- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The Ohio State Buckeyes were losing it: the game, their composure and possibly their perfect season.
They admittedly became too wrapped up in the emotion of The Game. They started by yapping at Michigan players before and after the whistle. Things quickly got much uglier. A brawl following a Buckeyes kickoff return early in the second quarter resulted in two Ohio State players (starting right guard Marcus Hall and H-back/returner Dontre Wilson) and one Michigan player (linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone) being ejected for throwing punches.
"Disappointed with that; I don't know where that came from," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "That's unacceptable."
Hall exited the field with both middle fingers raised to the crowd. No, he wasn't making the "H" in O-H-I-O. The image quickly made its way around Twitter.
It could have been the lasting image from Ohio State's first loss under Meyer, one that would have ended the Buckeyes' quest for the crystal football.
Instead, No. 3 Ohio State provided some other snapshots not soon to be forgotten in one of the most memorable editions of The Game in its storied history, one Meyer called an instant classic. The Buckeyes will remember running back Carlos Hyde, responding from his fourth-quarter fumble, triggering an overpowering six-play, 65-yard drive that he capped with a 1-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes, 20 seconds to play. Hyde finished with more rushing yards (226) than any Buckeyes player has ever had against Michigan.
They'll also remember redshirt freshman nickelback Tyvis Powell stepping in front of a slant pass to Drew Dileo on the game's decisive two-point play to record the clinching interception. Linebacker Ryan Shazier said the Buckeyes had prepared for two conversion plays from Michigan and the Wolverines ran one of them.
Most of all, they'll remember a 42-41 victory against a Michigan team that gave its best effort in months.
"That was our season on the line," Powell said. "We had 12-0, Gold Pants, chances for the national championship. It just hit me, like, 'Wow, I kind of just saved the season.'"
Quarterback Braxton Miller, who had 153 rushing yards and three touchdowns to go along with two passing touchdowns, noted that every game doesn't go perfectly and teams must handle adversity. But Ohio State hadn't faced any real adversity in weeks, not since an Oct. 19 home game against Iowa, which led at halftime and tied the game entering the fourth quarter. That day, the Buckeyes turned to Miller, Hyde and the Big Ten's best offensive line to mount long, sustained drives.
It was a similar formula Saturday as Ohio State's defense had no answers for quarterback Devin Gardner and a suddenly dynamic Michigan offense, which stirred from its month-long slumber with a brilliant game plan that produced 603 yards and 31 first downs. The Wolverines gained just 158 yards the previous week at Iowa; they had 208 in the first quarter Saturday.
"They kind of looked like a different team," said Shazier, who added 14 more tackles to his swelling season total. "But we knew that would happen. ... It's called a rivalry."
It's a rivalry Ohio State continues to dominate, winning nine of the teams' past 10 meetings. There was little talk afterward of Michigan State and the upcoming Big Ten title game, or the lack of style points in beating an unranked opponent, or where the Buckeyes would wind up in Sunday night's BCS standings.
The road ahead, at least for now, didn't matter much to Meyer or his players.
"We're living in the moment right now," tight end Jeff Heuerman said. "It was such a crazy ending. Everyone's head is still spinning. A win's a win, and we'll take it however we can get it. What's 12 times two? Twenty-four straight wins.
"I'm an econ major. I shouldn't have said that out loud."
Ohio State's overall stock likely fell Saturday, particularly a defense that "didn't execute very well," Meyer said. But it's easy to invest in an offense that has looked unstoppable during Big Ten play, averaging 46 points and 531.3 yards in eight league contests.
The Buckeyes answered three Michigan touchdowns Saturday with touchdowns of their own.
"They matched score for score, and that's tough to do on the road," Meyer said.
Hyde has 1,249 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in league play, telling ESPN.com that he runs "angry" because of his three-game suspension to begin the season. While Meyer knew his defense needed a breather before the two-point play, the Buckeyes offense was ready for overtime, if needed.
"[Michigan] went for two because they didn't want to go to overtime," Hyde said. "They knew what was going to happen. We would have scored; I have no doubt. We were having success all day."
The days ahead will bring bigger challenges for the Buckeyes, starting with the potential fallout from the fight. The Big Ten is reviewing the officials' report from Saturday's game, as well as video from the fight, to determine if additional discipline is warranted.
Meyer noted after the game that since the fight occurred in the first half, any suspension might not carry over. But the Big Ten typically has added a full game to any player ejected for throwing punches.
"Am I concerned? We're going to enjoy this win, get on the bus and go home," Meyer said, before adding, "I'm concerned about everything."
The fight still could end up costing the Buckeyes, but it didn't on Saturday. They regained their composure just in time, made just enough plays to beat a rival and preserved perfection for another week.
Next stop: Indianapolis.
1dJosh Moyer and Dan Murphy