There has been a lot of attention paid to the NCAA's new targeting rule, where an offending player may not only see a 15-yard penalty for a hit, but may be disqualified as a result. The rule has been applied only a few times this year, and it has never affected an Ohio State team.
Bradley Roby, no doubt listening to doubters and haters alike for the past two weeks about his play for the last three, goes down in history as the first Buckeye player to have his afternoon ended early as a result of the new rule. In a game with many story lines, losing a star player - an All-American no less - early due to a questionable targeting hit stood as one of the biggest.
But that was only one part of the story the Buckeyes and Iowa Hawkeyes told on Saturday, in a bruising tale of two halves that saw the Buckeyes overpower Iowa in the third and fourth quarters to win, 34-24.
Iowa started with the ball first, bringing a top-40 rushing attack against a top-10 rushing defense. While visions of Clemson and Florida State might have been dancing in a lot of other heads, Urban Meyer gave nothing but praise to Iowa leading up to the game, crediting them as a much better outfit on the field than their record or perception may otherwise indicate. Iowa's first drive proved Meyer spot on: a 12 play, 80-yard touchdown drive signaled that this may not be the walkover that the 18-point betting line indicated before the first snap.
Ohio State answered back with a 12-play drive of their own, but had to settle for a field goal, despite Braxton Miller's most highlight-worthy run of the year, a twisting, turning, juking, spinning 16-yard run, to put the Buckeyes into the red zone. The ball back in Iowa's hands, the Hawkeyes, led by the two-headed running attack of Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock, was complemented by the air attack of quarterback Jake Rudock. His passing ended up as the catalyst of what was probably the game's biggest play.
Rudock's pass to C.J. Fiedorowicz in the open field required a Bradely Roby stop. Roby applied the Truck Stick to Fiedorowicz; the crowd cheered. The refs saw it a different way, throwing a flag and calling Roby for targeting. After review, the call was upheld, and Roby's day was over; the crowd booed. Whether the call was correct or not, and there are fair arguments both ways, Urban Meyer's pre-season sentiment that a call like that could swing a big game, seem prophetic now.
Despite losing Roby for the day, the defense held Iowa to just a field goal, and a 10-3 lead, putting the ball back in Miller's capable hands. After a Carlos Hyde run and a Devin Smith catch, Miller's arm shined, hitting Corey Brown for a wide open, 58-yard catch and run, to level the score at 10-10. No Roby, no problem; it was a new game.
Iowa regained posession after the score, getting good field position after a short Drew Basil kickoff. And with the game starting fresh at 10-10, Iowa did exactly what they had previously done on their first drive of the game. This time, the Iowa offense executed 15 plays for 69 yards, with Rudock finding Kevonte Martin-Manley for the easy score in the back of the North end zone.
Again, the Buckeyes needed the offense to tie the game, and just like on the Buckeyes' first offensive drive, the offense could not answer. Miller was the catalyst on the drive, getting the Buckeyes just outside the red zone, and were forced to go for it on fourth and 10 from the Iowa 29. Miller did his best, evading would-be tacklers left and right, eventually taking the ball past the first down marker. But a defensive hold on Iowa and a block in the back on Ohio State negated the play. Miller's fourth and 10 heave to the end zone was almost reeled in by Evan Spencer, but fell to the turf incomplete, giving the ball back to Iowa.
Iowa's possession ended in a punt, and Ohio State regained possession at the Buckeye four-yard line, but Meyer opted to take a knee, and go into the locker room down by a touchdown at the half for the second consecutive week. The Hawkeyes owned the ball in the first half, dominating time of possession 18:05-11:23, and out-gaining the Buckeyes 222-189, and running 43 plays to Ohio State's 25.
Miller opened the second half looking more akin to his form against Wisconsin rather than against Northwestern, leading a scoring drive of 75 yards, going 4-4 for 31 yards, and giving the ball to Hyde for the score, his first of the day, and the first given up by the Iowa defense on the year. Once again, the score was tied, and both teams were back to the proverbial starting gate.
Iowa's first drive of the half started like all of their previous drives, with the Iowa line dictating the pace and allowing the Hawkeyes to run the ball in chunks. Approaching mid-field, with a long third down, however, the Buckeye defense needed a stop to get the ball back and have a chance to take their first lead of the day. The Rudock pass on third and nine fell to the ground on a knockdown by Doran Grant, forcing an Iowa punt, and giving the ball back to Miller and the offense.
If efficiency was the theme for the first Buckeye drive of the second half, that theme was emphasized on the second drive. Miller again led the way, again going 4-4 for 48 yards, adding 24 on the ground, and hitting Smith for a 14-yard touchdown to take a 24-17 lead. Miller's play on both drives was inspired, continuously hitting the likes of Smith, Spencer and Jeff Heuerman in space, with the receivers (and the tight end) gutting out extra yards after the catch.
Winning a number of games in a row is never easy, and always comes with a fair share of hiccups. After an Iowa holding penalty pinned Iowa at their own 15-yard line, Rudock found TE Jake Duzey on a streak with the Buckeye secondary behind him. Duzey made the Buckeyes pay, going 85 yards, untouched, to level the game at 24-24, and setting up a final quarter that would decide if the nation's longest winning streak would continue or end.
While Miller recorded his first incompletion of the second half on the ensuing drive, his three- and nine-yard runs put the Buckeyes back in the red zone. From there, it was Carlos Hyde taking control in the second half yet again, running for a video-game worthy 19-yard score, putting the Buckeyes on top. The run might be Hyde's best of the year, with a recovery after a hit that knocked him back five yards before recovering and diving for the endzone pylon.
Iowa's offense stalled again, giving Miller and Hyde a chance to add to the lead and perhaps put the game away. Miller and Hyde tried their best, but a third down incompletion by Miller left the Buckeyes with a 25-yard field goal by Drew Basil, and a 10-point lead with just under six minutes to go.
The Buckeye defense was tested all day by a capable quarterback and a strong running game from Iowa, but there was a feeling that they needed to make a play that would be the difference, even without Roby. After stopping Iowa and setting up a third down, the defense finally shined. Freshman Tyvis Powell intercepted Rudock at midfield giving the ball back to the Buckeyes with just over four minutes to go. Even with a full complement of Iowa timeouts, the Buckeye offense needed only two first downs to put the game away. Evan Spencer made sure of that, recovering a Miller fumble on third down that created a first down, and allowed the Buckeyes to take a knee and a 10-point win.
19 Buckeye games in for Urban Meyer, 19 wins, the longest such streak in the nation. The last time the Hawkeyes came to town, the goal was a Big Ten Championship and the Rose Bowl for Ohio State. This year, the Buckeyes can only hope the win leads to an even higher ceiling at the end of the season.