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November 24, 2012
Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Urban Meyer was expected to do great things at Ohio State when he was hired last November. And after only one season, the coach left no one doubting that he's perfect for the job.
Let the record show it.
Meyer's first Ohio State team became the seventh in school history to run the table with an undefeated and untied record after battling to a 26-21 victory over Michigan on Saturday on a cold and cloudy Saturday before 105,899, the largest crowd ever to watch The Game in Ohio Stadium.
"To be 12-0, it really hasn't sunk in yet," Meyer said.
The fourth-ranked Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten) did it without the incentive of playing for a postseason bowl berth or a shot at a Big Ten or national championship. But the consolation prize - a win over archrival Michigan -- was a huge motivating factor and the capstone for 21 seniors who endured the scandal that rocked the program and a 6-7 season that followed in 2011 under Luke Fickell.
They also did it without senior defensive lineman John Simon, the cornerstone of the defense and an inspirational leader who was sidelined for his final appearance as a Buckeye by a bursa injury in a knee suffered last week against Wisconsin.
"The most important thank you goes to our senior class," Meyer said. "They're the most selfless group I've ever been around."
After Meyer won his first meeting with Michigan and coach Brady Hoke, the Buckeyes were one of two FBS teams left standing with unbeaten records, pending Notre Dame's game Saturday night against USC. They also finished atop the Big Ten Leaders Division standings.
But The Buckeyes won't have a chance to show how they compare to the nation's best teams because of the NCAA sanctions that include the one-year postseason ban.
"I think this team can compete with any team in the United States of America as of now," Meyer said. "I didn't say that several weeks ago. I'm not going to get into the what-ifs. You can't control what you can't control. We're 12-0. I'm going to see to it that this team is never forgotten."
Drew Basil kicked two of his four field goals for the only points in the second half -- the last a 25-yarder with 6:26 left after Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner fumbled -- and the Ohio State defense did the rest.
The Buckeyes shut out the No. 19 Wolverines (8-4, 6-2) after halftime and held their offense to 60 yards in the final half. Safety C.J. Barnett's interception with 4:50 left sealed the victory in the 109th meeting in the series, which Michigan still leads 58-45-6.
Senior linebacker Zach Boren completed his career with a monster effort. He logged nine tackles, including one of Ohio State's four sacks and a fumble recovery. Cornerback Bradley Roby delivered eight tackles.
"When they DQ'd (Simon), we played like a possessed group on defense," Meyer said. "And I know why. Our brother was down. We presented him the game ball, which was deserving."
Thousands of fans swarmed the field, keeping Meyer and Michigan coach Brady Hoke from exchanging a handshake after the game. The throng lingered long after the game to sing and celebrate with Meyer and his team.
"Very emotional time," Meyer said. "This is the state I grew up in. This is the state I made the comment last November that our objective was to make the great state of Ohio proud. I imagine tonight there's a lot of people in this great state very proud of their football team."
Running back Carlos Hyde rushed for 146 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown. Quarterback Braxton Miller passed for 189 yards and a TD and finished with 57 yards rushing on 20 carries to help Ohio State to a 396-279 advantage in total yards.
A tightly contested game was expected, and no one left disappointed. The Buckeyes went into the locker room trailing 21-20 after Basil kicked a 52-yard field goal to end the first half.
It appeared the deficit would be larger after Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson burst through the Ohio State defense and between the sandwich tackle attempt of colliding safety Christian Bryant and cornerback Travis Howard for a 67-yard run and a 21-17 lead.
Robinson, who is battling an elbow injury and started at running back last week against Iowa, ran for 124 yards on six carries in the first half while alternating at quarterback with Gardner. But Robinson was held to minus-2 yards in the second half and lost a fumble.
Gardner threw all of Michigan's passes, completing 11 of 20 for 171 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Before Ohio State opened a 17-14 lead in the second quarter with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Miller to wide receiver Corey Brown, Michigan took advantage of a fumbled punt by Brown at the Ohio State 25-yard line when Gardner reached the end zone on a 2-yard run that made it 14-10 with 10:42 left before halftime.
The teams traded big plays in the first quarter to set up their initial touchdowns.
The Buckeyes struck first after Miller's 52-yard completion to Devin Smith. Hyde ran in from 3 yards to give Ohio State a 7-0 lead with 12:41 left in the first quarter.
Michigan responded with a 75-yard pass from Gardner to wide receiver Roy Roundtree, who beat Bryant on the play, to tie the score at 7 with 7:10 to go in the first quarter.
Ohio State had outgained Michigan in the first half with 240 yards to the Wolverines' 219. Miller connected on 11 of 13 passes for 156 yards (Michigan was giving up an average of 152.1 yards per game through the air) but was hemmed in by the Michigan defense on the ground, rushing for minus-3 yards on nine carries at halftime.
Afterward, asked how his first win over Michigan stacked up with his other career accomplishments, Meyer said, "For the moment, this is as good as it gets."
NOTES: Brown finished with nine catches for a career-high 95 yards. … Ohio State honored its 2002 national championship team between the first and second quarters. Among the approximately 65 attendees was former coach Jim Tressel. The players hoisted Tressel on their shoulders and carried him in the north end zone. … The game had no bearing on the Big Ten championship game. Nebraska clinched the Leaders Division berth in Indianapolis with a 13-7 win at Iowa on Friday. Despite the teams' storied Big Ten history, Michigan or Ohio State weren't part of the conference's first two championship games in the division format that started in 2011. … Michigan was denied a chance to finish tied atop the Legends Division standings with Nebraska. … Hoke fell to 1-1 against the Buckeyes.