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Monday, October 22, 2012

Ohio State stays unbeaten in dramatic fashion

In his 11 years as a head coach, Urban Meyer has never had a season quite like this one. While he won two national championships at Florida, neither team started 8-0. His last team to do that, Alex Smith-led Utah in 2004, won every game by least 17 points. His 2012 Ohio State team prefers a flair for the dramatic. Saturday in Columbus, Purdue (3-4) broke an 83-yard touchdown pass to Akeem Shavers and an 100-yard kick return by Akeem Hunt in the first quarter. Even worse for the Buckeyes, do-everything quarterback Braxton Miller was taken to the hospital after hitting the turf hard on a third-quarter tackle (he was deemed symptom-free and released Saturday night). But despite the adversity, Ohio State's perfect record remains intact after backup Kenny Guiton, trailing 22-14, drove the Buckeyes 61 yards in 47 seconds, converted the ensuing two-point try and completed a 17-yard pass to set up a go-ahead touchdown in overtime for a 29-22 win. "It's a commitment these kids have made. They refuse to lose," Meyer said by phone Sunday. "They make plays when they have to. We're 8-0 with a chance at 9-0, but we play a very good team [this week]." That team, Penn State (5-2), is, like the Buckeyes, exceeding expectations -- and doing so under similar circumstances. Saturday's game in State College is being referred to as the "Banned Bowl." Both teams are undefeated in conference play and ineligible for the postseason; however, the winner could claim the title of 2012 Big Ten Leaders Division champion. (The conference has decided to recognize the division winner even if it can't play in Indianapolis.) With just one truly convincing win, a 63-38 victory over Nebraska, sandwiched by close calls from inferior foes like Cal (28-21), Michigan State (17-16), Indiana (52-49) and Purdue, Ohio State will likely face its toughest test of the season next weekend. They'll face the conference's hottest quarterback, Penn State's Matt McGloin, the much-improved senior who went 26-of-38 for 289 yards, two touchdowns and no picks in the Nittany Lions' 38-14 road rout of Iowa (4-3) Saturday. This is the same McGloin who threw five interceptions the last time Meyer faced him, in the 2011 Outback Bowl, Meyer's last game at Florida. "He's just playing with so much confidence," said Meyer. "Last night I got home and watched him, it seems like he has control of that offense. I know they had attrition, but they've got really good players on that team." So do the Buckeyes, but as Meyer will attest, "we've got so much work to do there's not enough hours in the day." Even so, they're 8-0, and even the backup quarterback is getting in on the heroics. Asked what it's like to coach a team so alternately frustrating and triumphant, Meyer didn't hesitate: "There's nothing better."

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