On 4th-and-1 with its backup quarterback on the field and just under five minutes remaining in the game, Ohio State was clinging to a seven-point lead against arch-rival Michigan when Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer looked at his offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner and asked him one question.
"I simply asked our offensive line coach very charismatically, 'Can we get it?'" Meyer recalled.
"Without hesitation," Meyer said. "He looked me right in the eye and said we can."
Cardale Jones handed the ball off to Ezekiel Elliott, who ran behind left tackle Taylor Decker and left guard Billy Price, and galloped 44 yards to the end zone to give the Buckeyes a 35-21 lead with 4:58 remaining in the game.
“I was just thinking before the play to put my team on my back," Elliott said. "We’ve gotta continue this grind, keep moving and the line did a spectacular job in busting open a fat hole and I just had to break one arm tackle and I was to the promise land.”
Ohio State eventually won the game, 42-28, but it came at a price.
The Buckeyes lost their Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback when J.T. Barrett went down on the very first play of the fourth quarter, thrusting Jones into the role of signal caller.
Under those circumstances, Meyer decided the game was going to be won on the ground. And with its back against the wall, Elliott and the offensive line delivered the game-changing play.
“I think we all kind of breathed a sigh of relief and said, ‘OK, we can do this. We’re not a one-man show,’" co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said. "A piece went down, a piece of the puzzle went down, but we’re going to fill it in and we’ll make sure that the train keeps moving, but I do think it can give you a jolt of confidence that we can do that.”
It's kind of crazy to think about, too, being that Meyer has expressed his concerns with his offensive line all season. He said it was his No. 1 concern entering the year after replacing four starters from last year's unit and it remained that way after the group surrendered seven sacks during a Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech.
But when Ohio State needed a big play in its biggest game of the season, Meyer relied upon his offensive line to deliver.
“It’s just exciting because that means a lot of people executed really well, not just one guy," Warinner said. "Zeke came out, he’s a hard runner and I think he ran through an arm, but there were a lot of people putting a nice block on defenders. That’s the risk you take to stop a 4th-and-1, you can also give up a big play and it worked out well for us.”