INDIANAPOLIS — Twenty-four and nothin’, Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes were.
For the moment, Ohio State has nothin’ to show for it. Twenty-four and one comes with no glory.
Full of pop and a bit of pomp, too, the Buckeyes played their best football through October and November against overmatched competition, setting themselves up for a stretch run that could have landed them in the BCS National Championship Game. They were one win away — one quarter away, really — before losing to Michigan State Saturday night in the Big Ten Championship Game.
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The Spartans scored the first 17 and the last 17 points of what became a 34-24 win that left Ohio State with no conference title, no ticket to Pasadena and no answer for a defensive no-show and fourth-quarter freeze up except this: The better team won on Saturday night.
For the big stuff and the really big stage, the Buckeyes just weren’t ready.
Meyer only knows one speed and most certainly has the program on the fast track, but a year after a bowl-banned 12-0 season, another 12-0 regular season currently matters little. In its first Big Ten Championship Game, Ohio State was in the locker room long before the trophy was presented.
“I imagine this will haunt us for some time,” Meyer said.
Michigan State receivers ran wide open, and Ohio-born Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook found them. He threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns. Confetti and streamers fell from the top of Lucas Oil Stadium during the postgame celebration, and on the stage stood Ohio State legend and two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin presenting the game MVP award.
Nothing went according to script, for the night or from the previous 24 games, for the Buckeyes. It seemed too good to be true a week ago when Ohio State won a wild one at Michigan and jumped up to No. 2 when Auburn upset Alabama, but that Michigan game showed all of Ohio State’s warts. With a better defense and Cook playing the game of his life, Michigan State was able to finish the game, the nation’s longest win streak and this Ohio State’s team dreams.
“Does all that (lost opportunity) make this loss harder? No,” Meyer said. “What makes this loss harder is I really wanted these guys to experience something special. And we are. I imagine we’ll still get invited to a great bowl game.
“If you’re asking me to measure the levels of hurt, I’m not sure I can do that.”
To measure the levels of disappointment in how Saturday night’s game went, we go to the numbers: Ohio State ran for 273 yards, but couldn’t get the two yards it really needed in two plays in the fourth quarter to have a chance to tie or take the lead. The Buckeyes were 1 of 10 on third down and 0 of 2 on fourth down. The defense got gashed, too, to the tune of 438 yards and receivers so open it’s possible Cook couldn’t believe his eyes — especially Josiah Price on the touchdown that put Michigan State up for good with 11:41 left.
Ohio State’s passing game couldn’t crack Michigan State’s defense as Braxton Miller was just 8-of-21 passing. A fourth-and-2 try in Michigan State territory with just under six minutes left was stopped as Meyer made the call to keep the ball in Miller’s hands and have him try the right side. After the game, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said his team knew it was coming, and the Spartans stopped him.
Six plays later, Jeremy Langford ran 26 yards for a touchdown and the final margin. It was the dagger for Ohio State, another explosive play for a Michigan State team that made a bunch of them.
Meyer said Ohio State’s defense “played well for three or four series, then we lost it.” Asked what’s wrong with the defense after the game, defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said “there’s a lot.”
A whole lot.
Imperfectly perfect for two full seasons, the Buckeyes are likely headed to the Orange Bowl. Not many programs would consider that a consolation prize, but Ohio State found itself on the doorstep but ultimately left out in the cold. All the talk about schedules and projections and what might have been was all for naught. Barring a tremendous upset, Florida State will play Auburn for the national title.