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Sunday Morning Quarterback: Evaluating Ohio State’s 17-16 win against Michigan State

Cody Cousino / Multimedia editor

Ohio State outlasted Michigan State on Saturday for a 17-16 victory and its first conference win of the season. Here’s what we learned about the Buckeyes in their slugfest with the Spartans.

The MSU measuring stick

Want a barometer for how far this offense has come in a year? Look no further than the Buckeyes’ loss to the Spartans last season.

To say that OSU’s offense was ineffective in their 2011 conference opener, a 10-7 loss to MSU, would be a gross understatement. It was embarrassingly inadequate.

Those Buckeyes limped to 178 yards of total offense, and only found the end zone in the waning seconds when a Spartan victory was inevitable. Braxton Miller threw for 56 yards while having the worst game of his career as a runner. Things got so bad for the then-freshman quarterback that he was benched in favor of former Buckeyes quarterback Joe Bauserman.

Earlier in the week, coach Urban Meyer said that his sophomore quarterback had come a long way since last year’s match with MSU. Miller backed up Meyer’s words with a statement performance on Saturday.

The Buckeyes’ signal-caller threw for 179 yards and rushed for 136, accounting for more than 82 percent of the team’s total offense.

But it wasn’t just the Buckeye’s biggest star that shined against the Spartans. Junior receiver Corey “Philly” Brown nearly matched his production from all of last season, hauling in a career-best 12 receptions. Sophomore receiver Devin Smith once again showed his big-play ability with a 63-yard touchdown catch that put the Buckeyes ahead for good.

It wasn’t a perfect game for OSU’s offense, though. There are several areas where they need to improve, starting with ball security – Miller threw an interception and fumbled twice. But as a group, they are certainly heading in the right direction.

The defense is flawed, but in the right places

Entering Saturday’s game, the “Silver Bullets” ranked last in the Big Ten conference in total defense. Does OSU really have the league’s worst defense? Probably not. Does the defense have flaws? Absolutely. 

In MSU’s first two games against ranked opponents, Spartans quarterback Andrew Maxwell threw three interceptions and averaged 217 yards per game. The junior played turnover-free football against OSU while throwing for 269 yards. Perhaps the first-year starter is just becoming more comfortable in the pocket as the season progresses, but it’s fairly clear that the Buckeyes don’t have an elite secondary. Fortunately, they really don’t need one.

With all due respect to the likes of Indiana and Purdue, only three teams on the Buckeyes remaining schedule really pose a threat to OSU’s chance at a perfect season – Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan. What else do those three teams have in common? They all employ a run-first mentality.

Just ask MSU how that type of game plan works against the Buckeye’s frontline.

Spartans running back Le’Veon Bell entered the contest averaging 152 yards per game on the ground. The junior saw his impressive average, and perhaps his Heisman chances, plummet at the hands of OSU’s defense, which held Bell to just 45 yards on 17 carries.

Give an extra helmet sticker to…

The Buckeyes’ entire offensive line, which is perhaps the most improved unit on this year’s team. The big boys surrendered just one sack, and dominated the line of scrimmage while Miller and company ran for 204 yards. 

Granted, some credit should go to Miller, who eludes would-be sacks better than just about any other quarterback in the country. But while facing a quality Spartan pass rush, the offensive line proved its merit.

It’s important (and when they’re winning, fairly easy) to enjoy the Buckeyes in Meyer’s debut season. But whether it’s because of this year’s bowl ban, or the fact that Meyer doesn’t yet have the ideal personnel to run his system, it’s also hard not to look ahead.

Of the five starters on OSU’s improved unit, only one is a senior. The future looks bright in Columbus, and as with almost anything in football, it all starts with the offensive line.
 

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