We’re still nearly three months away from the start of the 2013 Ohio State football season. Everything is terrible and nothing is OK.
We can’t foresee the future and living in the now is unbearable. So why not relive the past a little?
The 12-0 season didn’t result in a conference championship or a bowl game but those weren’t in the cards anyway. The only thing the Buckeyes could do in 2012 was to win every game and force people to write stories like this and this. And this. They did that.
The Buckeyes completed just the 10th undefeated season in school history and just the sixth year without a loss or a tie. It was the first since the 14-0 2002 season that culminated in Ohio State’s most recent national championship (and boy do I have a story about that on Friday, but I digress).
By the end of 2012, the Buckeyes were battle tested and prepared for anyone, prompting head coach Urban Meyer to say, “At this point in time, Ohio State can go and play with anybody in America.”
It is extremely difficult to run the table in college football. Too many things can go against a team — an untimely penalty, a turnover, poor execution, etc. Almost anything can derail one game and one game can derail a perfect season.
Today we’ll look back at the five moments in 2012 that were pivotal in spelling the difference between perfection and just another year.
Braxton Miller to Devin Smith
The undefeated season nearly disappeared early in the year. With a fairly pedestrian non-conference schedule, Ohio State seemed likely to get into B1G play without a blemish, but no one told the California Golden Bears about that. When Brendan Bigelow (someone you hope never to see again after this) went 59 yards for a tying touchdown (1:40 mark) just 8:10 remained on the game clock. Cal intercepted Braxton Miller on the ensuing possession and suddenly things looked like they might get ugly for the Buckeyes after watching a 20-7 lead evaporate.
The Bears took over the ball at Ohio State’s 44 and drove to the 25 before the drive stalled with Etienne Sabino and Storm Klein stuffing Eric Stevens for no gain. Cal kicker Vincenzo D’Amato, having a horrific game already, missed a 44-yard boot to the left. Instead of trailing the Bears, Ohio State remained tied at 28 with 4:20 to play.
Miller’s first pass from the 25, intended for Nick Vannett, fell incomplete. A 3-yard Jordan Hall run left the Buckeyes with a third-and-long situation, with time winding down. A stop would likely give Cal pretty good field position to try to steal a road upset in Columbus. Then Miller and Devin Smith went to work.
Miller took the snap and felt pressure up the middle. He scrambled right, pulled up and threw deep to Smith, who was wide open behind the Cal defense. Smith hauled in the pass at the Cal 38 and sprinted untouched for the winning score.
Christian Bryant intercepted Zach Maynard on the next possession and Ohio State moved to 3-0 on the way to 12-0.
Braxton Miller to Devin Smith Redux
Two weeks after the near-miss against California, the Buckeyes hit the road for the first time for the B1G opener in East Lansing. Ohio State scored early on a Jordan Hall touchdown run and held a 7-3 lead at the half.
Michigan State’s Dan Conroy hit a 50-yard field goal to trim the lead to 7-6 early in the second half. Drew Basil answered with 6:08 remaining in the third, connecting on a 26-yarder.
Sparty took over at its 35 after Basil’s kick and went 65 yards in just three plays, aided by a 15-yard facemask penalty. Andrew Maxwell found Keith Mumphery for a 29-yard touchdown and the Spartans had their first lead of the game, with 4:49 remaining in the third.
How would Ohio State respond in its first season under Meyer, on the road, with a sophomore quarterback? Pretty much the same way it did two weeks earlier. Miller picked up an initial first down with a 2-yard run, setting the Buckeyes up at their own 37. On the next play, Miller hit a streaking Smith for a 63-yard score. On a personal note, I’m delighted by the OSU band’s reaction every time I watch the replay.
Sparty tacked on a field goal in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 17-16, but could not score again on the Buckeye defense. The offense closed the game out with Miller and Carlos Hyde grinding the clock on the ground. The win pushed Ohio State’s record to 5-0 overall and 1-0 in conference play.
Kenny G’s Sweet, Sweet Jazz
West Lafayette, Indiana has at times been a house of horrors for Ohio State, but the Buckeyes usually handle the Boilermakers in the Shoe. In 2012, events threatened to recreate the battle of Purdue Harbor 2. Among the many things that went wrong early was a Miller fumble that he recovered, but it was ripped out of his hands and the officials signaled Purdue ball. Never mind that in college you’re down without being touched. A replay incredibly upheld the call on the field. These are the kinds of things that can ruin undefeated seasons.
Late in the third quarter, Miller went out with a scary-looking injury with Ohio State trailing 20-14.
Three plays later, Basil hit the left upright on a 50-yard field goal attempt. The defense stopped Purdue’s next drive at the OSU 47, but the Boilers were able to down their punt at the 1-yard line. Two plays later, Jeff Heuerman was inexplicably whistled for an illegal block in the end zone, resulting in a safety. Ohio State was down 22-14 and had to kick the ball away with 10:11 to play. Purdue was able to run four minutes off the clock on its next possession. A Kenny Guiton interception ended Ohio State’s next possession as time began to slip away.
After the defense forced a three-and-out, Ohio State took over with just 47 ticks on the clock, down eight points. Smith stepped up again with a 39-yard reception, taking the ball to the Purdue 22. Guiton hit Evan Spencer for eight yards and Hyde picked up a key first down. Kenny G spiked the ball to kill the clock with 15 seconds remaining. The game and the undefeated season would come down to just a few plays.
Guiton threw incomplete for Spencer on first and second down, but Josh Johnson cut off the OSU receiver’s route. The penalty set up a first-and-goal with eight seconds to play. On the next play, Kenny G rolled left and threw a dangerously low pass for Chris Fields, who somehow got under it for a spectacular touchdown catch. The safety loomed large, forcing the Buckeyes to go for two. On one of the sweetest play calls of the season, Guiton rolled right and threw back left to an open Heuerman, who got his redemption for the penalty.
The Buckeyes went on to win in overtime and preserve the undefeated season.
The other Ohio State game that went into overtime occurred in Madison’s Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers probably felt they owed Ohio State for this and were looking for both payback and a touchdown record for running back Montee Ball.
Ryan Shazier said no.
Wisconsin trailed 14-7 with less than three minutes remaining. It was fourth-and-one inside the 1-yard line and the Badgers lined up to go for it. Quarterback Curt Phillips handed the ball to Wisconsin’s All-American running back and Ball was met in the hole by Shazier. The ball popped loose and if Christian Bryant had tucked in his shirt, he might have put the Badgers away there and then.
Instead, Wisconsin eventually did force overtime, but the Buckeyes prevailed anyway. Had Ball scored instead of fumbling, it’s possible that Wisconsin would have ridden that momentum, stopped Ohio State, and scored again to win in regulation. Shazier’s play hit the reset button and allowed things to play out the way they did.
The Buckeyes won 21-14 in overtime and improved to 11-0 entering the showdown against Michigan.
Mr. Bryant, Meet Mr. Robinson
As usual, The Game was closely contested. Each team led more than once in the first half, with Michigan grabbing momentum on Denard Robinson’s 67-yard touchdown run with just 40 seconds to play before the half. It was a critical blow to the OSU defense, which had Robinson dead to rights, but Bryant and Travis Howard blasted each other off of the Michigan
quarterback wide receiver running back. Neither defender properly wrapped and Robinson squirted free for a big play. It was Denard’s last play of consequence against Ohio State in his collegiate career, and, much like Heuerman against Purdue, it set up Bryant's redemption later.
The Buckeyes rallied to add a 52-yard Drew Basil field goal as the first half clock expired, and Ohio State trailed 21-20 at the break.
Shazier stuffed Robinson for a two-yard loss on fourth down to end Michigan’s first possession of the third quarter, setting up Ohio State at the Wolverines’ 46. Miller drove the offense down to the 11, and Basil put the Buckeyes ahead from there.
Devin Gardner’s 30-yard pass to Jeremy Gallon quickly moved the Wolverines to their own 44 on the first play of the next possession. Then Robinson checked in and everyone in the Shoe knew Michigan would run the ball on the next play. Bryant clobbered Robinson, who coughed up the football. Nathan Williams recovered, killing the last promising Michigan offensive possession.
From that point on, Ohio State played killer defense and Basil tacked on another field goal. Carlos Hyde destroyed the clock and Wolverine dreams over the final 4:50 of the game.
Bryant’s big play was perhaps the pivotal moment in a fantastic second-half performance by the OSU defense. With injured captain John Simon unable to play, the performance was even more important.
So there you have it. Every moment in an undefeated season is meaningful, but the five in this list are probably the most important of all. Go ahead and bookmark this page and revisit it whenever you feel the deep, dark despair of the off-season closing in around you.