Ohio State stays perfect to win ”The Game”

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The only thing Urban Meyer lost during his first season at Ohio State was his cool — at the end of the last game.

Carlos Hyde ran for 146 yards and the
fourth-ranked Buckeyes’ defense shut out No. 20 Michigan in the second
half to grab a bruising 26-21 win on Saturday, completing an improbable
12-0 season for the Buckeyes.

Meyer got emotional as the final seconds
ticked off, embracing his players on the sideline at a raucous Ohio
Stadium. Too emotional, he said later.

“I’ve got to keep a little more
composure, I guess,” he said sheepishly. “In the coaching manual, I
think it’s chapter 13, it says, `Keep cool.’ I lost it there for a
couple of minutes.”

Well, give the guy a break.

Almost no one — up to and including
Meyer — expected such a rapid turnaround for the Buckeyes, who were
just 6-7 last season with a loss to their archrivals in a transitional
year when they were facing heavy NCAA penalties. A month after Meyer
took the job last November, they were socked with a bowl ban after this
season — and still ran the table.

“You get all the wins you can,
especially against the Team Up North, especially at home on top of
that,” said exuberant Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller.

Ohio State (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten) is
ineligible for a BCS national title but still has an outside shot at
finishing No. 1 in the final Associated Press Top 25 if other contenders
lose. Michigan (8-4, 6-2) will now await a minor bowl bid.

“At this point in time, Ohio State can
go and play with anybody in America,” Meyer said. “I wouldn’t say that
five weeks ago, but you’ve seen the growth, what we did today and the
growth of our defense.”

Drew Basil matched his season output
with four field goals and the defense did the rest, forcing three
turnovers in the second half.

It was played before 105,899, the largest crowd ever to witness “The Game” in Columbus.

Meyer and his players were mobbed by
thousands of fans who flooded the field after the Buckeyes’ ninth
victory in the last 11 years in the rivalry (the 2010 win was later
vacated by the sanctions).

The crush of people precluded Michigan’s Brady Hoke from the traditional postgame handshake with Meyer.

“No big deal. Not a big deal,” Hoke said over his shoulder as he left his postgame news conference. “Not a story.”

Hyde also ran for a touchdown. Miller
completed 14 of 18 passes for 189 yards and a score to Corey Brown, who
had eight catches for 95 yards.

The Buckeyes had already clinched the
Big Ten’s Leaders Division, but aren’t allowed to play in next
Saturday’s conference title game. Michigan needed a win to capture a
share of the Legends Division with Nebraska, which will meet Wisconsin
for the championship.

Hoke had won his first game as a head coach in the rivalry.

“I like the W better,” he said.

Now, about all Ohio State can hope for
is that every other top team in the nation — including the only other
unbeaten, top-ranked Notre Dame — loses and loses badly. A team banned
from the postseason has never finished No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll, and
the Buckeyes are not eligible for the Bowl Championship Series rankings
or coaches’ poll.

Michigan’s Denard Robinson had a
brilliant first half, scoring on a 67-yard run, but was largely
invisible in the second. He totaled 122 yards on 10 carries, but had
lost 2 yards on his four carries after halftime.

“We know the reason we lost the game,” Robinson said. “We had three turnovers in the second half. That’s not acceptable.”

Devin Gardner, the other half of
Michigan’s quarterback tandem, was 11 of 20 for 171 yards with an
interception and a 75-yard touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree.

For the Buckeyes, the game will be
remembered for the staunch defense played when most needed. Michigan had
26 plays for 219 yards in the first half, then ran 21 plays for a net
of 60 yards in the second.

“It feels great,” defensive back
Christian Bryant said. “Taking it out for the seniors — that was our
motto for the season — and that’s what we did.”

For the Wolverines, there will be
lingering questions for Hoke, who wore short sleeves in the freezing
temperatures — just like Woody Hayes used to during the 1960s and 1970s
in the rivalry.

With his team ahead 21-20, Hoke called
timeout on fourth and 2 near midfield on Michigan’s first possession of
the second half. Robinson then tried the middle, but ran into linebacker
Ryan Shazier for a two-yard loss.

That cost the Wolverines the lead as
Ohio State drove to the Michigan 11 before settling for Basil’s 28-yard
field goal, putting the Buckeyes up 23-21.

“We’ve got to have each other’s back,”
Hoke said. “We didn’t get it and (our own) defense went out there and
did a nice job.”

Gardner fumbled when hit by Johnathan
Hankins with 8:19 left, with Travis Howard pouncing on the loose ball
after several players had a shot at it. Taking over at the Wolverines’
10, the Buckeyes could not move the ball and were forced to settle for
Basil’s fourth field goal of the game, a 25-yarder with 6:26 remaining,
for a 26-21 lead.

Basil came into the game just 4 for 6 on the year.

The last turnover ended the Wolverines’ hopes.

Gardner tossed a floater that was
intercepted by C.J. Barnett, ending the Wolverines final threat as Hyde
carried the ball repeatedly and the Buckeyes played keep-away to the
finish.

Between the first and second quarters,
Ohio State honored its 2002 national championship team. After a
highlight clip was shown to a roaring crowd, several players hoisted
coach Jim Tressel to their shoulders and carried him out of the end
zone.

No boos were heard, or else they were
drowned out — even though it was Tressel’s NCAA violations, he failed
to report players exchanging team memorabilia for cash and tattoos,
which will keep this year’s unbeaten Buckeyes home in the postseason.

Asked if — should his team end up as
the only unbeaten in the nation — it should be crowned No. 1 in the AP
poll, Meyer said: “I’m not going to get into the `what ifs.’ You can’t
control what you can’t control. … We’re 12-0 and I’m going to see to
it when you walk into that Woody Hayes (practice) facility that this
team will never be forgotten. Because they deserve that.”