COLUMBUS — There was no need to wait until somebody watched the films.
When Ohio State linebacker Zach Boren wrapped his arms around head coach Urban Meyer on the field at Ohio Stadium seconds after No. 4 OSU completed a 26-21 win over Michigan on Saturday, it was clearly a good grab.
In fact, it was perfect. Just like the season Ohio State (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten) finished in Meyer’s first season as its coach.
Twelve months ago, Ohio State football was in chaos. Saturday, it was on top of the world. Well, at least on top of the Big Ten.
The NCAA violations that drove Jim Tressel out of town and brought Meyer to Ohio State will keep OSU from playing in the Big Ten championship game or a bowl game this season.
But Ohio State knows what it did against the teams who are going to the Big Ten title game. And, the possibility of being ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press poll — the only one to include OSU this year — is still out there.
“We beat both teams that are in the tournament. Everybody knows who the best team in the Big Ten is now,” wide receiver Corey Brown said. “We’re kind of mad we can’t play in a bowl game but we have to move on.”
The size of the move the Buckeyes made to get to 12-0 from where they were last year when they tumbled to a 6-7 record and lost to Michigan for the first time in eight years was enormous.
Meyer said OSU’s 19 seniors belong at the top of the list of reasons for that turnaround.
“I want to make sure they’re properly recognized as one of the great groups of seniors in the history of this program, however we do that,” he said. “Maybe get 19 bronze statues somewhere.
“The most important thank you (for the season) goes to our senior class, the most selfless group I’ve ever been around.”
Like five other games Ohio State won by a touchdown or less this season, including two in overtime, this wasn’t easy.
The Buckeyes, who were only the sixth undefeated Ohio State football team ever, came back from being down 21-20 at halftime, to shut out the Wolverines in the second half to claim win No. 12.
They made two or three games’ worth of mistakes in the first half, but still found themselves down by only a point. But in the second half they found their defensive legs again, holding Michigan to 60 yards total offense, and making some huge defensive stops.
None was bigger than tackling Robinson for a 2-yard loss when Michigan went for it on fourth down and two yards to go at its own 48-yard line on its first possession of the second half.
In the first half, Michigan broke off two long plays for touchdowns — a 75-yard pass from Devin Gardner to Roy Roundtree and a 67-yard run by Denard Robinson for another score 40 seconds before halftime.
The Buckeyes also had six penalties and another that was declined because Brown fumbled on a punt return in the first two quarters.
“We missed too many tackles, we missed too many tackles. The second half we just started wrapping up,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said.
“We kind of stepped up our play. We didn’t adjust much. In the first half we were just missing tackles and in the second half we started making more,” he said.
Maybe part of the early defensive struggles could be attributed to the absence of defensive end John Simon, who missed the game because of damage to a bursa in his right knee.
Simon, the Big Ten sacks leader coming into the game, did not dress and walked very slowly during Senior Day ceremonies before the game.
“We couldn’t dwell on it,” said Nathan Williams, the other OSU starting defensive end. “John is … gosh there are no words to describe the leadership that guy has. But I think we did a good job responding today.”
Ohio State’s offense also did a good job of responding when it had to. Running back Carlos Hyde pounded away at Michigan’s defense for 146 yards on 26 carries and scored OSU’s first touchdown.
And quarterback Braxton Miller, who was held in check on the ground (57 yards on 20 carries) for the second week in a row had one of his best passing games statistically (14 of 18 for 189 yards and a touchdown). Brown caught 8 passes for 95 yards and a TD.
Robinson led Michigan with 122 yards rushing on 10 carries but did not throw a pass in the plays when he lined up at quarterback. Devin Gardner threw for 171 yards on 11 of 20 passing.
Ohio State’s only scoring in the second half came on two field goals by Drew Basil, who matched his output for the first 11 games with four of them on Saturday.
In the end, the defense, along with the offense running out the clock after an interception by Barnett with 4:50 to play, combined to produce the last chapter of a perfect season that existed only in the wildest dreams of most OSU fans in September.
“We’ve been through a lot. We took some punches. But it shows a lot how we responded to things,” Williams said. “It’s a shame it has to end now but we couldn’t end things any better than beating Michigan here. This football team has just been amazing.”