He’s come a long way.”
Meyer also lauded the efficient effort of his sophomore signal caller.
“Our quarterback, I thought, 14 of 18 for almost 200 yards against a No. 1 pass defense in America. He played his heart out as well,” Meyer said.
Ohio State’s elation was Michigan’s deflation as the Wolverines dropped to 8-4. Hoke pointed to turnovers as his teams’ undoing.
“It is hard to win when you turn the ball over four times and don’t convert third and short opportunities,” Hoke said. “We played well enough to win at times, but gave up too many four and 5-yard runs in the end.”
Robinson, who has been dealing with a nerve problem in his throwing elbow, agreed with his coach about the turnovers, but said he was capable of doing more.
“I can throw. We went with the plays coach was calling and we thought would be successful,” Robinson said. “However, I do feel comfortable throwing the ball.”
Despite the season ending prematurely as a result of the NCAA sanctions, Meyer said he felt very strongly about the character of his team, namely, his seniors.
“I want to make sure they’re properly recognized as one of the great groups of seniors in the history of this program, however we’re going to do that,” Meyer said. “Maybe we’ll get 19 bronze statues somewhere, raise some money.”
Asked if Ohio State is the last unbeaten team by the end of the season, Meyer was cautious.
“Just trying to picture the headline here. Enough headlines. I don’t need anymore. They got me all excited at a pep rally the other day and that was a headline,” Meyer said. “You know, I don’t know enough to I think we’re at this point like I said, 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.”
Note: Former Portsmouth West quarterback Levi Ratliff, a preferred walk-on with Ohio State, finished his freshman season with 12 wins after Saturday’s 26-21 result.