EAST LANSING, Michigan — A cold, blustery November day in East Lansing, Michigan, perfectly summarized the scrappy contest between the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes and the unranked Michigan State Spartans. In a game that the Buckeyes came in as 20 point favorites, OSU edged the Spartans 17-16.
The Buckeyes are now 3-3 in their last six meetings with the Spartans.
“I don’t think they’re far out (of playoff contention),” said OSU coach Urban Meyer. “I just got a lot of respect. I’ve been in the foxhole against those guys and I know their coaching staff very well. I have great respect for them. They played very hard, but I don’t expect anything different.”
The Spartans struck quickly on the legs of sophomore running back L.J. Scott. An innocent screen pass to the left side of the field, paired with outstanding down-the-field blocking, gave Scott a 64-yard lane all the way for a score. It was the first touchdown the Buckeyes defense had given up over nine quarters.
Both teams combined for just nine pass completions in the first half. The wind gusts on the field, reported at 30 miles per hour at times, made a down-the-field passing game nearly impossible. One of the longest passes of the first half was a 14-yard toss from redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett to redshirt junior tight end Marcus Baugh. Even that throw was altered by the wind slightly.
Michigan State redshirt senior quarterback Tyler O’Connor had plenty of time to throw, as the OSU pass rush struggled in the first half to reach the quarterback. On the other side, the Buckeyes’ offensive line seemed perplexed with the Michigan State defensive front, allowing three sacks through the first two quarters.
Three chunk plays were the culprit to the Buckeyes’ defensive shortcomings in the first half. All three were by Scott, who racked up 149 yards on just three of his nine touches in the two opening quarters.
Most of Scott’s big runs came from off the tackle, swinging the ball wide where he found lots of daylight. Redshirt junior linebacker Chris Worley agreed the team failed to keep him contained at times.
“A lot of (mistakes) were just little schemed-up things,” he said. “Not setting an edge on the defense.”
OSU’s biggest play of the day came on a picture-perfect pass from Barrett to junior H-back Curtis Samuel across the middle of the field. In single coverage over the top, the OSU offense found a hole and Barrett floated the ball right into the outstretched arms of Samuel for a touchdown.
The second half kicked off with the Buckeyes handling the opening kick. It took more than six minutes of game time before either team could find a way to score.
After busting a 52-yard scamper off a beautiful lead block by Baugh, Weber pushed across the goalline for a 4-yard touchdown rush. The touchdown was his first rushing score away from Ohio Stadium this season.
Weber finished his day with 14 carries for 111 yards and the touchdown, and proved to be a difference maker. He said after the game he was instrumental to the team’s approach to attacking the Michigan State defense.
“Just pound the ball,” Weber said. “We knew it was going to be hard to throw the ball in that wind. Coach Meyer had a mindset that we’re going to play defense and we’re going to run the ball. I think we had over 200 yards rushing total and did a good job with that.”
Samuel led the Buckeyes with 4 receptions for 40 yards, although his touches were limited by the Spartans’ defense for most of the day. He gained 53 total yards, his lowest total of the year. OSU picked up just 86 yards through the air on Saturday.
A fake punt by Michigan State early in the fourth quarter from its own territory gave the Spartans a big first down, but a failed trick play and a sack by redshirt junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis and redshirt sophomore defensive end Sam Hubbard forced the Spartans to punt.
Scott single-handedly carried his team back into the game with nine minutes remaining, carrying the ball for all eight plays of a Michigan State drive. After plunging forward for a 1-yard touchdown rush, Dantonio decided to try for a two-point conversion, but O’Connor’s pass was picked off by redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker at the goal line.
On Michigan State’s final drive, redshirt junior cornerback Gareon Conley intercepted O’Connor’s pass to seal the game for OSU. After the game, he walked into the press conference room, holding the game ball in his hands. Conley said it “meant the world” to have his teammates and coaches congratulating him for his play.
Barrett, who was supposed to be carrying the ball less this season according to Meyer, finished the game with 24 carries. Overall, he handled the ball 46 times of OSU’s 67 plays from scrimmage.
It is unclear how the team’s performance will affect the College Football Playoff rankings for the Buckeyes. The updated rankings will be released on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
“The big playoff picture, it’s all noise,” said redshirt junior guard Billy Price. “If you don’t focus on the task at hand, slip-ups happen. Just make sure you go out and execute. Don’t disrespect your opponent.”
OSU is now 10-1 this season, and is 7-1 in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes return home for a noon kickoff against Michigan to round out the regular season.