BLOOMINGTON – Indiana coach Kevin Wilson stuck to the plan Saturday.
When top rusher Jordan Howard went down with a left ankle injury in the first half, he went with Devine Redding. When quarterback Nate Sudfeld lobbied to return after leaving the game with an injured left ankle in the third quarter, Wilson stayed with Zander Diamont.
It almost worked against No. 1 Ohio State.
Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 274 yards and scored on second-half touchdown runs of 55, 65 and 75 yards, and Eli Apple batted away a pass in the end zone as time expired to preserve the Buckeyes’ 18-game winning streak with a 34-27 victory in Bloomington.
"At halftime, I said ‘Even though we talked about how you thought you could play, now you know you can,’ " Wilson said.
Howard, who rushed for 140 yards in each of the first four games, managed only 34 yards on 14 carries. Sudfeld, who methodically led Indiana to a 10-6 halftime lead, was 10 of 21 for 134 yards before Diamont took over.
But Redding and Diamont scored Indiana’s final two TDs and got the Hoosiers in position for overtime before the Buckeyes’ final stand.
"That’s a really good football team, very good, they’re the No. 1 team in the country, they’ve won a boatload of games in a row and they’re good," Wilson said.
The question is whether they should still be No. 1.
Ohio State (5-0, 1-0) fumbled four times and lost two. Cardale Jones threw away a scoring chance when he was picked off inside the Hoosiers’ 15-yard line.
The Buckeyes had eight major penalties, the offense couldn’t score touchdowns in the red zone and their normally stout defense couldn’t put it away.
Elliott changed everything.
His first two scoring runs erased Indiana leads and his third gave the Buckeyes a seemingly safe 34-20 lead early in the fourth quarter. Then, on the first play after the kickoff, Diamont ran 79 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 34-27 with 10:03 left.
The Buckeyes extended their Big Ten regular-season winning streak to 25, barely, and will now wait to see if they remain at No. 1 in The Associated Press poll.
"Coach (Urban) Meyer made an emphasis that big plays are going to spark the team, and I knew we needed big plays," Elliott said after his 10th straight 100-yard game. "The O-line did a great job blocking and they made it easy for me."
It was a game full of surprises.
Indiana gambled twice on fourth down in the first half – including a fake punt from its 16-yard line that failed.
Elliott turned the game with the 65-yard run on fourth-and-1 in the third quarter.
The teams combined for four scoring runs – three from Elliott – that went for more than 50 yards during a 13-minute stretch in the second half.
"Look across the country and every day you better play," The Buckeyes coach said. "You better play."
Ohio State also lost receiver Corey Smith, who was carted off the field with what appeared to be a lower right leg injury.
The Hoosiers (4-1, 0-1), who have not beaten the Buckeyes since 1988, made life miserable despite losing the nation’s top rusher, Howard, in the first half, and Sudfeld, in the third quarter. Both had left ankle injuries.
Howard tried to return but couldn’t cut on the leg. Sudfeld lobbied to return late but Wilson wouldn’t let him.
"I just didn’t feel he (Sudfeld) was as mobile and we were in a one-possession game, and I felt like we could work it," Wilson said. "We go down first-and-goal and give ourselves a chance, so I mean we played it right."
So did Elliott.
He wiped out a 10-6 halftime deficit with the 55-yard run, a 17-13 deficit with the 65-yard run and appeared to have sealed it when his 75-yarder made it 34-20.
With the score 34-27, Diamont drove the Hoosiers to the Ohio State 6 in the final minute before Apple batted away the pass as time expired after the snap was fumbled.
Diamont led Indiana with 98 yards on seven carries.