Perfection completed

Buckeyes fight off rival Michigan to cap 12-0 season

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Ohio State’s Christian Bryant breaks up a pass intended for Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon during the second half of Saturday’s game in Ohio Stadium. (EXAMINER PHOTO | TONY BARRETT)

COLUMBUS — Ohio State cannot go to a bowl game or play for the Big 10 championship because of NCAA sanctions, but this Buckeye team will still leave a lasting legacy.

By beating archrival Michigan 26-21 in an entertaining but sloppy game Saturday afternoon in a chilly Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes capped a perfect regular season.

At 12-0, the 2012 version of the Ohio State Buckeyes will go down as one of only six teams in school history to go through a season unbeaten and untied.

“It was a very emotional time,” said first-year OSU head coach Urban Meyer of the aftermath of the win. “This is the state I grew up in. I made the comment last November or December that our objective is 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. It is their team, no one else’s. This is the state of Ohio’s football team.”

Junior running back Carlos Hyde ran for 146 yards and a touchdown, junior Drew Basil kicked four field goals and the OSU defense forced four turnovers as OSU beat the Wolverines for the ninth time in 11 years.

Ohio State went 6-7 last year in a turmoil-filled season, but adopted a refuse-to-lose mentality this fall under the guidance of Meyer.

“This team is tough all the way from the seniors to the freshmen and extends to the coaching staff,” said senior linebacker Zach Boren, a former fullback who recorded a team-high nine tackles with a sack. “The way we train, how the coaches drill us, it all comes from turning the little things into big things.”

Michigan ripped off several big plays in the first half in taking a 21-20 halftime lead. However, the Wolverines were completely stymied in the second half.

After putting up 219 yards in the first half behind the two-quarterback system of Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson, Michigan managed just 60 yards over the final two quarters and did not make it past the OSU 50-yard line.

Michigan suffered three of its four turnovers after halftime.

“It is hard to win when you turn the ball over four times and don’t convert on third and short opportunities,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who dropped to 1-1 against OSU in his career. “We played well enough to win at times, but gave up too many four- and five-yard runs in the end.”

In stark contrast to the second half, the first half was filled with offensive fireworks.

The Buckeyes scored on the game’s first offensive series. Braxton Miller threw a 52-yard bomb to Devin Smith that set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Hyde.

Michigan answered with a three-play, 83-yard drive that was capped by a 75-yard TD pass from Gardner to Roy Roundtree. That tied the game at 7-7 at the 7:10 mark of the opening quarter.

Ohio State went ahead 10-7 late in the first period on a 41-yard field goal by Basil.

The Buckeyes turned the ball over at their own 25-yard line after Corey Brown muffed a punt catch early in the second quarter.

Michigan capitalized, with Gardner scoring on a 2-yard run to give the Wolverines a 14-10 lead.

Ohio State momentarily regained the lead on a 14-yard TD pass from Braxton Miller to Brown with 1:30 left until halftime, but Robinson broke free for a 67-yard scoring run just two plays into Michigan’s ensuing drive.

Robinson took the ball around right end. Christian Bryant and Travis Howard attempted to hit Robinson, but collided. That allowed Robinson to race down the sideline for a touchdown that put Michigan up 21-17 with 40 seconds remaining until the intermission.

Robinson’s big play stunned the home crowd, but Ohio State was able to snatch the momentum back going into the break as Basil drilled a career-long 52 yard field goal on the final play of the first half to cut the Wolverines’ lead to one point.

“I just wanted to go out there and hit a solid ball,” said Basil. “It wasn’t my best shot, but it went through.”

Basil came into the game with four field goals on the season and matched that total Saturday.

The second half turned into a defensive battle. The Buckeyes found a way to corral Robinson after they struggled to do that in the first half.

Robinson, who played primarily at running back for the second straight game because a nerve injury in his arm gave him trouble gripping the ball, had 122 yards on 10 carries in the first half. He had negative two yards on four carries in the second half.

“My only comment to (the defensive coaches) at halftime was to stop the quarterback run,” said Meyer. “That was the only input I had. It was probably the same thing 107,000 people in the stands were thinking as well. Coach (Luke) Fickell and (Everett) Withers did an excellent job running the defense. It was an excellent job against some good athletes.”

With Michigan fumbling twice, one time at its own 10-yard line, the Buckeyes had several chances to put the game away in the second half.

But all the Buckeyes could muster were two more field goals from Basil, a 28-yarder with 8:12 left in the third quarter and a 25-yarder that gave OSU a 26-21 lead at the 6:26 mark of the fourth quarter.

It was not until safety C.J. Barnett picked off a Gardner pass with five minutes remaining in the game that the OSU offense was able to salt away the victory.

Fueled by the power running of Hyde, the Buckeyes were able to grind out the rest of the clock. Meyer was doused with water as time ran out.

“For the moment, this is as good as it gets,” said Meyer when asked where Saturday’s win ranks with other big victories in his coaching career.

Adversity has been something the Buckeyes have been accustomed to facing over the last couple of seasons and they were dealt more Saturday. Senior defensive end John Simon, the Big 10’s sack leader, was unable to play after injuring his knee in last week’s game against Wisconsin.

“I had a bad feeling early in the week when I saw his knee,” said Meyer. “It’s a bursa problem, not a structural issue. It’s just the swelling we couldn’t get out.

“When they DQ’d him, it was like a possessed group on defense. I know why, because our brother was down. We presented him the game ball, which was deserving.”

Miller finished 14-of-18 passing for 189 yards against a Michigan defense that came into the game as the top defensive unit in the nation against the pass.

Corey Brown caught eight passes for 95 yards, finishing the season with 60 catches after making 14 last year.

Tressel returns: Members of the 2002 OSU national championship team were honored between the first and second quarters in recognition of the 10th anniversary of their title winning performance. Jim Tressel, who resigned after the 2010 season in the wake of the tattoo scandal, made his return to the Horseshoe. He was hoisted on the shoulders of his former players and was cheered loudly by the largest crowd (105,899) ever for an OSU-Michigan game in Ohio Stadium.