Just seconds after Michigan State missed a 39-yard field goal, Ohio State took over possession and wide receiver Michael Thomas was sure of one thing.
He was going to be in the end zone.
“Before the play came I knew I was going to score,” the redshirt-sophomore Thomas said. “I just had to do my job, run my route. I feel like no one can guard me.”
Thomas caught a slant from redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett and took the pass 79 yards to the end zone, tying the game at 21.
The Buckeyes didn’t trail for the remainder of the game.
Just minutes later, Barrett found senior wide receiver Devin Smith for a 44-yard touchdown, giving the Buckeyes a 28-21 halftime score.
Barrett, who had seemed to struggle on deep throws for a portion of the season, said after the game that he is getting more confidence in his deep shots as the season progresses.
“I’m getting more comfortable each and every week,” he said. “We just make sure we’re getting that connection in practice so we can bring it out on gameday.”
Barrett’s performance earned praise from Michigan State’s defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who said he was slightly surprised at how well the redshirt-freshman played.
“That guy made about every pass he could. He hadn’t shown to do that really consistently, but we had a lot of respect for him. He is a great football player,” Narduzzi said after the game. “He played big in a big game. He didn’t throw off the mark at all and those guys were ready to make the catch. That goes to having a guy who throws the ball where it needs to be thrown. He is a heck of a quarterback.”
OSU coach Urban Meyer tied Barrett’s performance in with Smith’s, complimenting both on their breakout games.
“JT, boy, is he playing well. He was 16-of-26, 300 yards throwing and very accurate on the deep balls,” Meyer said. “Also Devin Smith, that’s his best game that we’ve had in the past three years. He’s one of the best, if not the best, deep ball players we’ve ever had. He tracks the ball very well.”
Smith has had a knack for making big plays in scarlet and gray, as the Buckeyes are a perfect 20-0 when he catches a touchdown for OSU. The senior from Massillon, Ohio, finished the game with a season-high 129 yards receiving on six receptions to go along with the touchdown.
Prior to his touchdown catch, Smith made what was arguably the biggest play of the game as he hauled in a 43-yard reception from Barrett up the Spartan sideline with OSU facing a third and 23, trailing, 14-7.
Smith had a similar response to Thomas’ about the third-down pickup.
“No disrespect to their team, but I felt all night they couldn’t hang with us. I told coach that constantly,” Smith said. “I told coach they needed to keep throwing it to us, and we had a good first half throwing the ball.”
With his big game, Smith separated himself from former OSU-great Santonio Holmes on the Buckeyes’ all-time touchdown receptions list. Smith moved into sole possession of third place on the list with his 26th as a member of the Scarlet and Gray.
Smith said following the game that his motivation to play well came from many people picking the Spartans to win, along with Michigan State’s nicknamed secondary.
“Coming into this game, everybody had us losing and it kind of made me a little mad,” Smith said. “Then the whole ‘no fly zone’ stuff and all that. We had one job, and that was to come up here and win.”
The combination of Smith and Thomas accounted for 220 of Barrett’s 300 passing yards, something Thomas said came from preparation and motivation.
“It’s like a tag-team. That’s what we are trained to do,” Thomas said of his play alongside Smith’s. “We lost a lot of respect. And the only way to get back respect in this league, the Big Ten, is to step up and win this game.”
With the win, the Buckeyes sit alone atop the Big Ten East standings, as they are set to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Saturday in Minneapolis. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.