BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – With No. 1 Ohio State’s offense struggling and the team trailing in the second half, the thought of an upset was very much alive in the minds of the home crowd at Indiana.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott was sure to put an end to that talk.
The junior rushed for 243 yards in the second half, including touchdown runs of 55, 65 and 75 yards, and the Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0) held off the Hoosiers (4-1, 0-1) in the final seconds to grab a 34-27 victory.
“In games like this, big plays are what’s going to spark the team,” Elliott said. “The O-line did a great job blocking, and they made it easy for me.”
Redshirt junior wide receiver Michael Thomas said after the game that the team was happy to take the victory, but knew it would have to improve as Big Ten play wears on.
“It’s the start of Big Ten ball, and it’s great to win on the road in a tough environment, but we’re a little bit down, we’re going to get it corrected and bounce back,” Thomas said.
After the first 11 plays of the game resulted in minimal yardage, Indiana got going with a 12-yard screen pass to junior running back Jordan Howard on third down. Maintaining an uptempo, hurry-up offense, the Hoosiers brought the ball into the red zone, but OSU stood strong to hold them on third down. A 34-yard kick by redshirt sophomore Griffin Oakes was good, giving Indiana a 3-0 lead.
The first quarter for OSU featured just one first down, while being outgained by the Hoosiers 114-36 and outscored 3-0.
The Hoosiers picked up at the OSU 25-yard line to begin the second quarter and used a pair of 3rd-and-8 conversions to get the ball to the three. From there, sophomore running back Devine Redding pounded the ball in with a couple of carries, putting Indiana up 10-0 early in the second quarter.
“We were just killing ourselves,” Elliott said. “We weren’t giving ourselves a shot, and that’s something we’ve been doing all season and we have to eliminate that.”
The Buckeyes finally got on the board on their next drive as passes of 26 yards to redshirt senior tight end Nick Vannett and 21 yards to junior H-back Dontre Wilson helped get the ball to the Indiana 5-yard line. However, the drive stalled from there, forcing OSU to settle for a field goal and a 10-3 deficit.
After a fumble by redshirt sophomore H-back Jalin Marshall stopped OSU’s chance to tie the game, the Hoosiers were unsuccessful on three plays inside their own 20-yard line.
Instead of punting, however, Indiana coach Kevin Wilson called for a fake punt, which was blown up by redshirt junior linebacker Joe Burger for a loss. The Buckeyes were unable to find the end zone despite starting at the Indiana 13-yard line, but redshirt senior Jack Willoughby converted his second field goal to make the score 10-6.
After stopping a nine-play Indiana drive from resulting in a score, OSU embarked on a nine-play drive of its own. Junior running back Ezekiel Elliott found the end zone on a screen pass, but an illegal block on redshirt senior H-back Braxton Miller negated the score. After a sack and a fumbled snap, OSU was forced to settle for a 43-yard field goal — which clanked off the right upright to keep the score 10-6 at the half.
Jones completed 13 of 17 passes in the first half for 200 yards, but the Buckeyes managed just 14 total rushing yards. The Buckeyes were hindered by three penalties for 47 yards but outgained the Hoosiers 214-169, including 178-55 in the second quarter.
After OSU’s first drive of the second half resulted in a three-and-out, Elliott took matters into his own hands on the next one.
Following a rush of 14 yards by Miller on the first play, Elliott ran eight yards before exploding for a 55-yard scoring run to give the Buckeyes their first lead, 13-10.
Elliott took the carry up the middle before veering to his left and outrunning the Hoosier defense down the field before diving for the pylon.
The OSU defense continued to stand strong with the lead in hand, not allowing the Hoosiers to gain a yard on three straight offensive possessions.
After getting the ball to the red zone with a chance to pad its lead after the third straight three-and-out, however, Jones’ pass was intercepted by Indiana sophomore linebacker Tegray Scales and taken to midfield. On the next play, sophomore quarterback Zander Diamont — in the game in place of injured starter Nate Sudfeld — found sophomore receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr. for 28 yards.
Two plays later, Diamont and Cobbs again connected, this time for 13 yards into the red zone. A play later, the Hoosiers retook the lead with an 11-yard run by Redding — his second score of the day.
Redding, seeing an increased workload because of an injury sustained by Howard — who came into the game leading the nation in rushing — finished with just 45 yards on 30 carries, but added the two scores.
Down by four, Elliott again changed the direction of the game.
On a 4th-and-short from the Buckeyes’ own 35-yard line, Elliott took a shotgun handoff from Jones and exploded up the middle, going mostly untouched in a 65-yard touchdown run.
“It was a great call, a great scheme by the offense, and I really didn’t have to do much but outrun the (defensive backs) to score,” Elliott said.
One play into the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes found another way to find the end zone as Jones lofted a pass 23 yards to an open Thomas. The score was the fourth touchdown catch of the year for the redshirt junior and gave OSU a two-score cushion.
Marshall’s second fumble of the game gave the Hoosiers the ball back at midfield, which they turned into a 34-yard field goal to make the score 27-20.
While Marshall was the game’s leading receiver with six catches for 110 yards, OSU coach Urban Meyer said after the game that his tendency to fumble is something that has “got to change.”
“We’re turning the ball over at an alarming rate, and that’s obviously a difference in the game and at some point that’s going to bite you,” Meyer said.
With the crowd starting to get loud again, Elliott put a stop to the momentum yet again, carrying it 75 yards for his third score of the day on the first play following Indiana’s field goal.
“We like to have big plays,” redshirt junior guard Pat Elflein said. “We did that last year too, big passes or big runs. We thrive off those big plays.”
Elliott finished with 274 yards rushing on 23 carries, a career high and more than enough for his 10th consecutive game of more than 100 yards on the ground. The rushing total was tied for the second most in a single game in OSU history.
Refusing to go down quietly, Diamont rolled out to the outside and ran 79 yards on Indiana’s first play of the drive to bring the score back to a one-touchdown margin.
OSU stuck to the ground on its next two drives, barely moving the ball and giving Indiana a pair of chances to tie or take the lead.
The first drive resulted in a three-and-out, but the Hoosiers were able to move the ball on their second try, getting as far as the OSU 5-yard line with less than a minute left.
OSU stuffed a first-down run by Redding before a false start penalty. Now needing 10 yards to keep the game alive, Diamont’s second-down pass was knocked away and a third-down run only went for a yard.
With one more chance to tie the game or take the lead, the snap sailed over Diamont’s head, forcing him to run back 20 yards and heave a desperation pass into the end zone, which was knocked away to seal the victory.
“We knew they only had nine seconds so they’re going to have to chuck it up, and we have to bat the ball down,” junior safety Vonn Bell said. “It’s a sense of relief that the defense, they stood up and took the challenge, and that’s a good sign right there.”
Jones finished 18-of-27 for 245 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
OSU outgained Indiana, 517-402, though Indiana led 21-13 in first downs.
The Buckeyes are next set to return home to face Maryland on Oct. 10. Kickoff is set for noon at Ohio Stadium.