Buckeyes back off the mat, deliver knockout

Meyer, Elliott: We needed that win

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer explains how the Buckeyes' win over Michigan is the biggest win he's ever been a part of. RB Ezekiel Elliott says he feels badly about his play calling comments and is grateful for the win.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Urban Meyer couldn't stand still during the national anthem. He fidgeted like a fighter waiting for the bell. He held his hand over his heart, but everything else moved. The anthem couldn't end soon enough.

About two hours later, when his Ohio State team scored one of its six touchdowns against Michigan, Meyer shadowboxed, throwing a right and then a left. After an "awful week," having absorbed a "kick to the stomach" from Michigan State, Meyer and his team got up off the mat and knocked out their biggest rival. The eighth-ranked Buckeyes are still the big bullies in this annual bout, rubbing Michigan's noses in the dirt during a 42-13 win. They showed they're not a splintered team or an overly entitled team, but one that, as senior offensive tackle Taylor Decker said, "lost a football game."

Ohio State also lost a game in 2014 -- to a much weaker opponent than Michigan State, by the way -- and responded to win the national championship. The 2015 Buckeyes might not be champions, as they lost to the wrong opponent at the wrong time with the wrong schedule setup, but they proved they have championship qualities.

They showed up on Nov. 28 at Michigan Stadium. Better late than never, right?

"It's huge to bounce back and show what our program is about," Decker said, "not just for one game, but show everybody, show the country, show ourselves, this is for real."

It took 12 weeks and a humbling loss, but the Buckeyes showed that they could be who we thought they were, especially the offense. A week after producing horrific numbers -- five first downs, 132 yards, 46 plays, less than 22 minutes of possession -- Ohio State gashed the nation's No. 4 rushing defense for 369 yards on 54 carries.

Whether it was Meyer's increased role in play calls or coordinator Ed Warinner working from the press box which sped up the Buckeyes' operation, the offense finally looked right.

"This was definitely our most dominant win, our most dominant performance," Decker said.

The Buckeyes were efficient and punishing up front, as a veteran yet inconsistent line overwhelmed Michigan's banged-up defensive front. Ohio State out-manballed Jim Harbaugh's team, especially on a 16-play, 84-yard touchdown march in the third quarter. It was a slow-death, take-your-heart, thanks-for-playing drive that eclipsed seven minutes and ended any hope of a Michigan miracle in this redemptive season under the khaki-clad one. Meyer, who famously doesn't dance after wins, walked up the stadium tunnel practicing The Dab, then displayed it in the locker room.

"That might have been the best win I've ever seen," Meyer said.

Running back Ezekiel Elliott, whose critical comments after the MSU loss sparked questions about Ohio State's cohesiveness, rushed for 214 yards and two touchdowns. Elliott had apologized profusely for his remarks during the week -- "37, 38 times, I lost track," Meyer said -- and continued his mea culpas after the game, saying, "I regret everything I said."

"It was hard on me, people questioning if I was going to even come out here today and play hard," said Elliott, who moved past Eddie George for second place on Ohio State's career rushing list, trailing only Archie Griffin. "That's not the person I am. I'm not selfish, I'm selfless and I would do anything for my brothers.

"I play my ass off."

The Meyer-Elliott relationship never wavered, according to the coach. They spent Thanksgiving dinner together for the third time. "Hope we get four, but it doesn't look good," Meyer joked, referring to Elliott's decision to turn pro after the season.

The smiles were back a week after the sky, it seemed, was falling. Meyer improved to 4-0 against Michigan exactly four years after Ohio State hired him to rescue the program. All the stars seemed to shine, from Elliott to quarterback J.T. Barrett to defensive end Joey Bosa, who looked every bit the future No. 1 draft pick with an interception, a sack and two quarterback hurries.

But the dismantling of a talented Michigan team summoned questions. Where was this team all season? Why did it take failure to inspire Ohio State's greatest success? Why did it take until the second half of The Game for the Buckeyes to announce themselves as an elite team?

"You live and you learn," Barrett said. "That's a life lesson, and we applied it to football."

It's hard to repeat in college football, regardless of the roster. Meyer needs no reminders after a failed attempt with a talented but turbulent Florida team in 2009.

Returning so many key figures from a title team can help, but as Ohio State has learned, it has its drawbacks.

"We may have tried to do too much, being that we had all these players coming back," Barrett said. "We just got away from what we do well."

The Buckeyes might have found the formula a week too late, but at least they found it. They may not retain their championship belt, but they once again left Michigan Stadium with their arms raised.

Good luck to the next opponent that faces them in the ring.