COLUMBUS — After nearly squandering a 28-point lead in the second half, third-ranked Ohio State needed a final stop in the waning seconds of the game to turn away an upset bid by ninth-ranked Indiana on Saturday afternoon in Ohio Stadium.
With the 42-35 survival, the Buckeyes are now in the driver’s seat to a fourth-consecutive Big Ten East Division championship and a spot in the Big Ten Championship game.
Running back Master Teague III led Ohio State with 126 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Quarterback Justin Fields threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns but also tossed three interceptions in the shakiest performance of his career in Columbus.
Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and the Indiana offense shook off a slow first-half start to amass 490 yards of total offense, every last yard of which came through the air and off the hand of Penix. Ty Fryfogle had his way with the Ohio State secondary, hauling in seven catches for 218 yards and three touchdowns.
The game got off to a well enough start for the Buckeyes following a punt on Indiana’s opening possession. Fields connected with Wilson for a 65-yard gain to the Indiana 10-yard line on the first play of the drive, and a play later, it was the duo hooking up again, this time for a 10-yard touchdown throw and catch.
Jake Seibert’s extra point was good, and the Buckeyes owned a quick 7-0 lead over the Hoosiers.
Following a disastrous ensuing drive by the Indiana offense that ended in a three-and-out, Ohio State took over near midfield, looking to add to their early lead.
But the start of a perplexing day for Fields began with the first of several bad decisions on the day. On first down, Indiana safety Jamar Johnson baited Fields into throwing his first interception of the season on a deep pass intended for Garrett Wilson, ending the Buckeyes’ second drive and setting the Hoosiers up in plus territory.
The Ohio State defense would rise to the occasion, however, turning Indiana away on a fourth-down attempt at the Buckeyes’ 36-yard line and giving the ball back to Fields and company.
Both teams traded punts midway through the first quarter before uncharacteristic woes would plague Fields once more. On first down from midfield, a play fake by Fields yielded no open receivers, but the redshirt sophomore attempted to force a throw to Chris Olave. The pass was batted around by several players before Indiana defensive lineman Jerome Johnson came up with the turnover, again sending Fields to the sideline in frustration.
Despite the gifts from Fields, the Indiana offense still was unable to sustain any momentum as Ohio State forced another quick punt from the Hoosiers.
Following a punt of their own from Ohio State, Penix and the Indiana passing attack finally showed some life. On first and 10 from the Hoosiers’ 29-yard line, Penix found receiver Miles Marshall, who had beaten Ohio State defensive back Sevyn Banks badly, for a 68-yard gain down to the Buckeye 3-yard line.
Two plays later, Penix hit Whop Philyor on a 4-yard touchdown pass to draw Indiana even with Ohio State at 7-7 with just over 11 minutes remaining in the second quarter.
In need of an answer as momentum built along the Indiana sideline, Ohio State turned to the running game to settle down the game flow. Teague carried twice for a total of 10 yards to get the Buckeyes out near midfield, and on first and 10 from the Hoosiers’ 41, Teague broke loose around the left end, racing to the end zone and recapturing the lead for the Buckeyes.
Seibert’s extra point made it 14-7, Ohio State, with under nine minutes left to play in the first half.
After the defense forced a stop, Ohio State would finally get some breathing room on the scoreboard. Fields’ 30-yard scramble set the Buckeyes up at the doorstep of the end zone, and Teague finished off the drive with his second rushing touchdown of the day to increase their lead to 21-7 with 4:32 remaining in the half.
A critical sequence in the game would ensue, beginning with Indiana’s next drive. A busted coverage left Hoosiers running back David Ellis wide open down the sideline, and Penix found him for a 51-yard gain down to the Ohio State 13-yard line.
But on the next play, Ellis would be stripped of the ball by Buckeye linebacker Baron Brown following a short completion. Browning would also recover the fumble, shutting down the Hoosiers’ attempt to draw within a score.
Back on offense and looking to blow the game open, Fields engineered a nine-play, 93-yard touchdown drive to put Ohio State by 21 points at 28-7 just seconds before halftime as all was well in Columbus for the scarlet and gray.
Receiving the ball to begin the second half, Ohio State widened its margin in a hurry. Completions of 11 and 39 yards by Fields to Wilson had the Buckeyes out and running, and the duo connected once more for a 9-yard touchdown to increase their lead to 35-7 just three minutes into the second half.
Wilson finished with seven catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns. The performance was his fourth consecutive 100-yard effort this season.
Despite the massive deficit, Indiana would not go away quietly, nor would the Ohio State secondary allow them to do so. The Hoosiers needed just three plays to punch back when Penix found Fryfogle for 63 yards and a touchdown to cut the Buckeye lead to 35-14 with 10:48 remaining in the third quarter.
Yet another bad decision by Fields spelled near disaster for Ohio State on the ensuing drive. On third down, Fields was wrapped up for an apparent sack, but prior to going down, heaved the ball blindly in the direction of receiver Julian Fleming. The pass sailed over Fleming and into the waiting hands of Jamar Johnson for his second interception of the game. Johnson raced towards the end zone, but Fleming, having never given up on the play, ran Johnson down and knocked the ball loose.
Thayer Munford recovered the fumble for Ohio State, thwarting another potential haymaker from Indiana and giving possession back to the Buckeyes.
Fryfogle’s second touchdown catch from Penix late in the third quarter would draw the Hoosiers within 14 points at 35-21 as things continued to get tight for head coach Ryan Day and the Buckeyes in the second half.
A pick-six by Ohio State’s Shaun Wade temporarily stemmed the rising Indiana tide, but it was short-lived as Penix bounced back with his fourth touchdown pass of the day, this time to Ellis from 16 yards out. With 12 minutes remaining in the game, Indiana trailed Ohio State by just 14 points at 42-28.
Following another Ohio State punt, it was Penix and Fryfogle connecting once more. On the first play of the drive, the duo hooked up for a 56-yard scoring strike down the Ohio State sideline. In stunning fashion, Indiana was within a touchdown at 42-35 as the game grew late into the fourth quarter.
Fields and Ohio State appeared poised to finally put the game away on the next drive. Fields’ 26-yard pass to Wilson had the Buckeyes in business at the Indiana 16-yard line as the clock ticked under six minutes. The drive would stall, however, and on fourth and a yard from the 6-yard line, Day elected to forego the field goal attempt. Fields scrambled before eventually finding a wide open tight end in Luke Farrell for a first down, but the pass was just high, evading Farrell’s hands and turning the ball over on downs.
With their collective backs against the wall, the Ohio State defense produced a crucial stop of the next drive. Pete Werner’s sack of Penix on third down forced an Indiana punt with just over three minutes remaining in the game.
Indiana would get one more opportunity to tie up the game with 40 seconds remaining and no timeouts, but a last-ditch effort was turned away as Ohio State survived the near-collapse and remained undefeated on the season.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.