Urban Meyer has won every game since taking the reigns at Ohio State, but it was one game in particular that stood out.
The team has ripped off 24 straight victories since Meyer took over, including 16 in the Big Ten but it wasn’t until OSU’s first conference victory under Meyer that his presence seemed to be truly felt.
That win came Sept. 29, 2012, when the Buckeyes traveled to East Lansing, Mich., and beat Michigan State 17-16.
It was a game Meyer and his players mention often, the crossroads of what has now become the nation’s longest winning streak.
“Last year, it was a big turning point for us,” OSU junior wide receiver Devin Smith said Monday. “I felt like after that game, the team started to get a little closer, the leadership started to grow and got a lot stronger and led the team to keep winning ball games and be 12-0.”
The Buckeyes used the momentum gained from earning their first big win on the road to run the table in 2012, never really facing a challenge for much of the rest of the season.
Saturday, OSU and the Spartans meet again — this time with the 2013 Big Ten Championship on the line and for the Buckeyes, a likely berth in the BCS National Title game.
A 2012 NCAA-imposed postseason bowl ban kept the Buckeyes home last December, but now with it all back in play, it’s the Spartans who once again stand in their way of getting to their ultimate goal.
Redshirt-senior Corey Linsley said it “absolutely” is ironic that the same team OSU beat to turn their 2012 season in the right direction now could keep it from getting a chance to play for the crystal ball.
“We were just talking about (that) in the weight room the other day. Everything changed last year for us (after beating the Spartans),” Linsley said Monday. “And now everything’s on the line for us … I’m sure they want to get us. They feel like they maybe should have won that game.”
Against the Spartans last season, OSU took the lead late in the third quarter when then-sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller connected with then-sophomore Smith on a 63-yard strike that proved to be the game winner. It was Miller’s only touchdown of the game, but helped catapult his team to victory and on to an undefeated season.
Meyer said he’s studied and learned a lot from that game, but this year’s Buckeye team is better than it was a year ago.
“I learned quite a bit,” Meyer said Monday. “They were very good (last season). We were not very good. I’m not taking anything away from Michigan State because they are excellent. But we’re a much better offense than we were a year ago, but that was a street fight last year.”
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said during Sunday’s Big Ten teleconference there was one big thing that stuck out about last year’s loss at home to OSU.
“I’d say missed opportunities,” Dantonio said. “We hit a trick play down I think to the 5-yard line but were misaligned, which resulted in a penalty. Came back the next play, hit a deep crosser and dropped the ball. We get a fumble recovered where we scooped it and scored. They blew the whistle or something and it didn’t count, so we ended up driving partly down the field and having to settle for a field goal rather than a touchdown. So opportunities like that, we had the lead briefly in the fourth quarter, I believe, or third quarter, I believe, and they hit a deep one to Devin Smith.”
The intensity and magnitude of the game with the Spartans coupled with the chance to play for the BCS title caused Linsley and a few of his teammates on the offensive line do something they aren’t used to once they got back from Ann Arbor Saturday night: take a dip in the cold tubs.
“I don’t think I’ve ever done that before after a game,” Norwell said. “The level of focus that that gave us, it was a moment of intensity there for a second, but now it’s a level of focus that our dream is here. The chase is real.”
The journey Meyer has taken OSU on since he came to Columbus seems to have come full circle — all the way from the turning point in the form of last season’s win against Michigan State, to now.
“That’s one of the interesting things about college football. Everything I guess just kind of comes back,” sophomore linebacker Joshua Perry said Monday. “That was a big game for us last year, and that was a dog fight and I expect it’s going to be a dog fight this weekend too. It’s going to be a big game. They’ve really got a good defense and their offense has been hitting their stride lately so Buckeyes gotta play Buckeyes football.”
OSU looks to fulfill a goal of capturing a Big Ten Championship when it takes on the Spartans Saturday, scheduled for a 8:17 p.m. kickoff at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.