COLUMBUS — The process might have overshadowed the payoff.
No. 3 Ohio State stayed unbeaten and took control of the race to win the Big Ten East Division with its 42-35 win over No. 9 Indiana on Saturday at an empty Ohio Stadium.
But the way the game looked like it might slip away from the Buckeyes after they built a 28-point lead early in the second half stood out as much as how many tiebreakers had been collected when it was over.
OSU coach Ryan Day saw more positives than negatives, though.
“I’m really excited to be 4-0 coming off a bye week and just looking at what we’ve gone through the last four months. It’s a big, big deal. I couldn’t be prouder of this team and coaches,” he said.
“All that matters is that you win. Indiana is a good team. They’re a Top 10 team. This was not easy.”
Ohio State rolled up 607 yards of total offense. Justin Fields threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns and Master Teague had a career best 169 yards on 26 carries to lead a rushing attack that totaled 307 yards.
But it also allowed Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to complete 27 of 51 passes for 491 yards and five touchdowns. His favorite receiver Ty Fryfogle had 7 catches for 218 yards and three touchdowns.
Ohio State scored 28 unanswered points from the 8:57 mark of the second quarter through the first three minutes of the third quarter to go in front 35-7.
At that point, it looked like the Buckeyes would cruise to their 25th victory in a row over Indiana, dating back to 1988.
But the Hoosiers refused to fade away. And Ohio State hit a lull offensively and defensively, similar to what it did when it built a huge halftime lead against Rutgers and then played a sluggish second half two weeks ago.
Indiana never caught up to Ohio State but it had the football with a chance to tie the game twice in the fourth quarter.
“We have to figure out a way to close out games,” Day said. “We’re definitely not pleased, we’re a long way from pleased. I thought we were going to run away with it and we didn’t. If we don’t give up those big plays we probably run away with this game.”
Ohio State won with Fields playing probably the worst game of his OSU career. His three interceptions matched his total for his first 17 games as a Buckeye.
“I didn’t play well at all. I was really upset,” he said. “Of course I made bad decisions, I had three picks. Just have to go in and watch film tomorrow and try to get better.”
Like his coach, Fields was hot happy with Indiana’s second-half comeback.
“We just have to start finishing teams. We just have to keep our foot on the pedal and finish teams. We just have to have focus the whole game,” he said.
Ohio State scored in only two plays — a 65-yard pass from Fields to Wilson and a 10-yard pass to Wilson — the first time it had the ball to go up 7-0.
The rest of the first quarter was a struggle for the Buckeyes, though.
OSU still led 7-0 at the end of the first quarter but Indiana tied the game at 7-7 in the first minute of the second quarter on a 4-yard pass from Penix to Whop Philyor.
But the momentum swung to Ohio State in a big way after that
The Buckeyes scored the next three times they had the ball on drives of 75 yards, 75 yards and 93 yards.
A 41-yard touchdown run by Teague, who took advantage of a big block by tight end Luke Farrell, gave Ohio State a 14-7 lead with 8:57 in the first half.
After shutting down Indiana on a three-and-out, OSU pushed its lead to 21-7 with 4:32 left in the first half on a 2-yard touchdown run by Teague.
OSU’s defense gave the offense a chance to score again in the first half when Pete Werner stripped the ball from IU receiver Miles Marshall and Baron Browning recovered it at the Buckeyes’ 7-yard line.
Eight plays later, Fields scored on a 9-yard touchdown run for a 28-7 lead.
Fields threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson on OSU’s first possession of the second half but the only touchdown the Buckeyes got the rest of the game came on an interception by Shaun Wade.