In a game that was often much too close for comfort, Ohio State broke a 20-20 third-quarter tie with a pair of late touchdowns to score a 34-20 victory Saturday over Indiana before 105,195 sometimes-restless fans in Ohio Stadium.
The Hoosiers entered the game on a six-game losing streak and winless in the Big Ten, but they gamely gave the Buckeyes all they could handle through three quarters. IU raced out to a 10-0 lead midway through the first quarter and tied the score at 20 with 6:56 remaining in the third quarter.
But OSU was just too much. Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller broke the tie with a 20-yard touchdown scramble with nine seconds left in the third period and the Buckeyes tacked on a late 2-yard scoring run by sophomore tailback Carlos Hyde.
Miller (14 carries for 105 yards), Hyde (15-105) and senior tailback Boom Herron (14-141) each rushed for at least 100 yards in the contest, the first time since 1989 that Ohio State had three players crack the century mark on the ground. Dante Lee (157), Scottie Graham (102) and Carlos Snow (100) did it during a 52-27 win at Northwestern.
The trio of 100-yard rushers allowed the Buckeyes to account for a season-high 346 yards on the ground. The passing attack wasn’t nearly as effective, however. Miller finished 5 for 11 for 55 yards with an interception and he was sacked six times.
Indiana finished with 333 yards of total offense, much of it attributable to freshman quarterback Tre Roberson. He rushed 20 times for 70 yards and connected on 11 of 21 pass attempts for 174 yards and one touchdown. But Roberson also pitched a crucial interception during a late fourth-quarter drive that could have tied the score.
“Well, the most important thing was we came out with a win,” OSU head coach Luke Fickell told reporters after the game. “I thought the key going to the game was to keep our poise and our energy level up after last week’s big win and I’m not sure that showed up.”
But the first-year head coach disagreed when someone suggested that an inevitable letdown after last week’s emotional win over Wisconsin was a byproduct of his youthful team.
“I don’t agree there was a letdown,” Fickell said. “Our guys fought hard and played hard. (Indiana) is a good football team. I know their record doesn’t show it. But they played hard and you have to give them credit. Yes, maybe we had some of youth show up in some of our checks, but in the end we got the win and I thought our guys fought hard.”
The Hoosiers drew first blood when kicker Mitch Ewald’s 35-yard field goal capped an 11-play, 42-yard drive for a 3-0 lead at the 10:47 mark of the opening period.
Indiana really made the Horseshoe faithful squirm 3½ minutes later when running back Stephen Houston took a direct snap and danced into the end zone from 5 yards out. Ewald’s PAT made it 10-0 for the upstart visitors with 7:17 left in the first quarter.
But Miller rallied his team and the crowd with a dazzling broken-field run, zigging and sagging his way for an 81-yard touchdown run. It was sixth longest run from scrimmage in Ohio State history and the longest by a quarterback wiping out a 76-yard run by Rex Kern during a 48-29 victory at Illinois in 1970.
OSU kicker Drew Basil added the extra point following Miller’s dash, making it 10-7 at the 5:58 mark.
Basil tied the game with a 36-yard field goal just 53 seconds into the second period and then added a 45-yarder at the 8:43 mark to give the Buckeyes a 13-10 lead. The three-pointers extended Basil’s streak to 11 and 12 consecutive field goals, the third longest streak in program history. Mike Nugent had 24 in a row during the 2001 and 2002 seasons while Vlade Janakievski booted 15 in a row in 1979 and ’80.
Ewald tacked on a 25-yard field goal with 4:30 remaining in the second quarter to set the halftime score at 13-13.
The game remained tight when the teams traded third-quarter touchdowns. Ohio State took advantage of a short field to score on a 15-yard run by Herron at the 10:05 mark, and then Indiana answered on a 34-yard pass from Roberson to receiver Kofi Hughes to knot things at 20 all with 6:56 remaining in the third period. Hughes was the leading receiver in the game with eight catches for 147 yards.
Miller moved the Buckeyes back in front at the end of the quarter, engineering a 13-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a 20-yard touchdown scamper that gave the Buckeyes a 27-20 advantage with 0:09 showing on the clock.
Indiana watched another scoring threat go by the boards at the 9:11 mark of the fourth quarter when Ewald pulled a 40-yard field goal attempt wide to the left. The miss wasn’t totally the IU kicker’s fault – the Hoosiers were penalized for a false start right before Ewald’s kick, making the attempt a 40-yarder instead of 35.
OSU escaped disaster on the first play of the next drive when Herron fumbled and Miller barely recovered at his own 13-yard line. The freshman quarterback later scrambled 13 yards on a third-and-11 to sustain the drive, but the possession ended in a punt with 5:49 remaining.
Roberson did his best to rally his team and got a couple of first downs, finding Hughes for an 18-yard gain on a third-and-10 and then following with a 12-yard run to push the ball to the OSU 44. But on the next play, the Indiana QB tried to get the ball to receiver Jamonne Chester down the sideline, but the throw went into double coverage and OSU cornerback Travis Howard grabbed his second interception of the year.
Two plays later, Hyde exploded for a 47-yard run to the Indiana 4, and then two plays after that, the sophomore blew up the middle for the 2-yard dagger with 2:41 remaining.
Ohio State (6-3, 3-2) travels to Purdue next Saturday. The Boilermakers (4-4, 2-2) were playing at Wisconsin later today. Kickoff next week in West Lafayette is scheduled to be announced tomorrow by the Big Ten.