Elliott rushes for 274 yards, saves No. 1 Ohio State at Indiana
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — When everything else fizzled Saturday for Ohio State, coach Urban Meyer put the ball in Ezekiel Elliott’s trusted hands.
He saved the game — and perhaps the Buckeyes’ title hopes, too.
The junior running back rushed for 274 yards and got a sluggish offense going with second-half touchdown runs of 55, 65 and 75 yards, and Eli Apple batted away a desperation pass in the end zone as time expired to preserve No. 1 Ohio State’s 34-27 victory at Indiana.
The Buckeyes have won 18 straight games and 15 in a row on the road, both the longest active streaks in the FBS, but the style points could cost them in the next poll.
"Look across the country and every day you better play," Meyer said. "You better play."
Ohio State (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) learned the hard way.
The defending national champs fumbled four times, losing two of them. Cardale Jones threw away a scoring chance when he was picked off inside the Hoosiers’ 15-yard line. The Buckeyes had eight major penalties, the offense couldn’t score touchdowns in the red zone and their normally stout defense couldn’t put it away.
But Elliott rallied everyone.
His first two scoring runs erased Indiana leads and his third appeared to give the Buckeyes a seemingly safe 34-20 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Buckeyes extended their Big Ten regular-season winning streak to 25, barely, and will now wait to see if they can match Oklahoma’s record for most weeks (101) at No. 1 in The Associated Press poll.
"Coach Meyer made an emphasis that big plays are going to spark the team, and I knew we needed big plays," Elliott said after his 10th straight 100-yard game. "The O-line did a great job blocking and they made it easy for me."
It was a game full or surprises.
Indiana (4-1, 0-1) gambled twice on fourth down in the first half, including a fake punt from its 16-yard line that failed. Elliott turned the game open with the 65-yard run on fourth-and-1 from in the third quarter.
The teams combined for four scoring runs — three from Elliott — that went for more than 50 yards during a 13-minute stretch in the second half.
Meyer was more concerned with the mistakes.
"We’re turning the ball over at an alarming rate, and that’s obviously the difference in the game and sometime that’s going to come back and at some point that’s going to bite you," Meyer said. "We’ve got to fix that."
Ohio State also lost receiver Corey Smith, who was carted off the field with what appeared to be a lower right leg injury.
The Hoosiers, who have not beaten the Buckeyes since 1988, made life miserable despite losing the nation’s top rusher, Jordan Howard, in the first half, and starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld in the third quarter. Both had left ankle injuries.
Howard tried to return but couldn’t cut on the leg. Sudfeld lobbied to return late but coach Kevin Wilson wouldn’t let him.
"I just didn’t feel he (Sudfeld) was as mobile and we were in a one possession game and I felt like we could work it," Wilson said. "We go down first-and-goal and give ourselves a chance, so I mean we played it right."
So did Elliott.
He wiped out a 10-6 halftime deficit with the 55-yard run, a 17-13 deficit with the 65-yard run and appeared to have sealed it when his 75-yarder made it 34-20.
But Indiana’s backup quarterback Zander Diamont beat the Buckeyes on a 79-yard run to make it 34-27 with 10:03 left in the game.
Diamont drove the Hoosiers to the Ohio State 6 in the final minute, and scrambled on third-and-goal from the 10, throwing a pass to the back corner of the end zone.
Apple batted it away.
Diamont led the Hoosiers with 98 yards on seven carries and Howard finished with 34 yards on 14 carries.
"That’s a really good football team, very good, they’re the No. 1 team in the country, they’ve won a boatload of games in a row and they’re good," Wilson said. "We’ve got to keep moving forward."