Behind the power running of Carlos Hyde (26 carries for 146 yards and a TD), the reliable hands and escapability of Corey "Philly Brown" (a career high 95 receiving yards on 8 catches and a TD one week remove from being shut out in the receiving department on the box score), and the always elusive Braxton Miller (who turned the table and was as efficient passing as he'd been his entire career going 14/18 for 189 yards and a TD while adding 57 yards rushing on the ground), Ohio State successfully completed the job presented before them going into a supposed lost season: finishing 2012 unscathed. The Buckeyes rallied from a 21-20 halftime deficit to defeat Michigan, 26-21. Urban Meyer, in his inaugural trek as Ohio State's head man, moves to 1-0 against the arch rival Wolverines while also completes his first go at it with the Buckeyes as 12-0, 8-0 in conference.
Despite a 10 carry, 122 yard 1 TD rushing effort from quarterback/halfback Denard Robinson, Michigan failed to score in the second half. Second year head coach Brady Hoke falls to 1-1 against the Ohio State Buckeyes. While Urban Meyer didn't get the blow out opportunity to go for two "because they couldn't go for three", Ohio State fans (and Meyer for that matter) will gladly take a more than fulfilling consolation prize.
So how is it possible to even do justice to a game that was every bit as thrilling as one might've hypothesized and more than lived up to the hype of a rivalry its participants (and many outsiders for that matter) laud as the greatest in all of sports? To start at the beginning, one would suppose. After the requisite pregame extra curriculars and well, some more pregame extra curriculars, the Buckeyes and Wolverines would finally kickoff the 109th edition of The Game with a potential unbeaten season on the line for Ohio State and an outside shot at a BCS berth alive for the Wolverines.
Michigan won the toss and would defer leaving the Wolverines' Matt Wile to kick the ball 65 yards for a touchback. Ohio State would proceed to start their opening series on fire for perhaps the first time all year. Junior tailback Carlos Hyde would average 4.5 yards per touch on the drive and a long Braxton Miller to Devin Smith 52 yard throw and catch would set up a 3 yard Hyde touchdown run. Hyde would finish 2012 with 16 touchdowns on the season after entering it with just 6 in his first two years of eligibility combined.
The opposing side's first possession would look equal parts inspired, with Denard Robinson, who started the game under center but never attempted a pass, broke outside for a signature Denard 30 yard scramble. The Buckeyes would look to ostensibly seize all the momentum in the 105,899 packed stadium after a freshman Adolphus Washington sack of Michigan's primary quarterback on the day, junior Devin Gardener, popped the ball loose. Ohio State's johnny-on-the-spot was senior fullback-turned-linebacker Zach Boren, one of the best stories in college football this year, who recovered the ball and returned possession to the Buckeyes.
Ohio State's immediate possession there after, with them seemingly having an opportunity to really put Michigan into a deep hole, would face a comparable fate to that of the Wolverines' before them. Braxton Miller would be sacked for a massive 18 yard loss by Michigan defensive lineman Jibreel Black. Entering this contest, Michigan's pass rush was considered sub-average to bad, but they'd make an afternoon of teeing off on Miller in arguably their best game of the season.
The Wolverines took advantage of having forced the Buckeyes to punt and following an 8 yard Vincent Smith rush, Devin Gardner would hit a wide open Roy Roundtree who would escapee pour coverage en route to a 75 yard touchdown. Brendan Gibbons' point after tied things up and effectively rebooted the game for the two teams.
On the Buckeyes' next drive, they'd start promisingly enough. Braxton Miller would find both Devin Smith and Corey Brown for 10+ yard gains (Brown three times, including a 19 yard reception), before a lackluster series of holding and false start penalties and incomplete passes would force the Buckeyes to settle for three. A Drew Basil 41 yard field goal would give the Buckeyes the lead which would hold steady at 10-7 going into the second quarter.
Denard Robinson and company would begin the second quarter primed to answer. A judgement call pass interference call on Bradley Roby (who was marking Roundtree at the time) would superficially extend the drive and even after the Buckeyes' forced Michigan to punt, a combination of roughing the punter in and Brown muffing the receiving end of the punt and having it recovered by the Wolvereines' Marvin Robinson would jump start Michigan all the way down to the Buckeyes' 25. The Wolverines seemed primed to pass on the Ohio State charity gaining but five yards on the first two plays just outside Ohio State's red zone until a freshman mistake roughing the passer penalty on defensive end Noah Spence would take the Wolverines down to the OSU 11. Denard Robinson would rush for 9 yards and after getting stood up on the play that followed, Devin Gardner would quarterback sneak in for a 2 yard touchdown, putting Michigan back on top, 14-10.
The two teams would trade stagnant drives before Ohio State took off with 3:52 to play in the half and behind multiple 11+ yard runs from Carlos Hyde, would strike gold once again. Braxton Miller would find Philly Brown who'd do the rest of the work and get into the end zone on a 14 yard reception helping to put the Buckeyes back in control, 17-14. Or so momentum would lead observers to believe.
After an eight yard Robinson run to open the next drive, the Wolverines' senior year would look like the Denard of old en route to a 67 yard game changing touchdown. Christian Bryant and Travis Howard both had an opportunity to take down the man known as Shoelace, but seemingly collided into each other "around" Robinson and left Howard with an aggrevated shoulder, an injury he'd nursed the last half of the season and one he'd have to play through for the remainder of the afternoon.
Tom Herman's offense would answer though, with their most inspired two minute drill of the entire season. But after stalling out around the Michigan 35, the Buckeyes offense would have to settle for a long field goal attempt. Though junior kicker Drew Basil wasn't particularly broken in on the season with the Buckeyes' high scoring offense having left him having tried just 6 field goals at that juncture, the Buckeyes' kicker would knuckle through his longest make of the season, a 52 yarder, to leave the teams appropriately enough separated by just a point, 21-20, with Michigan on top going into the locker rooms.
The second half would be scored by an Ohio State defense leaving little-to-nothing behind. Meyer would later say in his post game press conference that his lone feedback after Robinson's 67 yard end of first half touchdown as "stop the quarterback run" and boy did they ever. With Brady Hoke and Michigan electing to role the dice on 4th and 3 at the Wolverines' 48, Ohio State's defense would swarm to Robinson and wrap him up for a two yard loss and a turnover on downs to open the quarter.
The possesion to follow would start off right for the Buckeyes with an explosive Carlos Hyde 17 yard run. The offense would stall out shortly there after that, despite Miller and Hyde's best efforts, but a Drew Basil 28 yard chip shot field goal would regain the edge for the Buckeyes, this time for good, 23-21.
Michigan's immediate next possession would last only two plays when on Robinson's third carry of the half, Ohio State strong safety Christian Bryant would force the ball lose. It would go on to be recovered by senior defensive end Nathan Williams at the Michigan 37. The Wolverines' once and former quarterback would finish the second half with but four touches. All the momentum seemed firmly on the side of the Buckeyes.
To Jake Ryan, Jordan Kovacs (who's name wasn't called nearly as one might've expected during the afternoon), and the Wolverines' credit, they didn't show any quit in them when it would've been far easier to do so. With an Ohio State score likely sealing their fate for good, former Urban Meyer assistant Greg Mattison's defense batted down the hatches and forced Ohio State into a 39 yard field goal attempt after a tackle for a 12 yard loss at the Michigan 22. Basil would push the kick just wide left and Ohio State's lead would remain only 23-21.
An ensuing three and out would further epitomize the defensive intensity the Bucks had been exhibiting all quarter, when on 3rd-and-2 Al Borges would roll the dice and try a Vincent Smith rush up the middle. Much like Robinson on the 4th down attempt earlier, Smith would be completely stuffed and Wolverines punter Will Haerup would have to punt once again.
The Buckeyes' next drive, which would span the end of the third and on into the early stages of the fourth, would show that this one was far from over. On an explosive pass rush by Ryan, Braxton Miller would fail to secure the ball as he went to the ground, and instead of a field goal try to at least force Michigan to need a touchdown to get back on top, Michigan defensive end Frank Clark would recover the ball and give the Wolverines new life. Clark was involved in a sequence earlier when he blind side blew up Miller and then appeared to punch the Buckeyes' quarterback after the sack. Such are rivalry games.
Ohio State's defense would rally behind the turnover, however. With Robinson only able to get one yard on a direct snap to him and Vincent Smith again eaten up on a short yardage situation, Michigan would punt, giving the Buckeyes the ball with just under 12 minutes to play in the game.
Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes offense's next drive would begin faster than their last several. Miller found Brown on consecutive throws of 13 and 11 yards respectively. But after Carlos Hyde was only able to gain one yard on two carries and Miller skipped a ball to Devin Smith, the Buckeyes would have to punt it back to Michigan, giving the Wolverines a chance to drive and go ahead with as little as a field goal.
Despite the potential opportunity to seize the momentum, Michigan's offense would again by plagued by turnover woes. After a Bradley Roby pass interference penalty and a Vincent Smith run for no gain, Devin Gardner would be sacked by Michael Bennett, the replacement for the injured John Simon. Simon, who missed the final game of his career with a swollen right knee, would later be presented the game ball by his teammates for being "the heart and soul of the team," as Meyer would say post game. On the play, junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who may have played his final game for the Buckeyes due to a likely can't get higher NFL Draft stock, forced the ball loose and Howard hopped on it in the middle of a wild scrum to put the Buckeyes in business at the Michigan 10. The play appeared close, but upon further review, seemed fairly evident that Gardner's knee was not down before he lost control of the football.
Again to the Wolverines' credit, when as a touchdown would've likely put the game out of reach for good, the defense gave it their all and brought it for three straight intense plays. After letting Carlos Hyde get down to the Michigan 5 on the first play from scrimmage, Hyde would get stood up on second down, and Braxton Miller would be taken down on a scramble for a 3 yard loss. Drew Basil's 4th field goal of the afternoon, a 25 yarder, would make it 26-21.
Gardner and the Wolverines would have one last shot with it, with them needed only a touchdown to potentially win the game. A 10 yard third down pass completion from Gardner to Jeremy Gallon would be somewhat offset on the next play which was a 10 yard Michael Schofield holding penalty against the Wolverines. After an incompletion to Devin Funchess on 1st-and-20, Gardner would be intercepted by C.J. Barnett, giving Ohio State the ball with 4:50 to go and with both teams down to their final time out, the opportunity to get two first downs and ice the game.
Carlos Hyde took over the final drive almost all by his lonesome, rushing for 27 yards. With Braxton Miller adding on a five yard scamper, that would be all Ohio State needed to kill the rest of the clock. For all the close calls this season, for all the playing up and playing down to opponents based on their relative strengths, and for all the frustrations of knowing that no matter what happened, there wouldn't be the same end game satisfaction of going to a bowl because of the failures of the past, the Buckeyes were perfect. Not just for a day, but a season.
Meyer would say after the game that he'll find a way for this team to be remembered. He'd state that upon entering the Woody Hayes athletic center, there'll be some reminder of the 2012 team. "Maybe we'll build 19 bronze statues somewhere. Raise some money," Meyer joked with a credential press corp of several hundred.
Ohio State won't have a post season contest to look forward to, but numerous generations of Ohio State faithful will now be able to spend decades debating how this team, the 6th perfect team in OSU history, would've fared against the rest of college football's elite in 2012. As for Meyer's thoughts on the matter? "The common denominator [amongst all the great teams] is not rushing yardage, passing yardage, it's great defense. I'd say at this point in time, Ohio State can play as good as anybody in America. I wouldn't have said that five weeks ago."
With their post season ban behind them going into next year, Meyer and his staff can now focus their efforts on continuing to lay the ground work for a potential run at the 2013/2014 national championship. 2012 won't certainly soon be forgotten, but should 2013 prove even more special, the intro to the narrative 2012 will have provided will only grow in its legend.