With its College Football Playoff hopes likely dashed due to last week’s 55-24 loss to Iowa, many people wondered how No. 13 Ohio State would respond. The Buckeyes rebounded with a resounding 48-3 victory against No. 12 Michigan State, taking sole possession of first-place in the Big Ten East Saturday afternoon at Ohio Stadium.
The Buckeyes (8-2, 6-1 Big Ten) dominated in all facets of the game, leading 524-195 in total yardage and 25-15 in first downs. They converted seven-of-12 third downs, while the Spartans (7-3, 5-2 Big Ten) extended four-of-17 drives on third down.
Against Michigan State’s third-ranked run defense, the Buckeyes continuously handed the ball to running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, who combined for 27 carries for 286 yards. Head coach Urban Meyer said he made a “mandate” to run the ball more. In last week’s loss, No. 13 Ohio State handed to ball to the backfield duo just 11 times.
“I feel like after a loss you want to get back to what you’re good at and establishing the run game,” redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett said. “It definitely helps out with who we are in play-action pass and making our shots downfield. So just getting back to who you are, whether it be fundamentals or even when it comes to offensively and defensively making calls and things like that.”
The Spartans could not stop Weber, who took his first carry 47 yards for a touchdown and broke a career-long 82-yard touchdown rush in the middle of the second quarter. He finished with nine rushes for a career-best 162 yards and two touchdowns. Dobbins had 18 carries for 124 yards and caught four passes for 20 yards, including an eight-yard touchdown in the second quarter. During the third quarter, Dobbins joined Weber as the fourth Ohio State freshman in program history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season.
Ohio State established the run early. The Buckeyes finished the first quarter with an 11-play, 73-yard drive and ran the ball on eight plays. Barrett also was involved in the ground game. He had nine rushes for 55 yards and two touchdowns. He also went 14-for-21 for 183 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“The game planning was very good, but that secondary compared to the execution of the offensive line — and I thought the running backs ran really, really hard,” Meyer said. “Even when they got hit, it was a plus-two. So you’re in that second-and-four mentality as opposed to — and when you face a team that’s that committed to the run, you have to have that kind of physicality of running backs. I thought our two backs played fantastic.”
Sophomore wide receiver Binjimen Victor snagged a deep pass, shrugged off a defender and strode into the end zone for a 48-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Redshirt junior H-back Parris Campbell returned from missing last week’s game with a head injury and had three receptions for 49 yards.
Sophomore linebacker Malik Harrison, who made his career first start due to injuries to starters Jerome Baker and Dante Booker, set the defensive tone for Ohio State when he sacked quarterback Brian Lewerke on the Spartans’ fourth offensive play. The Buckeyes’ defensive front made Lewerke uncomfortable the entire game. He finished 18-for-36 for 131 yards with two interceptions.
“He decided to hold onto it a little in the beginning and then he smartened up and got rid of it,” said sophomore defensive end Nick Bosa, who also picked up a first-quarter sack.
Redshirt cornerback Damon Arnette picked off Lewerke late in the second quarter, but was injured on the following drive and did not return to the game. Meyer said he had a thigh bruise and does not have any structural damage. Safety Damon Webb also intercepted Lewerke. The Buckeyes had not forced a turnover since cornerback Amir Riep picked off a pass late in their win against Nebraska.
“We work on it multiple times every week and we had a drought there,” redshirt junior defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “We told ourselves, [defensive coordinator Greg] Schiano said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing. They’re going to come, they’re going to come.’ And they did today.”
The Spartans got off to a good start on the ground when running back L.J. Scott took his team’s first carry of the game for 20 yards. But other than a couple instances in which Lewerke scrambled and picked up yards, Ohio State stymied the Michigan State run game. The Spartans finished with 34 rushes for 64 yards. Scott had 30 yards on eight carries.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Dwayne Haskins entered the game with 12:07 remaining in the game and went 1-for-2 for six yards.
Ohio State will be back in action Saturday when it plays host to Illinois.