BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- If the infamous and nebulous term “game control” is important to the College Football Playoff selection committee, then No. 1 Ohio State did not have a good Saturday. But it could have been a whole lot worse.
Indiana had the ball inside the Buckeyes’ 10-yard line in the final minute with a chance to tie the game and potentially pull off a monumental upset with a two-point conversion. But the Ohio State defense held up as Zander Diamont's desperation pass on the game’s final play fell incomplete. Ohio State held on to win 34-27 as scarlet and gray fans everywhere held their breaths.
Luckily for the Buckeyes, they had that defensive stand and Ezekiel Elliott to bail them out.
Elliott set a new career high with 274 yards on 23 carries, including touchdown runs of 55, 65 and 75 yards in the second half. Without him, the Buckeyes would have been in serious straits, even though Indiana played almost the entire second half without its starting quarterback and the Big Ten’s leading rusher.
The Hoosiers turned in an admirable effort against the defending champs, who are still searching for a way to get into high gear. Things almost completely went off the rails Saturday.
What the win means for Ohio State: The Buckeyes are 5-0. In the big picture, that’s all that really matters. Of course, this was another week in which they hardly looked like the No. 1 team in the nation, and many of the mind-boggling problems on offense continued, even against what has traditionally been one of the Big Ten’s most forgiving defenses. Ohio State did not score a touchdown in the first half and needed Elliott to bail it out time and again. Urban Meyer and his staff still have to figure out how to get this talented but enigmatic attack going. The good news is that with the next three games against Maryland, Penn State and Rutgers, Ohio State should be able to tinker the rest of October without much threat of losing.
What the loss means for Indiana: The team’s first 4-0 start since 1990 energized an often apathetic fan base, and this performance shouldn’t dampen that enthusiasm too much. Indiana is still in good shape to make its first bowl game since 2007, especially if it can build on Saturday’s defensive effort. The biggest concern going forward is the availability of Jordan Howard and Nate Sudfeld. Howard, who came into the day with the most rushing yards in the FBS, injured his ankle in the first quarter and barely played after that. He finished with just 34 yards on 14 carries. Sudfeld, the team’s starting quarterback, left the game in the third quarter after taking a couple big hits from Joey Bosa. The Hoosiers, who fell to 0-16 all time against top-ranked teams, will need both to get healthy -- and quickly.
Player of the game: Elliott. Indiana did a great job bottling him up in the first half, when Elliott managed just 31 yards on 10 carries. But the junior running back looked like the player who dominated the postseason last year in the second half, thanks in large part to better blocking up front. Ohio State still trailed late in the third quarter, when it faced fourth-and-1 from its own 35. Elliott burst through the left side for a touchdown. He has been hanging around the Heisman Trophy race, and Saturday’s showing should keep him in the conversation.
Stat of the game: This is what will have Meyer tearing his hair out: Ohio State had three turnovers, compared to none by the Hoosiers. Those miscues helped offset a 517-yard performance by the offense, and Meyer knows his skill players are still being too loose with the ball -- a problem that could come back to haunt this team later on.