Cody Cousino / Multimedia editor
Ohio State football realized perfection for the sixth time in its 123-year history.
The 109th meeting between OSU and Michigan, ranked No. 4 and No. 20, respectively, by the Associated Press for the teams’ 2012 meeting, saw the Buckeyes polish off a 12-0 season under the direction of first-year coach Urban Meyer. OSU defeated UM, 26-21, Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
As some expected, the dual-threat quarterbacking combo of Michigan senior Denard Robinson and junior Devin Gardner caused problems for the Buckeyes. Gardner threw for 171 yards, one touchdown and one costly interception on 11-of-20 attempts. Robinson did not attempt a pass in the game, but did lineup under center. He rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown.
OSU’s defensive performance, particularly in the second half, was more than the Wolverines could overcome. UM failed to drive into the red zone in the second half and an interception by junior safety C.J. Barnett with less than five minutes to play nearly clinched the win.
The Buckeyes defense stifled the UM attack despite missing senior defensive end John Simon, who missed out on Senior Day festivities and the competition with a right knee injury sustained a week ago in a game against Wisconsin.
After the interception, OSU junior running back Carlos Hyde, who ran for 146 yards and a touchdown, took the game over, helping the Buckeyes to two first downs to bleed the fourth-quarter clock out and win The Game.
Fans stormed the field. Players rejoiced. Meyer pumped his fists wildly. However unrealistic the expectations of an undefeated season might have seemed when Meyer was hired in late November 2011, he had made good on them. With the win, OSU remains in play for the AP‘s national title crown.
The victory is OSU’s 44th in the history of The Game, though UM, eliminated from Big Ten title contention after Nebraska won on Friday, still owns the all-time series advantage with a 58-44-6 record. The largest Ohio Stadium crowd in the history of the OSU-UM rivalry (105,899) assembled in a bitter chill and light but steady snowfall throughout most of the first half.
OSU sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller was 14-of-18 for 189 yards and one touchdown.
Buckeyes junior receiver Corey Brown muffed a punt that led to points for UM, but did his best to make up for the uncharacteristic error as he caught eight passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.
OSU junior kicker Drew Basil was the high scorer in the contest. Basil, who only attempted six kicks coming into the team’s 12th game, tallied 14 points while connecting four-of-five of his field goal tries from 41, 52, 28 and 25 yards.
In addition to help close out the win for OSU, Hyde also helped the Buckeyes jump to an early lead.
Hyde blew through the Michigan line 2:19 into the game, scurrying into the end zone on a 3-yard run to put OSU up, 7-0, on the very first possession of the game. The early score was keyed by 52-yard pass reception by sophomore receiver Devin Smith, who broke loose, gathered the deep ball from Miller and joined many of the OSU faithful in attendance in a celebratory bounce.
The game’s back-and-forth tenor would be established by Gardner on the next drive when he found senior receiver Roy Roundtree on a 75-yard reception to level the score.
Roundtree broke down the east sideline in front of the Wolverines bench and, after slowing his run for a blocker, traipsed into the end zone.
The weather seemed to mimic the intensity of the rivalry in that moment as the snow began to fall heavier.
Much of the intrigue in The Game centers around the history of the respective programs, and OSU paid homage to its greatest football triumph of the last decade when the 2002 national championship team was honored between the first and second quarters. Former Buckeye coach Jim Tressel, once shamed by the “Tattoo-Gate” scandal that resulted in his forced resignation as OSU coach, was hoisted onto the shoulders of his former players, much to the delight of many in Ohio Stadium.
Brown had scored two punt-return touchdowns coming into the team’s final game. His muffed punt early in the second quarter resulted in threatening position for UM on the OSU 25-yard line, and a roughing the passer penalty on OSU redshirt senior defensive lineman Nathan Williams pushed the visitors closer to a score.
Gardner eventually capped the drive, scoring on a 2-yard quarterback-keeper run to put the Wolverines in front, 14-10. The lead was the first for UM in Ohio Stadium since the team’s 2006 meeting, which OSU won, 42-39.
The teams fought to gain an edge heading into half, and OSU inched its nose in front when Miller found Brown on a 14-yard completion to go back in front at 17-14 with 1:30 to play in the first half.
UM retook possession with 90 seconds to play until the break, and retook the lead when Robinson scampered 67 yards into the end zone, gesturing to fans in the south stand after he crossed the goal line.
With the wind at his back, Basil uncorked a 52-yard field goal to send OSU into break trailing, 21-20.
Basil then opened the scoring in the second half, connecting from 28 yards to put OSU back in front, 23-21. When UM assumed possession, OSU used a Robinson fumble to attempt to assume control of the game.
OSU junior safety Christian Bryant gouged the ball from Robinson grasp at the 7:26 mark in the third quarter and Williams recovered the ball on the UM 37-yard line.
A pensive Ohio Stadium crowd was lifted for the moment, but the drive ended with Basil’s first field goal miss of the day after the a 3rd-down snap flew over Miller’s head, causing a fumble the quarterback dove to recover.
Basil’s were the only points of the third quarter. Instead of scores, OSU and Michigan traded venomous hits, bellying up to the opposition on what seemed like every hit.
One such hit, administered to Gardner with less than nine minutes to play, caused a fumble that OSU junior defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins fell gather on the Wolverines’ 10-yard line. The red zone opportunity had potential to put the 2012 edition of The Game on ice, but ended with Basil’s fourth field goal of the game. He hit from 25 yards out to push the Buckeyes’ lead to 26-21.
The clincher came just moments later when Barnett intercepted Gardner, leading to the game-clinching drive for OSU.
OSU, which posted a 12-0 overall record and an 8-0 mark in the Big Ten, clinched the Big Ten Conference’s outright Leaders’ Division title last weekend at Wisconsin. The Buckeyes will now have to wait until after college football’s bowl season to learn its final positioning in the AP poll.