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December 8, 2013

What does losing look like?

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INDIANAPOLIS-What does losing look like?

For 24 games, a span of 705 days, ,Ohio State forgot, only to be reminded of the carnage that comes with defeat on the biggest stage the program has played on since its last championship appearance.

Ohio State lost to Michigan State, 34-24, in the Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis Saturday night. Gone is a berth to the national championship, when a win would have secured the program's first spot on the title stage since 2008.

After the play that sealed the win for the opposing side, the team's emotional leader, Christian Bryant, walked off the field by his lonesome. There was still 1:13 on the clock, but the senior safety, who broke his leg mid-season and hasn't played since, didn't want to witness the celebration about to ensue.

As the soon-to-be-victorious squad's offense ran out the clock, Ohio State's players stared blankly. They put white towels over their heads and kneeled on the ground. Around them, fans in the stands, clad in scarlet and gray, covered their faces.

One player attempted to keep the mood up. Kenny Guiton, a captain and the back-up quarterback, who saved Ohio State from a near defeat last fall, walked up and down the sideline. "We all right," he told his teammates, smiling as he always seems to. "Keep your heads up."

The clock went to zero and the confetti rained down. Most of Ohio State's players darted quickly to the tunnel, down the concrete corridor, and into the locker room.

Joey Bosa walked slowly. Tears streamed down his blushed cheeks covered with eye black and sweat. Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel walked next to the freshman, his arm around the defensive end's burly shoulder. "You're going to be OK," Vrabel encouraged.

Braxton Miller strolled with his helmet in his left hand. His eyes glassed as he peered into the crowd before departing under the blue tarp covering the shadowed tunnel.

Bradley Roby was the he last Buckeye to leave the field. He slumped off with his position coach, Kerry Coombs, holding him. The redshirt junior has already said he is leaving Ohio State after this season for the NFL. He will go with no conference championships, no national titles. Roby shook his head as Coombs whispered into his right ear.

When you don't lose a game for nearly two seasons, you forget what the pain feels like. For consecutive regular seasons, Ohio State was invincible, taking care of every team that crossed its path. But Saturday night was the one before the big one, the contest the Buckeyes needed to get to the stage where they could prove they were for real. Michigan State, ranked No. 10, was the best team Ohio State had faced in its streak. A victory would silence some of the doubters, and allow the team to make the true statement it wanted to make: a win in a national championship.

But it didn't happen. Michigan State jumped out to a 17-0 lead before Ohio State could catch its breath. The Buckeyes finally did, scoring 24 unanswered points to take the lead in the third quarter. The Spartans answered with 10 of their own. Trailing, 27-24, with 5:41 left and the ball at Michigan State's 36-yard line, Ohio State went for it on 4th-and-2. Miller sped to the right, but was taken down short of the line to go.

Michigan State scored a touchdown six plays later. Ohio State, in need of a score and a succesful onside kick, failed to convert on 4th-and-10, down 34-24, with 1:03 to go. Michigan State ran the ball twice before taking a knee. Cue the rainbow streaks of paper falling down from the rafters.

What does losing feel like?

"It sucks," senior center Corey Linsley said with a bloody cut in between his eyebrows. "It sucks."

Ohio State's players and coaches will look back on this game and see the poor offensive execution against the nation's best defense and the mistakes on defense that allowed an average offense to score four touchdowns.

"You can't question the coaching or the play calling," said senior running back Carlos Hyde, who rushed 18 times for 118 yards but was used as a lead blocker on the most critical play, a fourth down rush by Miller. "You just have to roll with it."

Ohio State has another game to play, one likely in a BCS game against another top-10 opponent. Urban Meyer told his team in the locker room following the game that they have to face this adversity and push through it.

But before they can move on, they have to grieve.

What does grieving look like?

As Buckeye players and coaches exited the locker room, Meyer sat in a golf cart in a corridor beneath the stadium. With his wife, Shelley, and his son, Nate, seated beside him, the 49-year-old coach ate slices of pepperoni Papa Johns pizza. He stared straight ahead.



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