Ohio State Football: 12 Plays That Led to an Undefeated Season
Ohio State's football program headed into 2012 with hopes of erasing the shadow that hung over the program from the previous year. Thirteen weeks and 12 games later they accomplished their goal.
In the past decade, Ohio State has shown the slim margin between a historic season to remember and a historic season the Buckeye faithful wants to forget.
The 2002 team went undefeated, but they needed a little luck and good timing. They went 14-0 with seven of those wins coming by a TD or less.
Later, the 2011 team showed what could come with a little bit of bad luck and bad timing. The Buckeyes' seven losses came by an average of seven points and only Miami beat Ohio State by more than a TD.
So Buckeye fans, enjoy this undefeated season because they don't grow on trees—only six in Ohio State history. Even with a coach as good as Urban Meyer. The 12 plays that went Ohio State's way to save, turn around or just were awesome could have gone the other way. This Ohio State team—which won six games by a TD or less—could have just as easily dropped four games.
There were several reasons the team didn't lose: Zach Boren and John Simon's leadership, coaching upgrades and the occasional flare for the dramatic provided by several different players.
Game 1: Miami of Ohio
Braxton Miller 23 Yards to Devin Smith's Right Hand
In the opening week of the 2012 season Ohio State was supposed to unveil a flashy new offense that couldn't be stopped. Someone forgot to tell Miami of Ohio. In the first quarter Ohio State managed just 48 yards in 15 plays. They had two three-and-outs and two first downs.
Then on the fourth play of the second quarter Miller faked a hand-off to Carlos Hyde and sailed a ball down the right sideline toward the north end zone.
It looked like Miller would once again overthrow a receiver, but then Smith leaped into the air, twisted his body around and snatched the ball out of the air with his right hand.
Smith's catch electrified the crowd and the offense. The Buckeyes—who punted four times in the first quarter—scored eight TDs and only punted three more times in the game en route to a 56-10 win.
Game 2: Central Florida
Ohrian Johnson picks off Blake Bortles' pass to halt UCF's comeback
In the second week of the Urban Meyer-era the Buckeyes once again struggled with a lesser opponent.
UCF had the ball at the Ohio State 8-yard line trailing 31-16 with 14 minutes to play. On third and five UCF QB Blake Bortles—who threw for 249 yards in the game—dropped back and threw towards the south end zone. Linebacker Ryan Shazier jumped in the way of the ball and redirected the pass toward senior safety Ohrian Johnson.
Johnson caught the interception, the third of the day for the Buckeyes. Ironically the three interceptions brought in by Buckeye defenders were by seniors hailing from the state of Florida—Johnson, Travis Howard and Etienne Sabino.
Johnson's was the biggest though. The Black Knights only ran one play in Ohio State territory until there was only a few seconds left in the game and the Buckeyes held for the 31-16 win.
Game 3: California
Braxton Miller scrambles to find Devin Smith for a 72-yard score
Ohio State's defense struggled to get Cal ball-carriers on the ground in the second half of their Week 3 matchup. Due to the defense, the Buckeyes watched their 20-7 lead evaporate in the fourth quarter, twice.
After Cal took the 21-20 lead Miller capped off a TD drive with a three-yard pass to Jake Stoneburner with eight minutes left to play and a 28-21 lead. That was way too much time, for both defenses.
Cal needed only two carries by Brendan Bigelow to travel 75 yards and knot the score at 28-28. Ohio State's offense couldn't match Cal's. After failed possessions by both teams the Buckeyes needed all of three plays to go 75 yards to grab the lead for good.
On first down Miller threw an incomplete pass followed by a three-yard run by Jordan Hall. On third down Miller dropped back, scrambled around and right before he decided to take off he saw Smith behind the Cal secondary along the left sideline. Miller hit Smith and Smith left the defense in the dust on the way to the goal line.
Game 4: UAB
Christian Bryant, Doran Grant combine to set up score before halftime
With Ohio State once again playing down to the competition against UAB the Blazers had the ball with under two minutes to play in the first half. UAB had just given up a TD to fall behind 14-12 and were looking to take the lead back before halftime.
On the second play of the drive UAB QB Austin Brown found receiver Kennard Backman for a gain of seven yards. At the end of the play Backman was hit by Ohio State safety Christian Bryant and the ball was recovered by cornerback Doran Grant.
The Buckeyes' offense needed only three plays to add another TD before the half and went on to win 29-15.
Game 5: At Michigan State
Braxton Miller and Devin Smith hook up again to save Buckeyes
The Buckeyes were stuck in a defensive struggle with Michigan State and had just fallen behind the Spartans 13-10. But an early-season theme appeared once again for the Buckeyes.
When in doubt, air it out...to Devin Smith.
The sophomore receiver beat bump-and-run coverage and the sometimes erratic Miller laid the ball right in Smith's out-stretched hands. Smith slipped through the grasp of the Spartan defensive back and easily outraced the rest of the secondary to the end zone.
That score put the Buckeyes up 17-13 with three minutes in the third quarter. The Spartans attempted a comeback, but could only muster one more field goal and the Buckeyes escaped with a 17-16 win.
Game 6: Nebraska
Braxton Miller runs 72 yards to spark the Buckeye offense
Early in Week 6 against Nebraska the Buckeyes were trailing 17-7 and their only score had come on an interception for a TD by Bradley Roby.
That's when offensive coordinator Tom Herman called Ohio State's most effective running play, a QB power run to the left. But Miller—as he does so often—took the ball the other way. Miller broke contain and got into the secondary and up the right sideline all the way to the 3-yard line.
From there Ohio State gave the ball to Carlos Hyde twice and punched it in to make it 17-14.
After that Ohio State's offense was nearly unstoppable and went on to score 63 on the Nebraska defense. However, Nebraska was able to keep pace for a while and scored 38 of their own points—perhaps a warning of what Ohio State's defense would do the next week.
Game 7: At Indiana
Indiana's frantic comeback came to an end with Corey Brown's kick recovery
With just under seven minutes left in the game Braxton Miller hit Devin Smith for a 46-yard TD pass to give the Buckeyes a 52-34 lead. That was pretty much the end, or at least that's what the Buckeyes thought.
The Hoosiers had other plans. Freshman QB Nate Sudfeld drove Indiana down the field and found Duwyce Wilson for a 12-yard TD to make the score 52-41. The Buckeyes still looked comfortable up two scores with under two minutes to play.
But when Indiana recovered their onside kick and scored again 35 seconds later and added a two-point conversion to draw within a field goal at 52-49, concern started to mount.
As Indiana lined up again for another onside kick the Buckeyes looked ready to recover it this time, but Indiana kicker Nate Ewald surprised the Buckeyes by pooch kicking the ball to the under-manned left side of the field.
Ohio State receiver Corey Brown was the only Buckeye in the vicinity and missed the ball on his first attempt to bring it in. But right before Indiana could get there Brown was able to dive on the ball and save the game for the Buckeyes.
Game 8: Purdue
"Holy Buckeye" part deux against Purdue
Purdue always seems to give Ohio State trouble. Against Purdue in 2002 it took a heroic fourth-and-one 37-yard TD pass from Craig Krenzel to Michael Jenkins. The Buckeyes likely would have tried to run for the first down if their offensive star and No. 13 Maurice Clarett had been healthy.
This time it was Ohio State's No. 13 getting to play because of an injury to this season offensive star: Braxton Miller.
I couldn't decide which of junior QB Kenny Guiton's passes were the most important. The candidates are the 39-yard drive starter to Devin Smith, the two-yard TD pass to Chris Fields or the two-point conversion pass to Jeff Heuerman to tie the game.
So let's just put them all together and say that it took three plays to match the greatness of "Holy Buckeye."
Game 9: At Penn State
Ryan Shazier gives Buckeyes the lead with pick-six
Neither team had success moving the ball in the first half of Ohio State's ninth game of the season. Actually neither team scored in the first half and when they did score they needed help. Penn State scored their TD on a blocked punt and Ohio State scored their TD after Penn State was called for holding on a punt.
But it didn't take Ohio State long to get on the board in the second half. A play after sacking Penn State QB Matt McGloin to set up a third-and-13, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier intercepted McGloin's pass and ran it back 17 yards for a score.
Ohio State scored two more TDs in the second quarter and one on their first possession of the fourth quarter and were able to hold on to a 35-23 win despite McGloin's 327-yard day.
Game 10: Illinois
Braxton Miller goes deep for a different Smith
Illinois scored first—Ohio State trailed in 10 of 12 games—but after that, Ohio State showed they were in complete control. This was a rare game when the Buckeyes didn't need a huge play to spark the offense or a big defensive play to seal a win.
However, with a 17-6 lead and just over five minutes left in the first half Ohio State tried something new. The Buckeyes lined backup running back Rod Smith at fullback. At the snap Miller rolled right and Smith leaked out down the left sideline. Miller stopped his roll, set his feet and fired the ball over 40 yards across the field to a wide open Smith.
The ball hit Smith in stride and and he easily strutted into the end zone. A week after struggling in the passing game this throw was proof of growth in the young Ohio State QB and his 24-36 passing the final two weeks continued to show progression for Miller.
Game 11: At Wisconsin
Ryan Shazier denies Montee Ball and Wisconsin at goal line
The hype surrounding the matchup between Ohio State and Wisconsin was focused largely on Wisconsin's Montee Ball chance to break the FBS all-time career scoring TD record held by Travis Prentice.
With the clock running down under three minutes the Badgers were on the Buckeyes' 2-yard line with a chance to tie the game.
Ball took the handoff and dove over the pile towards the endzone and the record books. But Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier had other designs. The sophomore met the Badger star in midair and knocked the ball loose and into the arms of teammate Christian Bryant.
The Buckeyes were unable to run out the clock and the Badgers were able to score and get the game into overtime, where the Buckeyes won 21-14. But it was clear in the post-game interviews the Buckeyes had two goals for their trip to Madison: first to win and second to keep Ball from breaking the TD record.
Thanks to Shazier's heroic dive, the Buckeyes accomplished both goals.
Game 12: Michigan
A decade later same result: Buckeyes seal undefeated season with interception
As with just about every game played by the 2002 Buckeyes, "The Game" in 2002 was a little closer. The Buckeyes led 14-9 with seconds to play and the Wolverines deep in Ohio State territory before junior safety Will Allen picked off a John Navarre pass near the goalline.
In similar fashion another junior safety, C.J. Barnett, intercepted Devin Gardner's pass near midfield to clinch Ohio State's first undefeated season since 2002.