The idea that “records don’t matter” when it comes to Ohio State and Michigan has been reiterated throughout the week by the Buckeyes. Redshirt senior center Pat Elflein knows all too well how much of a dogfight the matchups between the Buckeyes and the Spartans are.
Since 2011, the Buckeyes are just 2-3 against Michigan State — the worst mark OSU has against any team throughout the past five years. During that time, the Scarlet and Gray have never played in Spartan Stadium as a top-five team.
That is, until Saturday.
Elflein, among others, said the 3-7 record for Mark Dantonio’s team is nothing if not a ruse. A hot topic for OSU coach Urban Meyer this week has been how important competing for a Big Ten title — something OSU might not do this season — is for making a playoff case. Meyer, of course, deflected the question, and said he had not discussed the issue with his team.
“Just want to beat Michigan State, man,” he said. “It means a lot.”
Looking back through the past five years, that statement has been easier said than done.
2011: Michigan State 10 – Ohio State 7
In the wake of TattooGate, the Buckeyes lost long-time coach Jim Tressel and multiple players. In Luke Fickell’s interim head coaching stint, OSU came into the game against the Spartans at 3-1, with a loss to the University of Miami.
The Buckeyes were simply outclassed in Ohio Stadium, as they failed to average more than a yard rushing on 39 attempts. Even with three forced turnovers, just 178 yards of offense and 82 yards of penalties suffocated OSU.
OSU finished the year 6-7 without any real notable wins, except for a 33-29 victory over Wisconsin, who went on to win the Big Ten title.
Next year, Meyer became the head coach for OSU, much to the excitement of Buckeye fans.
2012: Ohio State 17 – Michigan State 16
Meyer’s tenure started with a bang. After jumping out to a 4-0 start, the Buckeyes traveled to their first away game of the season. The Spartans proved to be a tough draw.
It took a 314 total-yard performance from Braxton Miller to do it, and a 63-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith to seal the deal. It was Michigan State’s second loss of the season.
The Buckeyes never had a game as close as this one for the rest of the 2012 campaign, and OSU finished the year with a perfect 12-0 record. Due to ramifications from NCAA actions taken against the team after TattooGate, OSU was not bowl eligible.
2013: Michigan State 34 – Ohio State 24 (Big Ten championship)
After facing Michigan State for the two previous years in the regular season, the Buckeyes had to wait until the Big Ten title game to get a chance at Dantonio’s team. OSU was pushed to the limit for the second straight week after a 42-41 slugfest in the week prior with Michigan.
The Buckeyes luck ran out, and Meyer suffered his first loss as OSU’s coach.
Connor Cook torched the Scarlet and Gray defense with 304 yards and three touchdowns, while Jeremy Langfield pounded the ball up the middle against a relatively stout OSU rush defense. A late Langford touchdown run put Michigan State up by 10, and the Spartans never looked back.
Defensive shortcomings mixed with a lack of an OSU passing game (eight completions for 101 yards) gave the Spartans the Big Ten title. The Buckeyes had to wait until early November of 2014 to get redemption.
2014: Ohio State 49 – Michigan State 37
The injury of Braxton Miller before the 2014 season began was supposed to doom the Buckeyes. That was until a little-known redshirt freshman quarterback by the name of J.T. Barrett trotted onto the field for OSU.
Barrett, who had led the team to a 7-1 mark when OSU traveled to East Lansing, played one of his best games of his short career to that point. Piling up 300 yards through the air with three touchdowns, paired with a 154-yard, two touchdown performance for Ezekiel Elliott, the Buckeyes walked away from Spartan Stadium one win richer.
The win was an upset, with OSU coming into the game at No. 14 and Michigan State at No. 8. A good showing against the Spartans helped propel the Buckeyes into Big Ten and eventually national championship contention.
2015: Michigan State 17 – Ohio State 14
With repeat title hopes on their mind, the Buckeyes struggled to find continuity at the quarterback position. Swapping between Barrett and Cardale Jones, who helped the team win a national championship following an injury to Barrett against Michigan in 2014, Meyer could not decide who should have led the team.
With the decision made for Barrett to start, OSU’s offense floundered. Elliott touched the ball just 12 times, and Barrett threw for just 46 yards. Two turnovers for the Buckeye defense still wasn’t enough to bring home a win.
Tyler O’Connor, Michigan State’s starting quarterback for this season, replaced an injured Connor Cook and managed the game to the best of his abilities. A game-winning field goal by Michael Geiger is an image most OSU fans have yet to let go, especially the windmill celebration the kicker did down the sideline after nailing the kick to top OSU.
With title hopes on the line again for OSU, and Michigan State looking to save face following a disappointing season so far, fans in attendance should be ready for some fireworks in Spartan Stadium. OSU’s run game should dictate the pace of play, while the Silver Bullets might be able to grab a few turnovers.