Taking the easy way was never Ohio State’s style during the 2012 season and the Buckeyes closed out their campaign in similar fashion, overcoming a host of problems, miscues and misfortune to post a 26-21 victory over archrival Michigan and preserve only the sixth perfect season in program history.
The No. 4-ranked Buckeyes shook off a 21-20 halftime deficit by completely shutting down the Wolverines in the second half. U-M had 219 total yards in the opening 30 minutes but managed only 60 the rest of the way as the Ohio State defense amped up its pressure. The Buckeyes also forced four turnovers, three of them in the crucial second half when both teams were jockeying for field position.
OSU had more than its share of errors, too, turning the ball over once, muffing a punt return and committing nine penalties for 74 yards – many of those infractions keeping Michigan drives alive.
But the offense totaled 396 yards and controlled the tempo for much of the game. The Buckeyes held a lopsided advantage of 36:50 to 23:10 in time of possession, including 19:31 to 10:29 in the second half.
“To be 12-0, it really hasn’t sunk in,” OSU head coach Urban Meyer said with a smile. “I imagine tonight there are some people in this great state of Ohio who are very proud. This is their team. … For the moment, this is as good as it gets.”
Because of NCAA sanctions, the Buckeyes are unable to go on to play for a Big Ten or national championship. But that didn’t stop Meyer from being asked if his undefeated team deserves to be at least considered for the Associated Press version of the national title.
“You can’t control what you can’t control,” the OSU head coach replied. “We’re 12-0 and I’m going to make sure that when you walk into that Woody Hayes Athletic Center, this team will never be forgotten.”
The Buckeyes were led by junior tailback Carlos Hyde, who forever etched his name in The Game lore with 26 powerful carries for 146 yards and one touchdown. It was Hyde his teammates turned to in the fourth quarter to ice the game, and the junior responded with four straight carries – two for first downs – that closed out the proceedings.
Sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller had some trouble in the running game for the second week in a row, totaling only 57 yards on 23 carries. But Miller was precise in the passing game, completing 14 of 18 attempts for 189 yards and a touchdown against a Michigan defense that entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation against the pass.
On the receiving end of eight of Miller’s completions was junior receiver Corey “Philly” Brown, who finished with a career-high 95 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore wideout Devin Smith added two catches for 63 yards, including a 52-yarder that set up the Buckeyes’ first score.
Michigan was led on offense by the two-headed quarterback monster of Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner.
Robinson started the game under center, but could not throw the ball due to an elbow injury suffered nearly a month ago. But the Big Ten’s all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks did plenty of damage with his legs, rushing for 124 yards and a touchdown in the first half. After intermission, however, Robinson was a non-factor. He carried only four times in the second half for a net of minus-2.
That left it up to Gardner, who had performed well in the three previous games since taking over for Robinson. But the junior QB was not up the task this time, completing only 11 of 20 passes for 171 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Gardner also fumbled twice and was sacked four times.
The Wolverines were limited to only 108 yards rushing for the game, their lowest total since gaining 95 during a 23-9 loss at Nebraska on Oct. 27.
Defensively, Ohio State was hamstrung before it ever started the game with the loss of senior lineman John Simon, who missed the game with a knee injury. Helping to pick up the slack was fellow senior co-captain Zach Boren, who had a team-high nine tackles, including two for loss and a sack.
Sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby added eight stops, including seven solos, and sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier had five tackles, including 2½ for loss and a sack. Defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington also had sacks, while junior safety C.J. Barnett grabbed the game’s only interception.
Sophomore linebacker Desmond Morgan led the Wolverines with a game-high 11 tackles while defensive tackle Will Campbell added 10 stops. U-M also had four sacks – one each by sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan, junior free safety Thomas Gordon, sophomore defensive end Frank Clark and junior defensive tackle Jibreel Black.
Ohio State struck first, covering 75 yards on its first possession and taking only six plays and 2:19 to reach the end zone.
The score was set up after a 52-yard pass play from Miller to a wide-open Smith, who had beaten U-M cornerback J.T. Floyd deep down the field. Two plays later, Hyde danced out of one tackle and through another on his way to a 3-yard touchdown to make it 7-0 at the 12:41 mark of the first quarter.
Michigan looked like it was answer immediately when the Buckeyes’ ensuing kickoff went out of bounds and Robinson got loose for a 30-yard bolt into OSU territory. But on the fifth play of the drive, Washington got around U-M All-Big Ten tackle Taylor Lewan and knocked the ball loose from Gardner’s grasp. Boren recovered at the OSU 33 to end the threat.
But the Wolverines came back on their next possession, striking for a three-play, 83-yard drive that took a mere 62 seconds. After a first-down incompletion and an 8-yard run by tailback Vincent Smith, Gardner found receiver Ray Roundtree along the sideline and behind the OSU secondary.
Roundtree ran out of a tackle attempt by OSU safety C.J. Barnett and then picked up a downfield block from fellow receiver Drew Dileo, who kept safety Christian Bryant at bay all the way to the goal line as Roundtree completed the 75-yard touchdown catch-and-run.
Roundtree finished the game with three catches for 92 yards and the score, and his TD tied the score at 7 with 7:10 still left in the first period.
The Buckeyes came back to answer with a 41-yard field goal from kicker Drew Basil, but it could have been more. A Miller-to-Brown connection for 19 yards got the ball to the Michigan 24, but OSU went in reverse after that. The Buckeyes picked up back-to-back penalties to give them a first-and-25, and after Brown got 11 of those yards back on a reception, Ohio State was flagged for a false start.
OSU never got back ahead of the chains and eventually settled for Basil’s three-pointer that made it 10-7 with 0:37 remaining in the first quarter.
Repeated mistakes on the part of Ohio State led directly to Michigan’s next score.
The Wolverines were stopped on downs and forced to punt, but the Buckeyes not only roughed Michigan punter Will Hagerup on the play, Brown muffed the return and U-M safety Marvin Robinson recovered on the Ohio State 25.
Three plays later, the OSU defense had Michigan stopped again when Gardner threw incomplete on third down. But this time freshman defensive end Noah Spence was called for hitting Gardner late on the play, giving the Wolverines another fresh set of downs. Three plays later, Gardner took a keeper over the end zone from 2 yards out to give Michigan a 14-10 lead at the 10:42 mark of the second quarter.
Then after looking more like a sub-.500 team for much of the second quarter rather than one going for an unbeaten season, the Buckeyes suddenly rejuvenated themselves with a six-play, 59-yard drive that featured four runs by Hyde worth 40 of the yards.
The 2:22 drive culminated with a short flip from Miller that Brown turned into a 14-yard touchdown play and suddenly the Buckeyes were back in front at 17-14 with 1:30 to go before the half.
But it didn’t take the Wolverines long to answer. On the second play of their ensuing drive, Robinson took the shotgun snap and moved to his right. As he cut up the field, he was met at the U-M 45 by safety Christian Bryant and cornerback Travis Howard, who sandwiched the Michigan quarterback between them.
Somehow, though, Robinson bounced off both defenders and never broke stride, motoring all the way to the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown to give the Wolverines the lead again, this time at 21-17 with 40 seconds remaining until halftime.
The Buckeyes used what little time remained wisely, getting close enough for Basil to bang home a career-best 52-yard field goal as time expired to make it 21-20 Michigan as the teams headed into the locker rooms.
Basil pushed the Buckeyes back into the lead early in the third quarter with a 28-yard field goal after the Ohio State defense had stuffed Robinson for a 2-yard loss on a fourth-and-3 play at the Michigan 46.
Then after the Buckeyes had taken a 23-21 advantage with 8:12 to go in the third quarter, they appeared to seize the momentum when Bryant popped the ball loose from Robinson and defensive end Nathan Williams recovered at the U-M 37.
Ohio State couldn’t do anything with the good fortune, however. The offense did move to the Michigan 4-yard line with a second-and-1, but Miller was sacked for a 6-yard loss on second down and a shotgun snap sailed over the quarterback’s head on third down and Miller had to smother it at the 22. Seconds later, Basil’s 39-yard field goal attempt sailed outside the left upright.
But the Buckeyes somehow kept the momentum. After the defense forced a three-and-out, the offense went back to work at its own 9. Hyde broke off a 14-yard run on the second play of the possession, and two plays later Miller broke over right end and up the home sideline for a 42-yard bolt.
That put the ball at the U-M 29, but the Buckeyes got only 1 yard closer. Then on third-and-9, Miller fumbled while he was being sacked and Clark recovered at his own 36.
Again, the OSU defense rose to the occasion and forced another three-and-out, stopping Smith for a loss of 2 yards on third-and-1. That was followed by another critical turnover by Michigan when Gardner lost the handle on the football and Howard recovered at the U-M 10-yard line.
But again the offense couldn’t cash in. Hyde gained 5 yards on first down, but he was stopped for no gain on second down and Miller was tripped up for a 3-yard loss on third down. That brought Basil into the game again, and the OSU kicker converted a 25-yard field goal to push the Buckeyes’ lead to 26-21 with 6:26 left in the game.
Michigan returned the ensuing kickoff to the 31-yard line and then Gardner converted a crucial third-and-10 with a 10-yard out pass to wideout Jeremy Gallon. The Michigan quarterback followed with a 9-yard run, but the gain was negated by a holding penalty to push the Wolverines back to their own 31.
Two plays later, Gardner outshot Dileo and the ball was picked off by Barnett with 4:50 left in the game.
The Buckeyes then closed things out on the back of Hyde, who thundered for a 13-yard gain on third-and-7 with the clock winding under three minutes. After that, it was simply of a matter of killing the clock to preserve the 26-21 victory and the perfect season.
Ohio State finishes its season 12-0 and joins the 1916 (7-0), 1944 (9-0), 1954 (10-0), 1968 (10-0) and 2002 (14-0) teams as the only ones in the 123-year history of the program to complete a unbeaten and untied season.