COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State doesn’t get to play in a bowl game.
But the Buckeyes have a sweet victory to carry them through a cold winter.
Carlos Hyde ran for 146 yards and No. 4 Ohio State’s defense shut out 20th-ranked Michigan in the second half to grab a bruising 26-21 win on Saturday, completing an improbable 12-0 season for the Buckeyes.
Almost no one — up to and including first-year head coach Urban Meyer — expected such a rapid turnaround for the Buckeyes, who were just 6-7 last season with a loss to their archrivals in a transitional year when they were facing heavy NCAA penalties. A month after Meyer took the job last November, they were socked with a bowl ban after this season — and still ran the table.
Ohio State (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten) is ineligible for a BCS national title but still has an outside shot at finishing No. 1 in the final Associated Press Top 25 if other contenders lose. Michigan (8-4, 6-2) will now await a minor bowl bid.
Drew Basil matched his season output with four field goals and the defense did the rest, forcing three turnovers in the second half.
It was played before 105,899, the largest crowd ever to witness “The Game” in Columbus.
Meyer and his players were mobbed by thousands of fans who flooded the field after the Buckeyes’ ninth victory in the last 11 years in the rivalry (the 2010 win was later vacated by the sanctions).
“It’ll go down as one of the great teams in Ohio State history,” Meyer exulted after the game.
Hyde also ran for a touchdown. Braxton Miller completed 14 of 18 passes for 189 yards and a score to Corey Brown, who had eight catches for 95 yards.
The Buckeyes had already clinched the Big Ten’s Leaders Division, but aren’t allowed to play in next Saturday’s conference title game. Michigan needed a win to capture a share of the Legends Division with Nebraska, which will meet Wisconsin for the championship.
Now, about Ohio State can hope for is every other top team in the nation — including the only other unbeaten, top-ranked Notre Dame — to lose and lose badly in the coming weeks. A team banned from the postseason has never finished No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll, and the Buckeyes are not eligible for the Bowl Championship Series rankings or coaches’ poll.
Michigan’s Denard Robinson had a brilliant first half but was largely invisible in the second. He totaled 122 yards on 10 carries, but had lost 2 yards on his four carries after halftime.
Devin Gardner, the other half of Michigan’s quarterback tandem, was 11 of 20 for 171 yards with an interception and a touchdown pass.
For the Buckeyes, the game will be remembered for the staunch defense played when most needed. Michigan had 26 plays for 219 yards in first half, then ran 21 plays for a net of 60 yards in the second.
For the Wolverines, there will be lingering questions for coach Brady Hoke, who wore short sleeves in the freezing temperatures — just like Woody Hayes used to during the 1960s and 1970s in the rivalry.
With his team ahead 21-20, Hoke called timeout on fourth and 2 near midfield on Michigan’s first possession of the second half. Robinson then ran up the middle, but ran into linebacker Ryan Shazier for a two-yard loss.
That cost the Wolverines the lead as Ohio State drove to the Michigan 11 before settling for Basil’s 28-yard field goal, putting the Buckeyes up 23-21.
The teams traded possessions and turnovers for the next 12 minutes. Robinson fumbled after Bradley Roby’s helmet hit the ball on a tackle, with Nathan Williams recovering for the Buckeyes.
Early in the fourth quarter, Miller was sacked on third and 9 at the Michigan 28 and coughed up the ball to Frank Clark.
But in each case the other team didn’t take advantage.
The Buckeyes drove to a second and 1 at the Michigan 4 but a sack and a high snap preceded Basil missing a 39-yard field goal attempt.
The Wolverines lost 2 yards on third and 1 and were forced to punt after Miller’s fumble.
Ohio State did pick up points on its next chance after a turnover.
Gardner fumbled when hit by Johnathan Hankins with 8:19 left, with Travis Howard pouncing on the loose ball after several players had a shot at it. Taking over at the Wolverines’ 10, the Buckeyes could not move the ball and were forced to settle for Basil’s fourth field goal of the game, a 25-yarder with 6:26 remaining, for a 26-21 lead.
That matched Basil’s production the entire season. He came into the game 4 for 6 on the year.
Gardner then tossed a floater that was intercepted by C.J. Barnett, ending the Wolverines final threat as Hyde carried the ball repeatedly and the Buckeyes played keep-away to the finish.
The Buckeyes, who were without captain and top quarterback-sacker John Simon, appeared to grab control early. They scored on the opening possession, with Miller’s 52-yard, play-action pass to Devin Smith setting up Hyde’s 3-yard plunge.
Michigan came right back and drove to the Ohio State 22 but on third and 8 Adolphus Washington — playing because Simon was out — stripped the ball as Gardner was passing, with Zach Boren recovering.
But the Wolverines forced a punt and then needed just three plays to cover 83 yards with Gardner tossing a short pass in front of the Michigan bench to Roy Roundtree, who straight-armed Barnett and sped down the sideline accompanied by teammate Drew Dileo. The 75-yard pass play was Michigan’s longest of the season.
With Miller hitting all five of his passes, the Buckeyes were stymied by three penalties in four plays and had to settle for Basil’s 41-yard field goal.
Brown muffed a punt catch that was recovered by Marvin Robinson for Michigan and the Wolverines were right back in business at the Ohio State 25. On the sixth play, Gardner kept for the short TD and a 14-10 lead.
Michigan took over at its own 25 with 90 seconds left. Robinson followed two fullbacks around left end for an eight-yard gain and it appeared Hoke might just be content with running out the clock. But on second down, Robinson followed a convoy around the right side. Ohio State defensive backs Christian Bryant and Travis Howard arrived at the exact same instant, colliding while Robinson popped free. He raced untouched the rest of the way on the 67-yard TD, the 91st touchdown he has accounted for in his glittering career to pass Chad Henne for the school record.
Between the first and second quarters, Ohio State honored its 2002 national championship team. After a highlight clip was shown to a roaring crowd, several players hoisted coach Jim Tressel to their shoulders and carried him out of the end zone.
No boos were heard, or else they were drowned out — even though it was Tressel’s NCAA violations which will keep this year’s unbeaten Buckeyes home in the postseason.
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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.