COLUMBUS – Defining moments in seasons come into clearer focus when they are looked at in the rear-view mirror.
But sometimes certain moments or games are immediately recognized as candidates to be included in the category of things that could set the direction of a season.
Ohio State’s 34-24 win over Iowa on Saturday might be one of those.
When a team is unbeaten, as No. 4 OSU (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) is, people talk about “trap” games.
Not many people were using that term before Iowa (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) came into Ohio Stadium.
But two quarters into Saturday’s game, that’s exactly where Ohio State found itself – trapped.
Trapped in a struggle to stop Iowa’s offense, which scored on three of its five first-half possessions to take a 17-10 halftime lead and kept the ball away from the Buckeyes with long, time consuming drives.
Trapped by an offense that produced only one touchdown in the first two quarters. And trapped by a shaky pass defense that got even more unsteady when its best cornerback Bradley Roby was ejected under the new targeting rule.
But in the second half, OSU responded forcefully to stretch its winning streak to 19 games, which ties the second-longest streak in school history.
It outscored the Hawkeyes 24-7 in the final two quarters. It ran 53 plays to 18 for Iowa. And, other than an 85-yard pass play that tied the game at 24-24 late in the third quarter, it kept the Hawkeyes out of the end zone.
It swept away the doubts of the first half along with Iowa’s hopes of winning for the first time since 1991 in Ohio Stadium.
“Defensively, I was very disappointed in the first half. I felt like we were getting pushed around,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “But in the second half, they did a much better job, a much better job.”
Running back Carlos Hyde rushed for 149 yards on 24 carries and scored two touchdowns and quarterback Braxton Miller completed 22 of 27 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 102 yards on 18 carries to lead OSU.
Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock (19 of 34 for 245 yards and 3 touchdowns) became the latest quarterback to find holes in Ohio State’s defense. Twice last week after Northwestern threw for 343 yards, Meyer described the Buckeyes’ pass defense as “alarming.”
The defensive backfield’s work might have set off a few more alarms Saturday, but Meyer said he was going to disable those warning devices until today.
“I learned a lesson in my life. I’m going to enjoy this win. I feel outstanding. I’m going to go hug my players, hug my family and go to work tomorrow. But tonight I’m not worrying about any defense. I’m going to enjoy this win,” he said.
This was the fourth time during Meyer’s 19-0 start at OSU that the Buckeyes found themselves behind at halftime and the second game in a row they needed a second-half comeback.
Besides falling behind Iowa and Northwestern this season, they also were down at halftime against Purdue and Michigan last season.
But being challenged on and off the field helped in those situations, offensive tackle Jack Mewhort said.
“We’ve been exposed to a lot of tough situations before,” he said. “All through Coach Meyer and Coach Mick’s (strength coordinator Mickey Marotti) off-season training program you’re always in situations where your back is to the wall. So when it happens for real, you’re ready for it.”
Ohio State responded to Iowa’s 17-10 halftime lead by marching 75 yards in 12 plays the first time it had the ball in the second half to tie the game on a 1-yard touchdown run by Hyde. Then it went up 24-17 when Miller found Devin Smith with a 14-yard touchdown pass to end an 84-yard drive.
Iowa got the game back to even at 24-24 when tight end Jake Duzey (6 catches, 138 yards) got behind the defense and broke away for an 85-yard touchdown catch with 2:30 left in the third quarter.
Hyde gave OSU the lead for good on a 19-yard run early in the fourth quarter on which he was almost knocked off his feet but recovered and dived into the end zone for a touchdown.
Drew Basil added a field goal and Tyvis Powell’s interception with 4:15 left in the game clinched the win.
Linebacker Ryan Shazier said, “At halftime, some of the players and coaches just basically said, ‘We need to get it together.’ That’s not the type of defense we play, that’s not the type of defense we’re known for.”
Iowa also got a result it was known for, losing to Ohio State for the 13th time in the last 14 games the two teams have played.
“You don’t get prizes for playing a good first half,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “You have to play the full 60 minutes.”