December 13, 2012

12-OH: Growing in East Lansing

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Having just wrapped up a perfect season unlike any other in program history, it's hard not to look back at the last 12 months of Ohio State football and not only marvel at the unlikeliness of what the Buckeyes accomplished in 2012, but also how far they've come since their 6-7 mark in 2011. With that in mind, I'll spend 12 days examining and reflecting on the 12 most important moments that helped create and stand out from just the sixth unbeaten and untied season in Ohio State history.



Yesterday, we reflected on a the pop pass that led the Buckeyes past California. Today, we'll take you back to their Big Ten opener, and a moment that may have changed their season for the better.




EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Asked in his first postseason press conference when the turning point of his team's undefeated season happened, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer didn't hesitate.



"September 29th at 11:22," Meyer said, blankly.



The media members in the meeting room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center laughed at the answer, assuming that the Buckeyes' coach was making a joke out of the reporter's question. Surely, this was just an obscure date and time that Meyer had come up with on the spot.



"I'm being serious," Meyer assured them.



Looking back at Ohio State's schedule, the date at least makes sense.



That was the day of the Buckeyes' battle with Michigan State, which marked both their first road game and first Big Ten game of the season. Ohio State won the game by a score of 17-16, and in typical Big Ten fashion- enduring multiple injuries to quarterback Braxton Miller, gaining 200 rushing yards, and ultimately running out the clock in the fourth quarter inside Spartan Stadium.



"This was a war. This was two sledgehammers going at each other," Meyer said after the game. "That was a great game. Great atmosphere, a bunch of great players on the field that are going to be playing at the next level, and that was good for college football and good for the Big Ten."



Despite it being just a one-point win, noticed a change in his team for the better during its win over the Spartans, which he said isn't always uncommon when a relatively young team hits the road for the first time together.



"I felt this team took a major stride in coming together as an outfit," Meyer said. "That sometimes- I've seen that happen on the road."



It might seem simple enough, but after a non-conference schedule that saw OSU struggle- yet remain undefeated- it wasn't necessarily a given that the Buckeyes would survive the Big Ten season under a first-year coaching staff. That brings us to the 11:22 that Meyer mentioned, which coincided with a turning point for this team.



"We had a meeting in a ballroom in East Lansing. A very intense, very emotional meeting," Meyer recalled. "That's when I saw it. Up until then, I didn't think we had them, to be quite honest with you. They weren't playing like it. And they weren't acting like it."



Furthermore than finding their personal identity in East Lansing, the Buckeyes found their offensive identity as well. A 63-yard pass to Devin Smith went down in the box score as the official game-winning play, but anybody who watched the game could see that the difference for Ohio State came on the ground.



Holding Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell to 45 yards rushing- and the Spartans to 34 total- the Buckeyes put up 204 yards running the ball, behind the three-headed attack of Miller, Carlos Hyde, and Jordan Hall. It was ultimately just the first sign an OSU rushing attack that would finish the season 10th in the nation in rushing yards per game.



Meyer gave the credit for the Buckeyes' successful ground game to the emergence of what wound of being the strength for OSU throughout the season- its offensive line.



"Those five guys are locked and loaded. Together, well coached, and they've found a way to rush for 200 yards against a stout team that doesn't give up much rushing yardage," Meyer said of his offensive line. "That's the group right now that I'm most pleased with."



But back to the bigger scheme of things, Sept. 29, 2012 provided Meyer with the first sign that his team was headed in the right direction. The Buckeyes still weren't a lock to go undefeated- far from it- but Meyer knows that a seed was planted in his team on that day and a growing trend was only continuing.



"A great team win," Meyer said. "We found out something about our team today, to go on the road in a hostile environment against a quality, quality football team and find a way to win."







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