Ohio State Buckeyes: Corey 'Philly' Brown

With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

Smith
Tony Tribble/US PresswireDevin Smith returns for his junior year as Ohio State's big-play wide receiver.
WIDE RECEIVERS

  • Who's back: A valuable, versatile piece of the offense is gone, and Jake Stoneburner's size and ability to line up all over the formation will be missed. But the hybrid receiver-tight end didn't exactly produce as often as the Buckeyes were anticipating in his lone season in Urban Meyer's offense, and the two guys who truly carried the load in the passing game are both coming back and poised to take another step forward after upping their production last fall. Corey "Philly" Brown showed marked improvement from the beginning of the year to the end, and Devin Smith put his chemistry with Braxton Miller and knack for clutch receptions on display much more often as a sophomore. Behind those starters, Evan Spencer and rising sophomore Michael Thomas started gaining more trust from the coaches at the end of the perfect season and could start pushing for more work in the spring.
  • New face: The cavalry is coming, but it hasn't arrived yet. The Buckeyes made speedy weapons at the skill positions a top priority on the recruiting trail, and the haul they landed could easily impact the spread offense right away with hype building already for Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson, James Clark and Corey Smith. But none of those guys will be on the field during spring workouts, leaving critical practice reps for the returning veterans.
  • Projected spring depth chart: Brown's role could shift a bit to feature more work in the slot, a role that running back Jordan Hall or reserve Chris Fields could potentially play as well, as the Buckeyes tinker with matchups and formations. Spencer could then move into a starting role at the 'Z' spot where Brown was listed a year ago, with Smith backed up again by Thomas at the other spot.
  • Numbers game: The approach was about as different as could be, but in terms of yardage, Smith and Brown wound up essentially in the same place. Brown vastly improved his number of receptions as a junior, going from 14 to 60 and claiming the team lead by doubling Smith's total. But Smith's ability to streak behind defensive backs and track down the ball produced almost as twice as much yardage per catch as Brown averaged -- with the two combining in the end for 90 catches, 1,287 yards and 9 touchdowns.
  • One to watch: Early enrollment gave Thomas a jump on learning the system and a stage to showcase his skills in the spring game a year ago, with the latter in particular taking the buzz about his potential to another level after wowing the crowd at Ohio Stadium with 12 receptions for 131 yards. That performance perhaps put some unfair expectations on a true freshman, and he wasn't ready to meet them in his first campaign while finishing with 3 catches for 22 yards. But those extra workouts a year ago and another full slate of offseason conditioning could start paying some dividends heading into his sophomore season, and setting the table with productive workouts in March and April will be critical with more competition for playing time on the way.
  • He said it: "I think we were built a little differently. But to say we never had talent, I never said that. We maybe didn't have the home-run hitter [with] explosiveness, open-space players on offense, but you know what, some guys really grew up and did a good job for us. 'Philly' Brown did a nice job, but we don't have enough. When you're running an offense where you want three or four split guys all the time and you only have one or two, that's not enough. I think we're starting to get a little bit of that built up." -- Meyer on signing day

Triple threats: Devin Smith

January, 30, 2013
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Everybody is chasing the elite recruits, and championships aren't usually won unless there's a pretty impressive constellation of four- and five-star athletes on a roster.

But those guys also aren't typically solely responsible for taking a program to the next level, and it can often come down to which coaching staffs properly identify and develop the players without as much buzz coming out of high school -- or the ones intent on proving those doubts wrong at the next level.

BuckeyeNation is looking at five of those players on the Ohio State roster who will be key to making a title run, all of them capable of outplaying that three-star label.

Devin Smith
Greg Bartram/US PresswireWide receiver Devin Smith was a three-star recruit who is playing at a higher level.
No. 3: Devin Smith

  • Who: What he might have lacked in terms of consistency as a sophomore, Smith definitely made up for with his explosiveness and some timely production when Ohio State needed it most. The speedy, bouncy wide receiver put several more plays on a highlight reel that is swelling, starting with his jaw-dropping, one-handed snatch out of the air in the season opener and continuing with a couple more game-winning grabs from Braxton Miller that built on the early success the pair had as freshmen. Smith still might not be a finished product, but he's the best deep threat on the roster and has tremendous upside thanks to his natural athleticism.
  • Then: There was plenty to like as Smith prepared to make the jump from Washington High School in Massillon, Ohio, as his physical tools have always been pretty tough to miss. There were even hints in his scouting report back then about his "sneaky second gear" that allowed him to pull away from defenders on balls thrown deep down the field, and to this point that's effectively become his calling card thanks to great timing and chemistry with Miller when the Buckeyes attack vertically in the passing game. He definitely hasn't disappointed Ohio State so far as he continues to build on the experience from his first two seasons, and it's clear there's more potential waiting for him to tap.
  • They said it: "Smith is a prospect that really grows on you the more you watch him and you begin to realize that he is a hybrid possession/big-play receiver that is deceptively fast and possesses very good measurables. ... Smith is still a bit green as a short and intermediate route-runner, but when he catches the ball he shows deceptive quickness and top-end speed. We are not saying he is a burner, but he does play fast for his size. Smith is a quality prospect with size and redeeming qualities as a pass catcher." -- RecruitingNation in 2011
  • Now: Smith doesn't exactly have to be the No. 1 target and pile up receptions for the offense to keep lighting up the scoreboard the way it did a year ago, particularly with the majority of pieces from a relentless rushing attack returning and senior Corey "Philly" Brown back after leading the team in receptions. But there's little doubt that if Smith can make an already high-powered attack more dangerous if he takes another step forward heading into next season. At the top of the list of things to work on as he made the adjustment to the next level was developing his route-running skills on short and intermediate routes, and just as when he signed with the program, that figures to be the area where he can make the biggest strides and become a truly dangerous threat in the spread offense.
The work for the 2013 season is already underway for Ohio State with the strength program in full swing, but the first moves that started shaping the potential encore effort from a perfect campaign began almost two months ago. BuckeyeNation is counting down the five biggest early developments for the team since last season ended and how they will impact the Buckeyes moving forward.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesOhio State running back Carlos Hyde will have a bigger leadership role in 2013.
No. 5: Carlos Hyde returns for his senior season

  • Development: When the opportunity to establish himself as the workhorse back presented itself, Hyde certainly made the most of it in his junior season. After breaking out in a major way for the Buckeyes and piling up touchdowns seemingly all season long, Hyde at least entertained the idea of capitalizing on his productive campaign and making an early jump to the NFL. But ultimately the starting tailback elected to stay, giving him the chance to both compete for a championship and boost his professional stock even more. The benefits, obviously, are mutual.
  • What it means: The Buckeyes would have still had talented options to turn to in the backfield without Hyde next season, particularly with Jordan Hall coming back from injuries that forced him into an unplanned redshirt year and with Rod Smith showing glimpses of the ability that made him such a coveted prospect when he signed in 2010. But Hyde's mix of power running between the tackles and undervalued top-end speed made for a perfect combination with quarterback Braxton Miller's athleticism on the perimeter, giving Ohio State a deadly inside-outside threat that defenses struggled to defend. Now instead of replacing half of the equation, the Buckeyes can simply add more weapons around them to make the rushing attack even more challenging to slow down.
  • Numbers game: Few teams were more successful in the red zone last season than the Buckeyes, and it was Hyde's knack for finding the end zone any time the offense was close that paced an attack that converted 76 percent of its possessions inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns. The longest of Hyde's touchdown runs went for 16 yards, which means the other 15 scores all came with Ohio State on the move and inside the red zone as well.
  • He said it: "Huge [leadership] void. Jordan Hall returning is a tremendous boost, because he was elected captain last year. Looking for [defensive backs] C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant to step up. And then guys that I have already had conversation with that have not been in that situation but now they are, that’s [Corey] 'Philly' Brown and Carlos Hyde." -- Ohio State coach Urban Meyer on identifying veteran leaders, including the returning Hyde.
Corey BrownRob Leifheit/US PresswireCorey "Philly" Brown could take aim at the Ohio State receptions record set by David Boston in 1998.

Ohio State hardly needs motivation thanks to the chip on its shoulder already firmly in place after sitting out the postseason with a perfect record. But just in case any players required any extra fuel heading into workouts or wanted a little help putting together some goals, BuckeyeNation is here to lend a hand with some records that could be in reach with another productive offseason.

PASS RECEPTIONS

  • Who owns it: Like most marks for wide receivers, it's a safe bet to throw out the name of David Boston -- and his 1998 season easily stands out as one of the most impressive statistical campaigns Ohio State has had at any position. His 85 catches that year are 12 more than any other target has ever snagged with the Buckeyes, and the next-closest total belongs to Boston as well. However, with a 12-game season and potentially two chances in the postseason to track him down, that record could be vulnerable down the road as Ohio State continues to expand its spread offense under Urban Meyer.
  • Who wants it: Corey "Philly" Brown endured his share of jokes about failing to make tacklers miss early in the season and was obviously a part of a group that took more serious criticism before that from the coaching staff during spring practice and the offseason after struggling to make any impact in 2011. But the rising senior steadily became the kind of playmaker Meyer could trust on the perimeter and started piling up catches in big games, with his 12-reception outing against Michigan State providing strong hints of what Brown could offer after another year to develop.
  • Relevant number: Boston's impressive 7.1 receptions per game might wind up being safe, though Brown could potentially give that mark a run for its money as well, depending on how the run-to-pass ratio is tweaked in Meyer's second season with the program. Brown finished up at an even five catches per contest after finishing the season with eight catches in the win over Michigan, and his total of 60 was the sixth-highest in school history. With two more opportunities potentially at his disposal than Boston had in his record-setting season, Brown would need to average about six receptions per game to claim the top spot in the record books -- a figure he hit or exceeded five times as a junior.
  • Offseason checklist: The Buckeyes were rarely shy about getting Brown involved in the offense, establishing right from the opener that he would be a featured weapon by throwing to him seven times in the win over Miami (Ohio). But as the staff gained confidence in his ability to break tackles and tack on extra yardage in the open field, it seemed to expand the package of plays designed to get him the football with everything from quick-hitting throws on the perimeter to touch passes as he came in motion through the formation. Typically the Buckeyes got him the ball near the line of scrimmage, though, and if he and Miller can develop their chemistry even more during the offseason and Brown takes another step forward as a route-runner, his reliable hands should see even more use.
  • Attainable goal: The variety of ways the Buckeyes can get Brown involved puts the record in reach for him, though the number of weapons returning on offense could possibly be a factor in keeping his numbers in check even if he returns as a much more dangerous option next fall. Devin Smith should be a more consistent factor at the other receiver spot, Michael Thomas and Evan Spencer figure to play more prominent roles -- and then there's the running game to consider with Carlos Hyde teaming up with Miller again in the backfield. But it wouldn't take too dramatic of a jump in production for Brown to challenge one of Boston's top records, and he should be prepared for it after seeing what the spread offense can do for him during Ohio State's perfect debut season with it.

Next up: Replacing Jake Stoneburner

December, 31, 2012
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Heading into the new year and offseason workouts, BuckeyeNation will look at some holes left by the departing Ohio State veterans and potential candidates to fill them.

WIDE RECEIVER
[+] EnlargeOhio State's Jake Stoneburner
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJake Stoneburner picked up 27 percent of his yardage on this 72-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter at Penn State.

  • Who: The transformation into the ultimate mismatch didn't quite materialize after Jake Stoneburner moved from tight end to wide receiver, and he wasn't able to equal his dynamic red-zone production from his junior season during his senior campaign with Ohio State. But while Stoneburner went through some rough patches and perhaps didn't give the Buckeyes everything they might have hoped for after moving him around the formation, he was still dangerous at times as a target with 16 catches and four touchdowns and leaves a 6-foot-5 hole to fill on the perimeter. And even when his own statistics weren't all that impressive, Stoneburner still found ways to make an impact by throwing around his 245-pound frame and improving as a run-blocker to help the Buckeyes explode on the ground.
  • By the numbers: Not exactly known for his speed, Stoneburner still tied for the longest reception of the season after darting down the middle of the field for a 72-yard touchdown that effectively sealed a road victory at Penn State in October. That huge strike offered a reminder of the big-play ability Stoneburner brought to the position, which prompted the move in the first place. It was maybe also somewhat bittersweet for the Buckeyes, who might have liked to see it more often -- that dash against the Nittany Lions represented 27 percent of his yardage for the season.
  • Job description: The Buckeyes need somebody capable of stressing coverage in the middle of the field, keeping defenses honest against both the threat of the run and allowing Devin Smith and Corey "Philly" Brown room to operate on the outside. Ohio State had few problems putting up points and obviously finished with a perfect record, but the offense could potentially become even more prolific if it can tap into some space across the middle of the field with a big, fearless target who can offer a reliable set of hands for quarterback Braxton Miller and the ability after that to do something extra with the football in his grasp.
  • Top candidates: Given his responsibilities previously when exclusively at tight end or the diverse package of duties he had as a senior, it might take a combination of guys to fill Stoneburner's void. At tight end, the Buckeyes already know what they have in Nick Vannett and Jeff Heuerman and have plenty to feel good about there. Chris Fields flashed in a limited role as Stoneburner's official backup at the "H" wide receiver, but Michael Thomas could be an option to watch after breaking into the rotation more regularly at the end of his freshman season. The rising sophomore has a good relationship with Miller and the kind of size at 6-foot-2 that combines with impressive athleticism to make for a difficult defensive assignment, which gives him a shot at becoming the No. 3 option statistically.
  • One to watch: Evan Spencer won't exactly be emerging from nowhere after finishing fourth on the team with 12 catches during the perfect season, particularly after finishing strong down the stretch with the majority of his production coming in the final five games. That late burst offered a glimpse at the kind of weapon Spencer could be in the passing game, and while he obviously doesn't have the same body type as Stoneburner, he should still be able at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds to chip in some blocks for the run game and win his share of matchups after another offseason to build his game.

WR Verlon Reed leaves the Buckeyes

December, 17, 2012
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The search for more playmakers at wide receiver is ongoing, but it won't include Verlon Reed when Ohio State gets back on the field during spring practice.

After playing sparingly on offense as a redshirt sophomore last season, Reed and the Buckeyes mutually agreed to part ways over the weekend, a school spokesman confirmed on Monday morning.

Reed had a 13-yard reception in the opening win over Miami (Ohio) in September, but he didn't make another for the rest of the season and couldn't sneak into a rotation that was looking for more contributors to consistently complement Corey Brown and Devin Smith in the passing attack. A talented two-way player out of nearby Marion-Franklin High School, Reed appeared in eight games for the undefeated Buckeyes and also contributed a tackle on special teams.

Reed wasn't listed on the final depth chart of the season ahead of the rivalry game against Michigan, leaving the position battles heading into spring essentially the same as they already were. The Buckeyes are only replacing one receiver on the two-deep, departing senior Jake Stoneburner.

Perfect moments: No. 1

December, 14, 2012
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BuckeyeNation counts down the five biggest moments on the march to perfection for Ohio State, from the biggest games and plays to the locker room speeches and celebrations -- finishing today with the last step in the journey.

No. 1: Simply perfect

Ohio State had other celebrations -- there was a memorable dance party in the corner of Spartan Stadium in September, and the atmosphere was pretty raucous at home after dismantling Nebraska.

The Buckeyes had a couple of wins that would have delivered more style points. Pulling away from Penn State on the road in the second half or grinding past Wisconsin in overtime in front of a hostile crowd might have impressed poll voters more, perhaps.

But there is no bigger event on the calendar for the Buckeyes than the annual meeting with Michigan, and the combination of circumstances swirling around the latest chapter in the storied rivalry made the last week of the regular season even bigger.

There would be no postseason appearance for Ohio State. It was Urban Meyer's first game leading the Buckeyes against the Wolverines. The senior class was being honored. And, obviously, a perfect season was on the line.

So when the final touches were put on a 26-21 win Nov. 24, no victory meant more to the Buckeyes -- and no on-field celebration was larger than the one that included throngs of students joining the team for one last fling before Ohio Stadium closed up shop for the offseason.

Meyer was doused with Gatorade, then passed around hugs to seemingly everybody he could get his arms around. Players giddily posed for pictures with fellow students. Braxton Miller and Devin Smith picked up some drumsticks and played along with the band, pounding out the rhythm for "Buckeye Swag" as the crowd swelled and swayed around them.

There might have been nothing but a couple of field goals during the second half as the offense went through one of its roughest patches of the season, but with the defense pitching a shutout after intermission and Carlos Hyde and Philly Brown contributing early touchdowns in the first half, the Buckeyes did just enough to keep an unblemished record intact.

And, based on the reaction when it was over, nobody seemed the slightest bit worried about impressing voters or the postseason ban. Perfection was all that mattered, and it was officially in the books.

Perfect Moments: No. 5 

December, 10, 2012
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BuckeyeNation counts down the five biggest moments on the march to perfection for Ohio State, from the biggest games and plays to the locker room speeches and celebrations -- starting today with a meeting before the first road test of the season.

No. 5: Ballroom chat sparks win over Sparty

Nearly two months later, Urban Meyer remembers not only the exact day but the precise minute when everything seemed to change.

Year in review: Ups, downs for specialists 

December, 7, 2012
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A position-by-position look at a perfect season for Ohio State, wrapping up today by rewinding to look at the kicking game and a group of special-teams contributors that were stretched by injury during a roller coaster campaign.

SPECIAL TEAMS
[+] EnlargeCorey Brown
Jim Rinaldi/Icon SMIReceiver Corey "Philly" Brown became the playmaker that Urban Meyer was looking for on special teams.

  • Most valuable player: Roles on special teams just aren't handed out under Urban Meyer, though that doesn't change the fact they're valuable proving grounds for players looking to make an impression, as the Ohio State coach is so heavily involved with the kicking game. It also doesn't just apply to younger players, since it was junior Corey "Philly" Brown's explosive contributions on punt return that seemingly helped his role on offense expand as the season progressed and the Buckeyes gained even more confidence in his ability to make something happen with the football in his hands. Meyer had been somewhat critical of Brown's ability to make defenders miss early in the season, but his 76-yard punt return against Nebraska helped seal a blowout victory and signaled that the wide receiver was turning a corner as a playmaker.

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Year in review: Steady progress for WRs 

November, 29, 2012
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A position-by-position look at a perfect season for Ohio State, continuing today by rewinding to look at the improvements made by the targets in the passing game and a few memorable entries on the highlight reel.

[+] EnlargeCorey Brown
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteCorey "Philly" Brown was explosive on offense and led the Buckeyes with 60 catches for 669 yards.
WIDE RECEIVERS

  • Most valuable player: The production was steady from start to finish, even if Corey "Philly" Brown could have perhaps provided more yardage with all of his catches in the early stages of the season and saved himself from some good-natured jokes from coach Urban Meyer about making a tackler miss. The junior had the last laugh down the stretch, extending receptions by juking defenders and using his speed to pull away for longer gains than he was contributing during the first month of the season. He was at his best on special teams, though, busting loose for a pair of important punt returns for touchdowns that complemented his team-high 60 grabs on offense.

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Awards watch: Bucks named All-Big Ten

November, 26, 2012
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There's more hardware to give out, but Ohio State has already landed a decent haul of trophies from the Big Ten.

The Buckeyes might also have a few snubs to complain about as well.

[+] EnlargeJohn Simon
Greg Bartram/US PresswireJohn Simon was named the Big Ten's best defensive lineman.
The offensive and defensive player of the year honors and the coach of the year trophy will be handed out on Tuesday, but the all-conference teams and position-specific awards were announced Monday by the Big Ten.

The only unbeaten team in the league had plenty of players earn recognition, though there were a few selections that were a bit puzzling. Did the coaches and the media get it right?

Here's a quick rundown:

Coaches' first-team picks
Coaches' second-team picks
Coaches honorable mention: Cornerback Travis Howard, center Corey Linsley, left tackle Jack Mewhort, left guard Andrew Norwell, safety C.J. Barnett

Media first-team picks

  • Quarterback Braxton Miller
  • Left guard Andrew Norwell
  • Defensive end John Simon
  • Linebacker Ryan Shazier
  • Cornerback Travis Howard
  • Cornerback Bradley Roby
Media second-team picks

  • Running back Carlos Hyde
  • Left tackle Jack Mewhort
  • Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins
Media honorable mention: Right tackle Reid Fragel, safety Christian Bryant, safety C.J. Barnett, wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown, linebacker Etienne Sabino, center Corey Linsley

Ohio State 10: Week 12 power rankings 

November, 26, 2012
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There was only one more shot to impress the voters in The Associated Press poll.

Ohio State also had only one final game to make a move in the weekly power ratings.

No surprise, the top spots stayed the same as the Buckeyes polished off their perfect season, getting big-time passing plays from Braxton Miller, another impressive outing from Ryan Shazier and more hard running from Carlos Hyde.

But the defensive effort in the second half as Ohio State shut down rival Michigan in a 26-21 decision on Saturday at Ohio Stadium allowed for some tinkering after that, and for now, the latest edition of the Ohio State 10 will have to stand for a while.

No. 1: QB Braxton Miller

  • Last week: No. 1

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Four downs: Keys to The Game 

November, 23, 2012
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Ohio StadiumKirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireOhio Stadium will be the venue for this weekend's game.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Critical areas for the Buckeyes as they welcome Michigan looking to close out a perfect season at home with a win over their hated rival. The game will be televised live on ABC at noon ET Saturday from Ohio Stadium.

FIRST DOWN
Keep it in check: A perfect season, a rivalry, the last game for the seniors and a chance to send a message to poll voters are all out there looming as potential distractions. And if Ohio State gets too wrapped up in any of them, everything could slip away from them.

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Ohio State 10: Week 11 power rankings 

November, 19, 2012
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Maybe Ryan Shazier is running out of time to take over the top spot in the power rankings.

But the Ohio State sophomore is building a pretty strong case as the best defensive player in the Big Ten -- and he's also starting to give Braxton Miller a run for his money.

Shazier delivered another highlight-reel play that won't be forgotten by the Buckeyes for a long time, even if it ultimately didn't end up going down as a game-winner after he punched the ball loose from Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball at the goal line in the fourth quarter of the 21-14 overtime win on Saturday. And while that resume still leaves him a spot behind Miller in the latest edition of the Ohio State 10, he might be No. 1 in a different poll soon if he keeps up his torrid pace for one more week.

No. 1: QB Braxton Miller

  • Last week: No. 1
  • Against Wisconsin: The sophomore clearly didn’t have his best stuff and was effectively bottled up by the Badgers' sound game plan, but that doesn’t diminish his value for the Buckeyes through the season. And what Miller might have lacked on the stats sheet over the weekend, he more than made up for by keeping his record as the starting quarterback perfect this season.

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3 Up, 3 Down: Ohio State 21, Wisconsin 14 

November, 18, 2012
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A few things Ohio State will feel good about and some issues it will need to correct after moving one game closer to a perfect season with a 21-14 win in overtime at Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon:

THREE UP

1. Survive and advance: Perfection never comes easily, and it typically requires a game or two where some magic is needed to keep that record from getting a blemish. The offense struggled the defense had some troubles at times against the rush, and after Wisconsin came up with its own clutch play in regulation, it wasn't a stretch to think the streak was finally going to end for the Buckeyes. But as Ohio State has done every time it's been pushed, it dug deep and did what it had to do to escape once again. The flair for the dramatic doesn't produce a lot of style points, but it's led to nothing but victories so far.

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