IOWA CITY, Iowa — There are times when a play turns a game irreversibly, and with 3:12 left in the first half of No. 6 Ohio State’s 55-24 loss to unranked Iowa on Saturday, such a play occurred.

The score was tied at 17, the Buckeyes had fought to regain control after falling behind. On third-and-8 from OSU's 40-yard line, the defensive front — the one that had taken over late in a 39-38 come-from-behind win over Penn State the week before — had forced a bad pass from Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley.

Except there was a flag.

Defensive end Nick Bosa was called for targeting. After a replay review confirmed that his helmet hit Stanley’s, Bosa was ejected.

“It was a big impact,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.

Stanley said: “I didn’t really notice it at all. I thought it was another football play. The refs have a tough job, it happens so quick.”

But look what followed. On the next play, Stanley flipped a 25-yard touchdown pass to Noah Fant to retake the lead 24-17, and the game went downhill from there for the Buckeyes. Iowa had a 48-17 lead before the Buckeyes offense counterpunched.

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An Ohio State defense that had been one of the elite in the Big Ten going in was riddled by Stanley passing for 226 yards and five touchdowns, which helped widen lanes for 243 yards rushing, led by Akrum Wadley’s 118.

Defensive end and co-captain Tyquan Lewis was among those trying to deal with the suddenly explosive and balanced Iowa defense. But the Buckeyes had few answers after Bosa’s ejection.

“It kind of affected the game,” Lewis said of the play. “But then again, you have the whole mantra of competitive excellence: Somebody goes out, somebody goes down, next man up when your number is called.”

But the cavalry never came. With Wadley becoming more and more of a factor, play-action fakes and rollout passes became more and more effective as receivers often ran free.

Since no linebackers or defensive backs were made available for interviews after the game, Lewis, as a member of the defensive line, took on the weight. It could have been different, he reasoned, if the rushers had gotten to Stanley a little more — like on the Bosa play, but without the penalty.

“Getting the pass rush home, getting sacks, that’s the main goal,” Lewis said.

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports