Playing as the underdogs in search of its first win against a top-10 team since Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus in 2012, Ohio State topped then-No. 7 Michigan State, 49-37, on the road.
The win was marked a statement game for the Buckeyes, and a potential turning point when it comes to their standing in the national landscape. After the victory, The Lantern sports editors picked five of the most important takeaways as OSU turns its attention to Minnesota next weekend.
1. OSU was the better team at Spartan Stadium
Even when the Spartans held a 21-14 lead in the first half, the Buckeyes were playing the better game overall. If not for a plethora of early miscues and fumbles, OSU’s halftime advantage could have easily been better than its 28-21 lead.
But then again, because of those miscues, OSU could have easily been in a big hole instead of being ahead.
Regardless of the final numbers — which ended up being similar for both teams — the Buckeyes simply outplayed Michigan State. They only punted twice — once late in the fourth quarter — and could have easily eclipsed the 50-point mark if not for a missed field goal on the game’s opening drive.
OSU might have been the underdog on paper, but it would be hard to pick against the Buckeyes if the two teams had to play again.
2. Redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett proved himself
Barrett has been putting up ridiculous numbers all season — except in the biggest moments.
His two worst performances of the year came during a loss to Virginia Tech in which he threw three interceptions and a near-loss to Penn State when he had less than 80 yards through the air. Numbers aside, the knock on him has been that he didn’t step up when it mattered most.
On Saturday, Barrett did more than step up, as he threw for 300 yards and ran for another 86 while accounting for five of OSU’s seven total touchdowns.
His third-and-23 over-the-shoulder pass to senior wide receiver Devin Smith was easily the best toss of his young collegiate career, and one of the best throws in recent OSU memory. He also managed to hit Smith for a 44-yard touchdown and found redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Michael Thomas on a 79-yard catch-and-run for another score.
Barrett capped his big day with a seven-yard touchdown pass to sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson in the fourth quarter on third down with another throw that could be considered NFL caliber.
If injured senior quarterback Braxton Miller returns next season, coach Urban Meyer will have a very difficult decision on his hands come fall camp.
3. The Buckeyes’ defense has flaws, but stepped up when it mattered
OSU gave up 536 total yards to the Spartans — including 137 rushing yards to redshirt-senior running back Jeremy Langford — but overall, it played well on defense.
You can look at the final numbers and say they’re bad, but the Buckeyes stepped up at key moments, perhaps none more than after a Wilson fumble on a second-quarter kickoff.
The fumble gave the Spartans the ball in the red zone, and not only did OSU make a defensive stand and force a field goal, but Michigan State missed the kick to keep the Buckeyes within one score. If the Spartans had found the end zone, which it looked like they probably would, they’d have taken a 28-14 lead and the game could have ended very differently.
Oh, and Barrett hit Thomas for that 79-yard touchdown on the first play of the ensuing drive, making it 21-21.
Numbers aside, the Buckeye defense proved itself at Spartan Stadium.
4. Senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett can dominate
After sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa had asserted his dominance throughout the season to the tune of a Big Ten-best 10 sacks, Bennett found his name mentioned less and less.
But on Saturday, the Spartans’ game planned well for Bosa, forcing Bennett to step up.
Not only did he finish the game with four solo tackles — including two for a loss — and the Buckeyes’ only sack, but he controlled the line of scrimmage and won his one-on-one battles nearly every snap. Bennett has been a good player throughout his career, but he admitted after the game that he was playing too cautiously earlier this season.
He came out of his shell against Michigan State, and proved once again why he will likely be an early round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
5. Smith is a game changer
Twenty times, Smith has caught at least one touchdown in a game as a Buckeye, and all 20 times, OSU has come away victorious.
The Massillon, Ohio, product produced a season-high 129 yards on six receptions and a 44-yard score against the Spartans on Saturday night, leading the OSU offense along with Barrett to an impressive win.
The touchdown reception puts him third all-time on the OSU receptions list with 26, placing him behind just David Boston and Cris Carter.
After the win over Michigan State, Meyer said Smith’s game was his best as a Buckeye and added that Smith is one of, if not the best deep-threat player he has ever coached.
The Buckeyes are scheduled to return to play against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Saturday in Minneapolis. Kickoff is set for noon.