INDIANAPOLIS – Fourth and two, down by three, game on the line and the No. 2 ranked Ohio State football team decided to put the ball into the hands of the player who had led them to 24 straight victories.
“I wanted to put the ball in the hands of our best player (junior quarterback) Braxton (Miller),” coach Urban Meyer said following the game.
Unlike in the previous 24 games under Meyer, though, the Buckeyes failed to come out on top, with Michigan State’s redshirt-senior linebacker Denicos Allen stuffing Miller short of the first down.
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said the play was over before it even got started because of Allen.
“The kid (Allen) made a good play,” Herman said. “He kind of made himself very hard to block and kind of blew it up before it ever got started.”
The Spartans would go on to seal their 34-24 Big Ten Championship victory on the ensuing drive with a 26-yard touchdown from redshirt-junior running back Jeremy Langford.
Redshirt-senior center Corey Linsley said the fourth down play was the defining moment of the loss.
“Coulda, woulda, shoulda. I was just mad because … I pulled around, I felt everyone was selling out and still didn’t get it,” Linsley said. “That was the game. That’s what I was upset about. I had my part in getting us to that point where we needed a fourth and one and there was a lot of things I was upset about.”
Meyer was confident keeping the ball in the hands of his starting quarterback would be successful for the Buckeyes.
“We usually run that play a lot. We ran it to the boundary. I knew they’d pressure us. Thought he might be able to come out the other end of it,” Meyer said. “That’s why. It was a chance to go try to win the game.”
Miller had success running the ball during the game, carrying it 21 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns, but couldn’t repeat that success on the games most vital play.
Herman echoed Meyer, adding that Michigan State made the play when it counted the most.
“We talked about it and we thought that was the … we had actually practiced that play against that blitz and they executed better than we did,” Herman said. “You’re in that grey area on fourth and whatever, one and a half or two, to throw it or run it and he was obviously running with some serious authority and you run your quarterback and you gain an extra hat and again we didn’t execute.”
Miller’s backfield partner, senior running back Carlos Hyde, also managed some success on the ground against the top ranked Spartan run defense, adding 118 yards on 18 carries.
After the game Hyde said he thought it was the right call, but that Michigan State made a great play.
“I thought it was a great call. I felt like we had them,” Hyde said. “A guy came off his block and made a great play right there.”
At times this year, Miller has struggled passing the ball, with the game against the Spartans being no exception. The junior quarterback only completed 8 of his 21 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. It was his fourth straight game with less than 200 yards passing, and his lowest completion percentage of the season.
Despite his occasional struggles as a passer, Herman is convinced that “the sky’s the limit” for Miller.
“The kid is legitimately a quarterback that happens to be really athletic,” Herman said. ”We certainly have a lot of room for improvement, we’ve got to continue to work on some things during bowl preparation … The sky’s the limit as long as he continues to work the way he has the past couple months, I don’t know where the limit is.”
Instead of potentially heading to the BCS National Championship game, OSU (12-1, 8-1) is going to have to wait until Sunday evening to see when and where their next game will be played when the BCS matchups are announced.