EAST LANSING, Mich — The Ohio State offense knew what it was facing when going up against the Michigan State defense. With a series history full of physicality and toughness, in a game usually played in the cold of early November, the Buckeyes struggled, recording 28 yards of offense with minus-7 rushing yards on five rushes in the first quarter.
Ohio State needed a boost, and it did not seem to be coming from the special teams unit.
After recording a three-and-out on the first offensive drive of the game, redshirt sophomore punter Drue Chrisman came out, not aware of how strong the wind was, kicked a ball off the side of his foot that sailed four yards forward and 10 rows deep into the bleachers, giving the Spartans the ball at the Ohio State 35-yard line.
“I think after you have a punt like that, I don’t know where it ranks in Ohio State’s worst punts in history, but it’s definitely my worst punt,” Chrisman said. “It’s like man, I just have to ball out after this one.”
And “ball out” he did.
While the offense struggled to move the ball downfield, Chrisman and the Ohio State special teams unit continuously pinned Michigan State back, bringing an advantage to the team’s defense. Of Chrisman’s nine punts, six fell within the 20-yard line.
But he did not do it alone.
With a 4th-and-4 at the Michigan State 38-yard line, Chrisman kicked a punt a little too strong. However, redshirt senior wide receiver Terry McLaurin, on the field as a gunner, a position that many established Ohio State alums have played, raced down the field, diving to stop the ball as it entered the endzone and swiping back, allowing another player to down it at the 5-yard line.
This is the kind of mentality head coach Urban Meyer brings. No matter if you are on offense or defense, a player’s career starts at special teams.
“He calls it the gospel,” McLaurin said. “We have a big board and I want to say it has a three percent chance of opposing teams to score when they are pinned below their own five. We preach that, we believe in that.”
It’s a way that players earn respect. And that is a respect that McLaurin has earned from his head coach.
“You go back all the way to Brad Roby to Devin Smith to Denzel Ward, Gareon Conley, and I’m just telling you that, you know for the guys who cover us every day, those are the gunners we call them, and Terry’s as good as there is,” Meyer said. “Terry may have taken over the title as the best I’ve ever had, because what he’s done for our program.”
Chrisman said the job of the gunners, of McLaurin and fellow redshirt senior wide receiver Johnnie Dixon, makes his job easy, placing it in a place that they two of them can get too.
Defensively, the special teams unit gave Ohio State a boost, leading to redshirt junior defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones’ fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.
But, when talking about the touchdown, the defensive tackle continued to say Chrisman and McLaurin put the unit in a place to succeed.
“Our efforts are because of Drue Chrisman. Drue Chrisman, Terry McLaurin and their ability to stop the ball before it got to the end zone,” Jones said. “I mean that really gave us a lot of juice and a lot of enthusiasm to just get a safety or just make a play.”
That’s the overall mentality of the Ohio State special teams unit. It’s nothing new. It’s something Meyer has coached by for his entire tenure at Ohio State.
But it made a difference against Michigan State, a difference that could have decided whether Ohio State, won or lost, despite its struggles offensively.
“That’s our goal: Pin them deep and then we will get the ball back and get some points out of it,” Chrisman said. “If we are doing our job tilting the field, it makes it harder on them.”