EAST LANSING, Mich — In a game that few would describe as pretty, No. 10 Ohio State pulled out a victory in East Lansing, clawing its way past No. 18 Michigan State 26-6.
With a mix of strong defenses and worse offenses, the teams combined for 17 punts on 32 possessions, while gaining only 24 combined rushing yards in the first half.
Ohio State’s key to victory came from redshirt sophomore punter Drue Chrisman. On his nine punts, he pinned Michigan State within its own 10-yard line five times, resulting in a safety and defensive touchdown for the Buckeyes.
Chrisman said Ohio State’s lack of success ended up benefitting him during the course of the game.
“You’re getting punts on almost every drive, which is not what we want,” Chrisman said. ”You just get comfortable, into that groove and then, you’re just able to do whatever the team needs of you.”
Chrisman’s day did not start off this way.
On his first attempt, the redshirt sophomore muffed his kick, hitting the ball out of bounds on a 4-yard punt.
The latter resulted after Chrisman pinned the Spartans at their own 1-yard line, and on the snap, the ball hit Michigan State wide receiver Larness Nelson in the side of the arm, and redshirt junior defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones recovered it in the endzone for a score.
“The coaches kept emphasizing a lot more than usual, just like ‘Our moments gonna come, we’re gonna create a turnover, we’re gonna create a turnover,’” Jones said. “On what seemed to be like a pass-option-read type of thing, he dropped it, and then we kind of wrestled for it a little bit and I came up with it.”
On the very next play, redshirt freshman quarterback Rocky Lombardi throws a bad pitch and the Spartans fumble again, and again Ohio State recovered, leading to a 35-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Blake Haubeil.
The Buckeyes led 19-6 following the pair of Spartan turnovers, enough to seal the victory.
Redshirt junior running back Mike Weber added a touchdown late to give Ohio State the 26-6 lead that would turn out to be final.
The storyline coming into this season’s matchup between Ohio State and Michigan State was if the Spartans’ No. 1 rush defense could slow down the Buckeyes’ enough to pull off an upset after they recorded 255 yards on the ground against Nebraska.
Michigan State did that, holding Ohio State to 123 yards rushing on an average of 2.8 yards per carry.
The first half combined strong play from both defenses and lackluster play from both offenses, leading to 11 consecutive scoreless drives to start the game.
Meyer said he expects a game like this when he makes the trip to East Lansing.
“We knew exactly what this would be, and it was, I mean that was November football at Michigan State,” Meyer said. “Everything about that was really hard against that defense, and I’m really ecstatic for our defense the way they came out and played.”
Both Ohio State and Michigan State missed on field goal attempts before the Buckeyes scored the first points of the game on a 1-yard shovel pass from redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins to redshirt senior wide receiver Parris Campbell.
On that drive, redshirt freshman quarterback Tate Martell saw time on one snap, earning five yards on an option run.
Martell came in at the end of another drive with the Buckeyes up 13 late in the fourth quarter, but fumbled the ball on an off snap. Michigan State recovered the fumble, but Lewerke threw an errant interception to redshirt freshman safety Shaun Wade on the proceeding drive.
“I think we’re gonna do more of that,” Meyer said. “When you start to get in that part of the field it’s rugged, especially against a defense like that, so I hope to use it more.”
Haskins struggled for much of the game against the Spartans throwing for 218 yards, completing 28-of-38 passes and throwing for a touchdown.
Michigan State swapped out redshirt junior quarterback Brian Lewerke with Lombardi on the next drive, and he led the Spartans down to a field goal with 30 seconds to go in the half.
Ohio State took a 7-3 lead into the halftime, recording 147 yards of total offense to Michigan State’s 143.
The Buckeyes had 14 rushing yards in the first half to the Spartans’ 10.
After Ohio State failed to score on its first two drives of the third quarter, Michigan State found life when Lombardi found space at midfield, running for 47 yards to set up a 38-yard try for sophomore kicker Matt Coghlin, which he hit to bring the game to within one.
Late in the third quarter, the Buckeyes had Michigan State backed within its own 1-yard line on fourth down, and the Spartans appeared to snap the ball intentionally out of the end zone, resulting in a safety, putting Ohio State up 9-6.
On the punt following the safety, Michigan State booted it out of bounds, giving the Buckeyes the ball at the 50-yard line.
“That was a big win, and we’re very satisfied,” Meyer said. “That was a great locker room, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, enjoy the win and get ready for the next one.”
Ohio State was missing two sophomores on the defensive side, linebacker Baron Browning, who was sidelined with an injury after being a game-time decision, and safety Isaiah Pryor, who failed to travel to East Lansing with the team.
The Buckeyes stay on the road to face Maryland on Nov. 17.
Story updated at 5:30 p.m. to include postgame quotes.