Ohio State had a lot to prove in yesterday’s game against Michigan State. They hadn’t had a sexy win or played to their potential since their week 1 win over the Miami Redhawks. For large portions of the next three games against Central Florida, California, and the University of Alabama-Birmingham they looked like a team just going through the motions. Many people questioned how they would respond in their Big Ten opener and road opener in East Lansing.
The inconsistent offense and underperforming defense were sure to meet their match with the great Spartan defense and their powerful between the tackles offense that awaited them. Ohio State rose to the challenge though. After receiving the opening kickoff the Buckeyes marched right down the field and scored on a Jordan Hall dive for a touchdown. The drive consisted mostly of running plays. Not to be forgotten, Ohio State fans are often criticized for their rabid fan base, but I have never heard another stadium chant “He’s a (slang term for feline)!” as the fine folks at Spartan Stadium did when Braxton Miller was hurt on the sideline on that drive. Regardless, backup quarterback Kenny Guiton came in and continued to guide the offense right down the field with a nice option pitch to Hall that set up the touchdown. Drew Basil’s successful point after try made it 7-0.
Not to be outdone, Michigan State wasted no time to answer. They too would score on their opening drive. I’m not sure if the Spartans’ game plan was to spread out the defense to catch the Silver Bullets off-guard or if they didn’t think they could run successfully against the Buckeye front seven. In a consistent theme throughout the game, the Spartans tried to pound the ball rarely and instead chose to get all-everything running back Le’Veon Bell involved in short screen and swing passes. Michigan State drove into field goal range before the bend-but-don’t-break defense of the Buckeyes put the brakes on the drive. Dan Conroy put in the 3 pointer from 34 yards out.
For as much as it looked like we might have a shootout on our hands from the first drives; neither team would score again in the half. Ohio State had a lot of success running the football and wide receiver Corey Brown kept the Buckeyes moving with several bubble screens and outs but the Buckeyes couldn’t add to their lead. On one second quarter drive where they had made it to the Spartan 25 Miller threw a pass into traffic that was intercepted; killing a promising drive. Two drives later Miller fumbled around midfield ending another scoring chance for the Buckeyes. Sandwiched between those two drives starting tailback Jordan Hall limped off the field and was taken to the locker room with an undisclosed injury. This appeared to be another bad break for the Buckeyes in the second quarter where they turned it over twice, didn’t capitalize on a blocked punt, and lost their running The missed opportunities didn’t bite them yet, though, as they headed into the break holding on to their 7-3 lead.
Michigan State appeared to make halftime adjustments and opened the second half with a twelve play drive that resulted in another Conroy field goal; this one from 50 yards out and cutting the lead to 7-6. Ohio State answered with a thirteen play scoring drive of their own. Every positive play on the drive was either a Miller run, a Carlos Hyde run, or a completed pass to Corey Brown before Basil tacked on a 26 yard field goal bumping the cushion back to 4, 10-6.
Ohio State’s lead would be short-lived from there though as the awful tackling plague that has haunted them the past few weeks reared its ugly head again. Michigan State went 65 yards in 4 plays to take the lead on a 29 yard touchdown pass from Andrew Maxwell to Keith Mumphrey. The scoring play brought out the worst in the Buckeye defense as safety Orian Johnson completely whiffed and the hard running receiver then ran through arm tackles, attempted strips, and dragged several Ohio State players the final 5 yards into the end zone. After the point after was successful the Buckeyes found themselves staring at a 13-10 deficit on the road in a hostile environment at sold out Spartan Stadium with 76,705 looking on.
As had happened before in the quarter when the Spartans scored, though, Miller and company were up to the challenge and responded with a 4 play scoring drive of their own. This one would be capped off with a 63 yard strike from Miller to sophomore receiver Devin Smith over the defenders outstretched arms in stride right down the sideline. Smith would take it the final 30 yards or so untouched after the Spartans cornerback fell down trying to break up the pass. Basil tacked on to the lead with the extra point putting Ohio State up for good 17-13. The Buckeyes had the chance again to add to the lead but Miller fumbled again as Ohio State was driving, his third turnover on the day, and Michigan State would capitalize with Conroy’s third successful field goal of the day from 48 yards. Buckeye Nation’s heart stopped on the second Miller fumble, though; as replay showed his knee awkwardly buckle as he was tripped up on the play. Somehow it turned out to not be a serious injury as he would return on the next Buckeye possession.
Leading 17-16, after Conroy’s field goal, Ohio State took over with just over seven minutes left and did the worst thing they could do: they went three and out. As they had done all day, though, the Buckeye defense rose to the occasion and forced Michigan State to punt the ball right back with just over 4 minutes remaining. The Spartans still had two timeouts remaining and needed a stop to get the ball back and attempt a game winning drive. Ohio State never gave them that chance though, as Miller and power-back Hyde pounded out first downs to run out the clock and send the Buckeyes home a winner and 5-0 on the season.
Again, it wasn’t always pretty, but the Buckeyes got their first win on the season on the road, against a conference opponent, and against a ranked team. You’d like to see Miller not run the ball more than 15 times a game because of the threat of injury. It’s hard to argue though with 23 carries for 136 yards. I’d prefer him pitch the ball to Hyde on a lot of those plays that he decided to keep himself as Hyde is more built to take that punishment. We are still dealing with a sophomore quarterback here though and you can watch him grow seemingly each game. He is reading his progressions better in the passing game and feels comfortable pitching the ball to Hall. When he builds that same comfort with Hyde and Rod Smith this offense will be even better. Hyde added 49 yards on 11 carries in the running game. Miller also finished 16 of 23 through the air for 179 yards. The majority of those were to Corey Brown who had 12 catches for 84 yards. Smith added two receptions for 79 yards and the touchdown while Hall and Hyde each had one reception each for 10 and 6 yards respectively. On defense, their were a lot of sloppy penalties and some missed tackles, but the unit held the conference’s best running back Bell to just 45 yards on 17 carries for a paltry 2.6 yard average.
Up next, the Buckeyes will welcome Nebraska to The Horseshoe. The Cornhusker offense will pose more of a challenge but their defense has some holes too that the Buckeyes should be able to exploit.