BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Appropriately, the signal that Ohio State’s almost four-hour, tense until the end 34-27 win over Indiana was finally over on Saturday was someone running.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott rushed for a career-best 274 yards on 23 carries and scored on ever-ascending runs of 55 yards, 65 yards and 75 yards to provide the foundation of the win by No. 1 Ohio State (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) over the Hoosiers (4-1, 0-1 Big Ten).
Indiana was in the game until the final play, though, until Eli Apple knocked down a pass which could have given the Hoosiers a chance to send the game into overtime or roll the dice and go for the win.
OSU defensive end Adolphus Washington said he finally knew the Buckeyes had survived when he saw the players on the sidelines charging onto the field.
“I didn’t hear anything. But I saw our sideline running and I thought that was good,” Washington said.
Ohio State and Elliott both started slowly. Indiana took a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter and was still up, 10-6, at halftime. And when the teams went to the locker rooms, Elliott had just 31 yards on 10 carries.
On the way to tying Keith Byars for the second-most yards in a game by an OSU running back behind Eddie George’s 314 yards, Elliott got 243 yards in the final two quarters.
It started with a 55-yard touchdown run with 8:57 left in the third quarter that gave Ohio State a 13-10 lead.
After Indiana regained the lead at 17-13, he broke loose for a 65-yard run to the end zone for a 20-17 lead. And he scored OSU’s final touchdown on a 75-yard run with 10:24 left in the game.
“Coach Meyer put an emphasis on it that in games like this on the road big plays are going to spark the team. I knew we needed big plays. The offensive line did a great job blocking and made it easy,” Elliott said. “I think we were overdue for a game like this, the offensive line and me.”
Offensive lineman Pat Elflein said, “It’s a great feeling when he breaks those long runs. It means everybody else is doing their job. Everybody blocks who they’re supposed to block. He’s just a great back and he takes off.”
Elliott’s last score gave Ohio State a 34-20 lead, one of several times it looked like the Buckeyes were going to pull away from the Hoosiers.
But a 79-yard scoring run by back-up quarterback Zander Diamont on the first play after Elliott’s TD brought Indiana back into the game. Diamont was playing because starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld had to leave the game in the second half because of an ankle injury.
Indiana’s final drive began on its own 43-yard line with 3:44 to play. With the help of a facemask penalty against Darron Lee and a holding call against Eli Apple, Indiana had a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line.
But two 1-yard runs, a 5-yard penalty for a false start and an incomplete pass brought it down to the final play. Diamont had to scramble after the snap went over his head and Apple broke up his desperation throw in the end zone.
Ohio State’s mistakes helped make the game closer than it might have been, too. Wide receiver Jalin Marshall lost two fumbles after catches and quarterback Cardale Jones threw an interception.
Jones took every snap in the game. He was 18 of 27 for 245 yards but the passing game was inconsistent, as it has been most of the season.
Turnovers and the passing game were at the top of Meyer’s list of things that need to improve.
“We’re turning the ball over at an alarming rate,” he said. “At some point that is going to bite you. We’ve got to get that fixed. The turnovers have to change right now.
“Zeke is such a good second-level runner. It’s great to see him get to the second level (of the defense). We just have to complement that with the passing game,” Meyer said.
Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said, “We were fortunate to have a chance and were just disappointed that we didn’t make enough plays. In the end of the day, they’re a great team and we’re getting better.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.