In a game that was far closer than most people expected, Ohio State rallied past Indiana late and clinched a return to the Big Ten Championship Game Saturday afternoon.
After trailing midway through through the third quarter, the sixth-ranked and heavily-favored Buckeyes scored 28 unanswered points and broke the game open in the final five minutes of play. There would be no upset in Columbus.
Yet since the contest was marred with three turnovers, defensive lapses, and general sloppiness at times, it’s hard to imagine Urban Meyer’s team earned any style points with the win. Meyer offered another vantage point:
“We're conference division champions, won a bunch of games in a row. We have some work to do. Sometimes in college football, things don't go exactly as scripted.”
After racing out to a 14-0 lead, the Hoosiers scored 20 unanswered points and bottled up Ohio State’s typically potent offense. Redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett threw two rare interceptions and struggled with accuracy at times (you know, if you want to call 25-of-35 for 302 yards and four touchdowns struggling). Still, Meyer entertained the idea that Barrett’s blossoming Heisman campaign might’ve gotten the best of him.
“I'd like to say no, but I've done this a long time. So I don't know … He's a neat kid. And we hear the word ‘Heisman,’ I've been there a few times watch what goes on there. Your mouth starts to go dry and all those kinds of things when you mention Heisman. Did that happen with him? I'd like to think not. But I also have been around for a while. So probably. We've got to manage through that stuff.”
At halftime, Indiana only trailed, 14-13, on a tepid afternoon that was very much affected by poor a combination of weather, a noon start and an opponent that has yet to win a game in Big Ten play. Redshirt sophomore safety Tyvis Powell said:
“We noticed it in warm ups, the atmosphere wasn’t the same. It was kind of dead for the football team, so we addressed the issue in the locker room before we went out on the field, but it still seemed like nobody got it.”
It took a spectacular, 54-yard punt return by Jalin Marshall to spring the Buckeyes out of said daze. Marshall’s score ignited a tidal wave of momentum that carried them to safety.
“When Jalin took the punt back to the house, that was the one that sparked it all. It seemed like everybody was high-tempo, high-energy,” Powell said. “Everybody was ready to go out and make plays. Everybody was talking; at first there really wasn’t anybody saying too much on the field. The energy — you could definitely tell. There was a change.”
If not for Marshall, who also caught five passes for 95 yards and three touchdowns, Ohio State might’ve found itself in a more dire situation. Meyer seemed to disagree.
“We're fine. I guess, whatever the score was, somewhat of a close call. Just have to play better. We still are division champs.”
That’s true. And for an Ohio State team that’s soared back into the college football playoff conversation since a loss to Virginia Tech early in the season, it would appear to be an accomplishment in and of itself.
There is, of course, still much work to be done for the Buckeyes, which have their sights set on much bigger prizes. To achieve such things, they’ll need to clean up a lot after Saturday.
In particular, running back Tevin Coleman gashed Ohio State’s run defense for 228 yards and three touchdowns.
“He gets in second gear and it's over. I asked (Indiana head coach) Kevin (Wilson) about him. A great Christian kid, great kid. Wish him well in the NFL if that's what his desire because he's a really good back. Top-10 back. Maybe higher than that,” Meyer said.
“I mean, I knew the man was fast; they said that he was fast. But I didn’t know that he was that fast. Pffewww. You got to get him quick because if he gets going, it’s difficult to get him.”
Though he didn’t necessarily control the game, big plays — including a 90-yard dash and Ohio Stadium record — offered legitimate reason for concern and somewhat soiled a day of celebration. In addition to Minnesota’s David Cobb and Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford, he’s third-straight player to drop 100 or more yards on the unit.
“Just sits in your stomach the wrong way,” Meyer said. “We've got some work to do.”
Redshirt freshman linebacker Darron Lee was less than pleased:
“We’ve got a lot of work to do stopping the run. Glad to win the win, of course, but really gotta go back to the drawing board for that. It was everything we saw in practice, they had those two big plays and a couple QB scrambles here and there. We’ve gotta go back and tighten things up.”
Because it soiled a day that was intended to be a celebration. Powell said:
“It sucks, it really sucks. That’s what people are really in (the locker room) talking about that we would’ve had a better game if we didn’t give up those two touchdowns.”
In any case, the page quickly turned to next weekend’s annual game against arch rival Michigan.
Despite the Wolverines' dismal season, The Game still seems to mean as much as ever. Powell said:
“Forget the record! That don’t mean anything; this is the rivalry game. Like last year, records don’t mean anything. They’re going to come give us their best shot. The whole season is kind of based on this last game really. That’s how you basically talk about the season — if you’ve won or lost to the team up north. We’re definitely going to give it everything we’ve got, and I know that they’re going to give it everything they’ve got because that’s what they always do.”
Added Powell, who made a game-winning interception on a two-point conversion last year:
“You have to go in there and it’s a war. It’s basically a war. They’re going to come with their best effort, we’re going to come with our best effort. Whoever wants it the most will win the game.”
It’s just the latest objective for Ohio State to check off.
“The saying we’ve been going with is: Punch the Ticket. We punched the ticket with this win, but we’ve still gotta get past the team up north. When we get past them, we’ll worry about the Big Ten championship,” junior defensive tackle Adolphus Washington said.