EAST LANSING, Mich. — If any game described Ohio State’s history with Michigan State, it was this one.
“We knew exactly what this would be, and it was, I mean that was November football at Michigan State,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said.
From the 11 straight scoreless drives to start the game to the 24 combined rushing yards to the five total fumbles, the Buckeyes and Spartans played as scrappy a game as one could imagine.
The result was a 7-6 Ohio State lead at halftime, and from there, the No. 10 Buckeyes scored 19 unanswered to to win handedly against No. 18 Michigan State 26-6.
Meyer said this win felt different than previous ones.
“That was a big win, and we’re very satisfied, and I agree with you, the other ones you kind of have, people didn’t feel like they won,” 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.”
But the 26 points were not the result of an Ohio State offense that had all the gears turning. Instead, it was the Buckeyes’ defense. No, even more than that, it was the Spartans’ lack of productive offense that allowed Ohio State to pull away late.
Michigan State turned the ball over three times, while also giving up a safety in the second half. The two fumbles both came on costly unforced errors, and the interception occurred when redshirt junior quarterback Brian Lewerke was hit hard as he threw. The safety was an intentional move by Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio to avoid a blocked punt in his endzone.
These turnovers gave Ohio State 12 of its 26 points, and seven more came on a garbage-time run by redshirt junior running back Mike Weber with the game already in the balance.
On offense, the Buckeyes were a mixed bag.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins completed 24-of-39 passes for 227 yards and a touchdown. Haskins hit on most of his short throws, but was unable to find any of his receivers deep.
Haskins said the wind cost him on a throw to junior wide receiver K.J. Hill, and that he put too much air on deep ball to redshirt senior wide receiver Terry McLaurin.
“I let that one go, probably should have took a little bit off of that one,” Haskins said. “But otherwise than that I thought I was pretty accurate all day.”
After rushing for only 14 yards total in the first half, Ohio State got the running game going late, with 106 yards in the second half against the No. 1 rush defense in the country.
While sophomore running back J.K. Dobbins failed to gain momentum, rushing for 28 yards on 14 carries, Weber found his stride for the second-straight game, carrying the ball 22 times for 104 yards and a touchdown.
“Mike Weber ran for over 100 yards and I would have to say that, 75 percent of those are post-contact yards,” Meyer said. “He ran really, really hard, everything about that was really hard against that defense.”
After a near-stalemate in the first half, with both Ohio State and Michigan State coming out the gates slow, rugged and scrappy, the Buckeyes began to show life of how they want their offense to run.
With it, came the emergence of a new threat: redshirt freshman quarterback Tate Martell.
Martell came on the field for one play in the second quarter, a 5-yard run, then ran the option for three Weber runs, in which the redshirt junior gained 17 yards.
Martell fumbled on a snap the next play, but Meyer saw enough to want to implement it moving forward.
“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.”
This is not a game that Ohio State will look back at as an offensive showcase.
Michigan State shot itself in the foot on multiple occasions, and cost itself the majority of the deficit that the team faced.
But that doesn’t mean the Buckeyes leave East Lansing the same team that entered. The same team looking for a big confidence boost after struggling in recent weeks.
With the continued emergence of the run game, and a new red zone threat in Martell, Ohio State might be making progress towards a more complete offense.
But its 20-point victory against Michigan State is not the polished statement win the Buckeyes were hoping for either.