100 Teams in 100 Days: A Third String Quarterback Guides Ohio State to a National Championship in 2014

By Matt Gutridge on September 1, 2016 at 11:40 am
The 2014 Ohio State University football team.
Ohio State University Archives

Marking the 125th season of Ohio State football, expectations for the 2014 Buckeyes remained high with Braxton Miller back for his senior season. However, 12 days before the season opener, Ohio State lost Miller for the season.

2 days and counting.

The two-time Big Ten Player of the Year and front-runner for the Heisman Trophy re-injured his throwing shoulder in a non-contact drill, putting his future at quarterback in serious doubt. Ohio State knew replacing running back Carlos Hyde wouldn't be easy but the unexpected loss of Miller was devastating. The record-breaking offense of 2013 was now without its most prominent producers for 2014.

With Miller out, Urban Meyer only had four returning starters on his offense and needed to rely on an inexperienced backfield of J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott to get his team in a position to win.

The defense only had to replace four starters, but there were questions in the secondary and a giant hole with the departure of All-American linebacker Ryan Shazier. Meyer hired Chris Ash to fix a struggling secondary and his aggressive style soon paid dividends with the young defenders. 

The 2014 Buckeyes
Record 14–1
B1G Record 8–0, 1st
Coach Urban Meyer (3rd year, 38–3)
Captains Michael Bennett, Curtis Grant,
Doran Grant, Jeff Heuerman,
Braxton Miller, Evan Spencer

Games of Note

September 6th • Virginia Tech • Ohio Stadium
Navy posed more of a threat than the 34-17 victory in the season opener indicated. The Midshipmen trailed 20-17 with 13:54 remaining before Ohio State added two touchdowns in the final nine minutes to secure the 17-point win.

Virginia Tech's defensive coordinator Bud Foster is known to put pressure on quarterbacks with various looks and blitz packages. For the primetime matchup in Ohio Stadium, the Hokies' defense manned up the wide receivers and relentlessly put pressure on the inexperienced offensive line and quarterback of the Buckeyes.

The strategy worked. Virginia Tech sacked Barrett seven times, including six in the fourth quarter, and the relentless pressure forced three interceptions. Barrett finished 9-of-29 for 219 yards a touchdown. Donovan Riley snagged Barrett's final interception and ran it down the sideline 63 yards for the game-clinching score with only 46 seconds left.

For some followers of Ohio State, the sky was falling. Meyer started his Buckeye career 24–0 and was now 1–3 in his last four games.

"I still have confidence that we have enough skill on this football team to get by people," Meyer said following the 35-21 loss.

The new directive was received by his players.

"It's not the last game of the season,'' Jeff Heuerman said. "There's a long way to go to finish out. Coach Meyer's message after the game is there's a lot to accomplish but we have to accomplish it at 11-1."

2014 Schedule
AUG. 30 NAVY W, 34–17
SEP. 13 KENT STATE W, 66–0
OCT. 4 MARYLAND W, 52–24
OCT. 18 RUTGERS W, 56–17
OCT. 25 PENN STATE W, 31–24 2OT
NOV 1. ILLINOIS W, 55–14
NOV. 8 No. 8 MICHIGAN ST. W, 49–37
NOV. 15 NO. 25 MINN. W, 31-24
NOV. 2 INDIANA W, 42-27
NOV. 29 MICHIGAN W, 42–28
DEC. 6 NO. 13 WISC. W, 59–0
JAN. 1 NO. 1 ALABAMA W, 42–35
JAN. 12 NO. 2 OREGON W, 42–20
    14–1, 672–330

October 25th • Penn State • Beaver Stadium
In a double overtime thriller, Ohio State left State College with a 31-24 victory thanks to their stellar play on the field and the not so stellar video replay system.

The Buckeyes scored on their first possession of the game following Vonn Bell's interception of Christian Hackenberg at the PSU 39-yard line. Replays showed that the ball hit the ground, but the replay crew was unable to get an accurate feed and the interception stood.

Ohio State took advantage of the break and seven snaps later, Ezekiel Elliott scored on a 10-yard run. Early in the second quarter, Sean Nuernberger booted a 49-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-0. However, there was controversy on the kick. It appeared that the snap was made after the play clock reached zero and the Buckeyes should have been penalized for a delay of game.

"That is not reviewable, in terms of when the ball is snapped in relationship to the zeros on the clock," replay official Tom Fiedler said.

Meyers' team dodged another bullet courtesy of the referees.

Barrett closed out the first half's scoring with a one-yard touchdown toss to Jeff Heuerman.

The second half did not start well for the visitors. On 3rd-and-6 from his own 37, Barrett was intercepted by Anthony Zettel who returned it 40 yards for a pick-six. The rest of the third quarter featured an exchange of punts, a missed 41-yard field goal by Nuernberger and a Tyvis Powell interception at the Buckeyes 30.

Early in the fourth quarter, Ohio State still led 17-7 and started a drive on its own 43. On first down, Mike Hull intercepted Barrett and returned 12 yards to the Buckeye 45. Eight plays later, Hackenberg hit Saeed Blacknail for a 24-yard touchdown pass on 3rd-and-6.

Following two series in which the Buckeyes could not get into scoring position, Penn State had the ball with 2:58 remaining in the game. The Nittany Lions threw the ball on 16 of the next 18 plays and set up a game-tying field goal. The 31-yard kick was true and the game went to overtime.

Both teams scored rushing touchdowns in the first overtime period. After Barrett scored for Ohio State, Penn State was called for a personal foul which put gave the Buckeyes the ball at the 12 start the second overtime. On 3rd-and-2 from the PSU 4, Barrett ran through the middle to put the Buckeyes up 31-24.

Penn State couldn't get a drive together and had 4th-and-5 from its 20. Hackenberg dropped back to pass, but Joey Bosa used Akeel Lynch as a battering ram to take down the quarterback. The defensive lineman stood up and gave his patented shrug as the Buckeyes escaped with its Big Ten title hopes intact.

"I was so tired I didn't even know it was a sack," said Bosa "The guys started hugging me and I just went to the ground. This might have been a double-overtime win, but it doesn't make it any less important, winning in a crazy environment like this."

NAVY W5 5–0
ILLINOIS W7 67–30–4
INDIANA W20 71–12–5
MICHIGAN W3 47–58–6  
WICSONSIN W3 57–18–5  

November 8th • #8 Michigan State • Spartan Stadium
Ever since before the start of the season, most everyone circled Nov. 8, 2014, on their calendar. Michigan State snatched away the Buckeyes shot at a national title and snapped its record 24-game winning streak in the 2013 Big Ten Championship game. Heading into this game, most prognosticators favored the Spartans to win again.

The Ohio State team that took the field against Virginia Tech was a long way from the squad that played in East Lansing. Barrett came out throwing and completed 16-of-26 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-37 victory on national television.

For as well as the Buckeyes played, the game was in doubt late in the second quarter. The final minutes of the first half from the 2015 Ohio State Team Guide:

Michigan State led 21-14 when Ohio State’s Dontre Wilson fumbled a kickoff, giving the Spartans a chance to extend their lead in the second quarter. But a holding penalty wiped out a Michigan State touchdown, and the Spartans eventually missed a field goal.

On Ohio State’s next offensive play, Barrett found Michael Thomas for a 79-yard catch-and-run touchdown that tied it at 21. Then Barrett threw a 44-yard TD pass to Devin Smith to put the Buckeyes ahead with 56 seconds left in the half.

Barrett and the Buckeyes put the game out of reach between the end of the third and fourth quarters. In a span of five minutes, Elliott scored on a 1-yard run and Wilson caught a 7-yard touchdown pass to give Ohio State an 18-point lead.

Thoughts of playing in the College Football Playoff were destroyed after the Virginia Tech loss. No boasting an eight-game winning streak and an impressive win over No. 8 Michigan State, reporters asked Meyer if he felt his team was good enough for the playoff.

"I think it is, because I love my team and I don't know enough," Meyer said. "I haven't studied the other teams really. If I have to go fight for this team, what they've done - very impressive. That darn loss the second game, if that hurts us, I'll take the hit for that."

November 29th • Michigan • Ohio Stadium
In 2013, The Game turned into a shootout as both teams put up at least 41 points for the first time in the history of the series. On this partly sunny day, the thoughts of Ohio State's players were on the team across the field, but also on the whereabouts of a teammate. Kosta Karageorge went missing earlier in the week and nobody knew where he was. 

"He's got a great personality, one of the favorite people I've ever met - just an interesting guy and a big heart," defensive tackle Mike Bennett said. "We're hoping he comes back soon."

With concern for their missing teammate, the Buckeyes went onto the field with a single focus of beating Michigan.

The Wolverines' locker room also had issues heading into the 111th meeting between the schools. Brady Hoke's team was 5–6 and needed a win to become bowl-eligible. A loss to Ohio State ensured the program's third losing season in seven years.

With both teams playing with extra motivation the first half ended in a 14-14 tie.

The Buckeyes started the second half strong. On the fourth snap, Barrett connected with Devin Smith on a post pattern for a 52-yard gain to the Michigan 2. One play later the Texas native rushed left and beat the Wolverines defense to the corner for a 21-14 lead.

Hoke's team answered on the ensuing possession with a 12-play 75 yard drive that ended when Drake Johnson rushed left for a 4-yard touchdown. Johnson injured his knee on the play and did not return to the game. 

The back-and-forth continued as Barrett converted three third downs on an 81-yard march that gave Ohio State a 28-21 advantage. Elliott scored his first touchdown of the day from two yards out. 

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Barrett's and the Buckeyes' season would be altered. The quarterback was swarmed under for no gain, but as the mass of humanity went down to the ground, Barrett suffered a broken ankle. Third-string quarterback Cardale Jones entered the game, but could not convert on 3rd-and-1. 

"I heard him yell and I ran over to help him up," Heuerman said. "When I went over I saw his ankle and it wasn't pretty. I just told him, 'Stay down, stay down.' It kind of hit me, 'Oh man.'"

Cameron Johnston boomed a 67-yard punt that just went into the end zone for a touchback. Gardner guided his team to the Ohio State 35, but following two rushes that lost a combined four yards the Wolverines were forced to punt.

A heavy dose of Elliott, Jones and Jalin Marshall took the ball to Michigan's 44 where the Buckeyes faced 4th-and-1. Meyer rolled the dice and went for the first down. His gamble paid off as Elliott burst through the lane and raced untouched for a touchdown. 

Down 14 with 4:52 remaining, Michigan needed two quick scores. On the third play of the series, Bosa sacked Gardner and forced a fumble. Darron Lee snatched up the loose ball and ran away from everyone for a touchdown.

The Wolverines did add a late touchdown to make the final score 42-28. 

Meyer was now 3–0 against Michigan and Ohio State had won 10 of the last 11 in the series.

December 6th • Wisconsin • Lucas Oil Stadium
The Buckeyes entered the Big Ten Championship game ranked No. 6 and just outside of the College Football Playoff. Many doubted Ohio State would get the nod because of the leg injury sustained by Barrett against Michigan. The players also grieved the loss of Karageorge, found dead a day after the win over the Wolverines. Ohio State wore a sticker on their helmets in his honor and Bennett donned Karageorge's number. 

Cardale Jones stepped onto the field as a starter for the first time in the biggest game of his career. He shined in the bright lights, completing 12-of-17 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns. His scoring strikes were of the deep variety and all to Devin Smith. The scores were from 39, 44 and 42 yards out. 

Elliott also had a big game as he rushed for a career-high 220 yards and two touchdowns. His first score gave the Buckeyes a 14-0 lead as he gashed the Badgers for 81 yards.

With his team leading 31-0 in the last minute of the half, Bennett forced Melvin Gordon to fumble and Bosa scooped and scored to give Ohio State a 38-0 halftime lead. The Buckeyes outgained Wisconsin 364-91 in the first half.

The defense was just as dominant as the offense and held Gordon – the nation's leading rusher – to 76 yards on 26 carries in the 59-0 loss. This the Badgers worst loss to the Scarlet and Gray since they lost by the same score in 1979.  

The 59-0 victory was impressive enough to sway the playoff committee to give Ohio State the No. 4 seed in the playoff. 

January 1st • Alabama • Sugar Bowl
The Buckeyes entered this contest as a heavy underdog to the No. 1 team in the nation. Ohio State had never defeated Alabama the previous three times the schools played. 

The Sugar Bowl appeared to be heading down a similar path as the Crimson Tide led 14-6 after the first quarter. The Buckeyes knocked on the door to score touchdowns twice but settled for short field goals while their SEC counterpart punched the ball into the end zone. 

Near the midpoint of the second quarter, Cyrus Jones intercepted Cardale Jones at the Buckeyes 47 and the Alabama defender returned it 32 yards to the 15. Five plays later T.J. Yeldon pushed the lead to 21-6. Many watching figured Ohio State was going to get beat by yet another SEC team in a bowl game.

Curtis Samuel returned the ensuing kickoff to his own 14, but Alabama's Maurice Smith was flagged for a personal foul and gave Ohio State a little breathing room at the 29. After two runs from Elliott netted zero yards, Jones went to the air on 3rd-and-10. The sizeable quarterback hit Jalin Marshall for a clutch first down that kept the Buckeyes alive. A little later, Ohio State faced 3rd-and-9 and Jones and Marshall hooked up again for another 26-yard pass. A few plays later Elliott rushed into the end zone from the 3-yard line to give his team life.

The Buckeyes' defense fed off of the energy and forced Alabama into its second three-and-out of the evening. It only took Jones four plays to move his team from his own 23 to the Crimson Tide's 13-yard line. With 19 seconds until the break, Jones handed to Marshall, who tossed it to receiver Spencer on a reverse. Spencer stopped and threw for the left corner of the end zone for Michael Thomas. The future New Orleans Saint leaped up and incredibly got a toe down in bounds as he came down with the ball for a sensational score. 

The Buckeyes scored 14 points in the last 2:55 of the quarter to trail 21-20 at halftime.

It only took 2:20 into the third quarter for Ohio State to take the lead. Jones hit Smith for another deep touchdown pass of 47 yards. The teams then exchanged punts. The Buckeyes' Australian punting weapon pinned Alabama on its own one after a 60-yard punt. 

Runs by Yeldon and Derrick Henry put the ball on Bama's 36 where the team faced 3rd-and-7. Ohio State fooled Blake Sims with a zone blitz and Steve Miller, who dropped off the defensive line in zone coverage, picked the ball off. The lineman rumbled 41 yards to the end zone and gave the Buckeyes a 34-21 lead deep into the third quarter.

Alabama continued the scoring spree with a 7-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that was finished by Sims' 5-yard run.

Ohio State had a 7-point lead and faced 3rd-and-1 on its own 15 with just over thee minutes remaining in the game. Elliott took a handoff from Jones and cut left before turning upfield and racing 85 yards through the heart of the south to rip the heart out of the Alabama fan base. Jones and Thomas hooked up on the two-point conversion and the Buckeyes led 42-28.

Sims made it interesting as he hit DeAndrew White for a 51-yard pass on the second play of Bama's next drive. On 4th-and-2 from the 6, Amari Cooper caught a touchdown pass to make things interesting with 1:59 remaining.

Adam Griffith tried an onside kick, but Spencer came down with the ball. Ohio State was in position to run out the clock with a first down. On the first play, Meyer called for a deep pass to Spencer that fell incomplete. Many questioned the call as it saved Nick Saban a timeout. The Buckeyes ran on second and third down and was forced to punt with 24 seconds on the clock.

The game should have been over, but now Saban's team had a chance. Following five positive gains, the Crimson Tide were on Ohio State's 42-yard with time for two plays. Sims' first pass fell incomplete. The second and final attempt was intercepted by Tyvis Powell who inexplicably returned the ball for 29 heart stopping yards.

Elliott finished with an eye-popping 230 rushing yards including the 85-yard game-clinching touchdown.

Meyer and the Buckeyes were now one win away from the school's eighth national title.

January 12th • Oregon • CFP National Championship
Those around the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes knew there was something special about the team. The players had overcome the disappointment of losing their talented starting quarterback to injury, an unsettling upset in Week 2, their backup quarterback to injury and – most tragically – a teammate's life.

Now, all that stood between Ohio State and its eighth national title was No. 2 Oregon.

Details of the 2015 CFP National Championship Game from the 2015 Ohio State Team Guide:

The Buckeyes’ third-stringer matched Oregon’s Heisman winner as Cardale Jones led Ohio State past Marcus Mariota and the Ducks 42-20 in the
first College Football Playoff national championship game.

Behind Jones and the relentless running of Ezekiel Elliott, the Buckeyes completed a remarkable in-season turnaround with a dominating performance against the Ducks.

Elliott was the offensive MVP and ran for 246 yards and four touchdowns
on 36 carries. In the last three games against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, Elliott had 696 yards rushing.

Jones passed for 242 yards and a touchdown and ran for score. 

Mariota passed for 333 yards and two touchdowns, but the Ducks’ warp-speed spread offense missed too many red-zone opportunities and couldn’t unleash its running game against linebacker Darron Lee and an Ohio State front seven stacked with future NFL draft picks.

Even with the benefit of four Ohio State turnovers, the Ducks were held to their lowest point total of the season, four touchdowns below their average coming in.

Ohio State overcame many obstacles to win the school's eighth national championship beating Oregon 42-20 despite turning the ball over four times.

2014 Recap

  • J.T. Barrett passed for 226 yards and two touchdowns in his first start and the Buckeyes defeated Navy 34-17. Darron Lee had a 61-yard fumble return for a touchdown. The Midshipmen led 7-6 at halftime and 14-13 early in the third quarter.
  • Virginia Tech scored the game's last 14 points as they upset No. 8 Ohio State 35-21. Barrett rushed 24 times and Ezekiel Elliott had eight carries in the Buckeyes first home-opening loss since 1978.
  • J.T. Barrett tied a school record by tossing six touchdown passes in the 66-0 win over Kent State. Barrett threw five of the touchdowns in the first half.
  • No. 20 Ohio State's secondary gave up 352 passing yards and 28 points to Cincinnati but outpaced the Bearcats 50-28. Barrett threw for 330 yards and four touchdowns.
  • Barrett continued his hot hand as he threw four touchdown passes in College Park, Maryland. Ezekiel Elliott broke the century mark for the second straight game as Ohio State beat the Terrapins 52-24 in the inaugural meeting of the two programs.
  • Rutgers was no match for the Buckeyes in the first meeting between the schools. Barrett completed his first nine passes, threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 107 yards and two scores in the 56-17 victory.
  • No. 12 Ohio State needed two overtimes to overcome Penn State in Beaver Stadium. The epic battle ended when Joey Bosa bowled over Akeel Lynch and knocked him into Christian Hackenberg for the game-winning sack.
  • Devin Smith only caught three passes, but two of them were for touchdowns. No. 16 Ohio State scored in every quarter of the 55-14 rout of Illinois.
  • On the national stage on primetime television, No. 14 Ohio State scored 21 points in the second quarter to put away the eighth-ranked Spartans. Michael Thomas scored on a 79-yard touchdown pass in the pivotal period.
  • On a freezing day in Minneapolis, J.T. Barrett broke the Ohio State quarterback rushing record with 186 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown run of 86 yards is also a Buckeye quarterback record. The Buckeyes defeated Minnesota 31-24.
  • Jalin Marshall recorded four touchdowns as No. 6 Ohio State beat Indiana 42-27. Marshall recorded all of his touchdowns in the second half, the first being a 54-yard punt return.
  • Ohio State became the first Big Ten team to go 8–0 in three consecutive years as Ezekiel Elliott ran for 121 yards in the 42-28 victory. J.T. Barrett was lost for the season after suffering an injury to his right leg
  • Cardale Jones threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns in the first start of his career. His performance in the 59-0 thrashing of No. 13 Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game propelled Ohio State into the College Football Playoff.
  • A total team effort was needed as the Buckeyes defeated Alabama 42-35 in the Sugar Bowl. Michael Thomas made a spectacular toe-tapping touchdown reception on a pass from Evan Spencer, and Ezekiel Elliott ran 85 yards through the heart of the south in the victory.
  • Ezekiel Elliott ran for over 200 yards in his third consecutive game and Ohio State won the National Championship 42-20 over No. 2 Oregon. Elliott rushed for an astonishing 696 yards and eight touchdowns over the three-game span.
  • Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett were named All-Americans.
  • Devin Smith, Jeff Heuerman, Doran Grant, Michael Bennett and Evan Spencer were selected in the NFL Draft.
  • Ohio State started the season ranked No. 5, fell to 22 but finished as national champs.

The 2014 season started with serious doubts. Following the lackluster performance against Navy, Ohio State's offense looked lost in the stunning upset loss to Virginia Tech. It appeared the loss of Braxton Miller was going to be too much to overcome. Then the team went on an improbable and remarkable 13-game winning streak.

To claim the national title, the Buckeyes had to defeat the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in consecutive games. The 42-20 victory over Oregon gave Ohio State its eighth national championship. The season that the program won national titles were: 1942, 1954, 1957, 1961, 1968, 1970, 2002 and 2014.

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