Holding the nation’s No. 25 team to 10 points appears on paper as a dominant performance.
Hidden beneath the scoring tally the Buckeyes allowed, however, are seven Spartan drives that crossed into Ohio State territory Saturday. Michigan State gained the most yards of any team against Ohio State this season — even if it was the fewest the Spartans have accumulated all year.
Despite a few sustained Michigan State drives, the Buckeye defense made enough big plays in key situations against the Spartans to hold their offense at bay and boost momentum.
“It’s like a momentum changer,” junior linebacker Baron Browning said. “It’s an energy after plays like that. You just want to turn around and celebrate with your teammates.”
On Michigan State’s first drive, junior wide receiver Cody White snagged a slant and went to the ground with a 10-yard gain and a first down to midfield.
The problem is, he didn’t go to the ground with the football. Redshirt senior cornerback Damon Arnette had stripped the ball, which Ohio State recovered to halt Michigan State’s progress.
It took two more defensive plays before the Buckeyes recovered a second.
Junior defensive end Chase Young said all three sections of Ohio State’s defense, from the defensive line to the secondary, are playing at a high level.
“If you’re watching film, we’re definitely playing pretty complete,” Young said. “Obviously we still have much we can improve on.”
Michigan State senior quarterback Brian Lewerke strung together an 11-yard run and a 13-yard pass to drive back to Ohio State territory in the Spartans’ next possession. After redshirt senior defensive tackle Jashon Cornell shook a blocker to stop a first-down run for no gain, junior cornerback Jeff Okudah smothered Lewerke’s next third-down target and forced a punt.
The stop helped usher Ohio State to a 27-10 halftime lead, and both teams missed opportunities to capitalize early in the third quarter. Michigan State whiffed on a 27-yard field goal, and Ohio State sophomore quarterback Justin Fields threw his first career interception on first-and-10 from the Spartans’ 29-yard-line.
More big plays kept Michigan State from narrowing the deficit as the quarter neared its end. The Spartans again drove into Ohio State territory, but redshirt junior linebacker Tuf Borland forced them into second-and-long after a tackle for loss.
On the ensuing third down, Browning blitzed untouched from the edge and earholed Lewerke to force another punt.
“I was just trying to get home,” Browning said. “I saw the tackle bite down. I knew I was gonna come free.”
Michigan State took over down 34-10 with one final chance to climb back into the contest after Fields fumbled at his own 34-yard-line.
One last time, the defense came through for a big play, a pass tipped by Browning intercepted by senior safety Jordan Fuller to ice the game. He returned it for a touchdown, but it was called back for an illegal blindside block.
“Just have to live with the results,” Fuller said. “I’m just happy Baron was able to tip it up to me.”
Big plays and turnovers could assist Ohio State at Northwestern following its bye. The Wildcats have given the ball away 12 times in 2019, tied with Nevada for 11th-most in the nation.