The Ohio State Buckeyes traveled to East Lansing this weekend for a crucial week 5 matchup with Michigan State, a team widely regarded as one of the best in the conference. The game marked the start of Big Ten play for both teams and the first away game of the year for the Buckeyes. They’ll leave Michigan with their first signature win of the Urban Meyer era and a shiny 5-0 record.
The Ohio State fan base was justifiably nervous before the game. Though the team won its first four games, and the outcomes of those contests were never truly in doubt, the Buckeyes were prone to giving up big plays on defense to less-than-stellar offenses throughout non-conference play. Braxton Miller seemingly willed Ohio State to victory against Cal and UAB. But the further the Buckeyes got into their schedule, the more one-dimensional the offense became.
Michigan State had question marks coming in as well. Though the defense was the best in the Big Ten early on, the offense was anemic. Andrew Maxwell looked like a disappointing replacement for Kirk Cousins. The team lost badly to Notre Dame and barely escaped a matchup with cellar-dweller Eastern Michigan with a win.
The Buckeyes started with the ball and moved it quickly down the field, using an effective combination of power running and moves that only Braxton Miller can make to put the ball in scoring territory. Despite a late hit-induced, heart-stopping “injury” to Miller, the team managed to punch the ball into the end zone for a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard Jordan Hall run. After the Spartans answered with a field goal, Miller returned to the field. But the Buckeyes and Spartans spent the rest of the quarter trading punts, without much excitement to speak of (outside of Urban Meyer almost killing an official). The Ohio State defense looked tighter than it had in recent weeks, both providing effective coverage downfield and tackling better.
The second quarter started slowly, continuing the trend established at the end of the first. After a punt from each team, the Buckeyes finally started moving the ball again, courtesy of nice throws from Miller to Corey Brown and Devin Smith. The success was short-lived, however. Once the Buckeyes entered Michigan State territory, Miller threw an interception to Kurtis Drummond that ended Ohio State’s scoring chances on the play. Both defenses continued to dominate through the remainder of the quarter.
But the end of the first half was far from boring.
Bradley Roby blocked a punt with 2:27 left in the half, giving the Buckeyes a golden opportunity to extend their lead before the teams headed to the locker room. It was an opportunity that the team failed to take advantage of. Two plays later, Miller fumbled the ball away on an bad decision to keep the rock instead of pitching it to Hall, who had grass in front of him.
But Michigan State returned the favor, failing to capitalize on the Buckeyes’ mistake. After hitting on two big completions to move the Spartans into enemy territory, Maxwell missed a couple of open receivers and kicker Dan Conroy missed a 42-yard field goal. For the second time in the first half, the Spartans failed to turn an Ohio State turnover into points. The teams went into the locker room with Ohio State leading 7-3.
The Spartans started with the ball in the second half, and moved the ball effectively. They took advantage of a sluggish Ohio State secondary on several plays, but two were called back on penalties. The drive ended with a 50-yard field goal from Conroy to narrow the Buckeyes’ lead to 7-6. The Buckeyes responded with points of their own. On the next drive, a bruising 13-play, 66-yard effort, Drew Basil nailed a 26-yard field goal after the Buckeyes’ offense stalled in the red zone, extending the Buckeyes’ lead to 10-6.
Michigan State answered with its most effective drive to that point. In 3 plays (aided by a facemask penalty from Roby), the Spartans finally found the end zone and took their first lead of the day at 13-10. The scoring play was ugly for Ohio State. 5 or 6 Buckeye defenders had a clear shot at Keith Mumphery but failed to bring him down. The receiver took a short pass from Maxwell to the house, breaking numerous “tackles” along the way.
Miller and the Buckeyes responded in a big way.
After another Ohio State defensive hold, the Buckeyes started the fourth quarter with the ball. This possession did not go nearly as well as the last. On the sixth play of the drive, Braxton Miller simultaneously fumbled the ball and went down with a knee injury that, on first glance, looked devastating. Fortunately, it wasn’t serious. The Ohio State training staff immediately checked Miller’s ACL and he was cleared to return on the next offensive series.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t do so before Michigan State finally scored points off of a Buckeye turnover. Taking advantage of the fumble, the Spartans converted a 48-yard field goal to again narrow the Buckeyes’ lead to 17-16.
The Buckeyes and Spartans traded punts once again, giving the Buckeyes the ball with a one point lead and 4:10 on the clock. The team answered the bell with a man-sized drive consisting of six runs and three first downs. The game-winner? A third-and-four, beast of a run by Carlos Hyde that allowed the Buckeyes to kneel out the game.
Ohio State won 17-16 and moved to 5-0.
All things considered, it was a banner day for the Buckeyes and Urban Meyer, who notched his first Big Ten win as a head coach. The Spartans are a legitimate football team, and the Buckeyes stormed into their house and knocked them out. The defense stepped up with its best effort of the season, and Braxton Miller was his usual magical self. The offensive line and running game got it done in the clutch. It was a gritty, gutsy, program-redefining win that Buckeye coaches, players, and fans can be proud of.
Enjoy this one tonight, ladies and gentlemen. Then, bring on Nebraska.
Note: Any responsible recap of this game needs to discuss of Mark Dantonio‘s wildly unethical and irresponsible decision to play William Gholston after a brutal shot to the head from a teammate in the second quarter. Despite the fact that Gholston was clearly knocked out, Michigan State claimed that he merely “had the wind knocked out of him,” which was necessary for him to return to action. In situations like this, a coach should be expected to behave like an adult and put the student’s safety ahead of the team’s prospects for victory. Dantonio’s decision to do otherwise was dangerous, not only to Gholston, but to the public image of college football, a potent concern in an era of unprecedented worry for the health of football players. It should be roundly condemned by both the media and the NCAA, but sadly, I doubt it will be.
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Key Ohio State Stats
- Braxton Miller: 16/23, 179 yards passing, 1 touchdown, 1 interception
- Braxton Miller: 23 carries, 136 yards rushing
- Carlos Hyde: 11 carries, 49 yards
- Corey Brown: 12 receptions, 84 yards
- Ohio State Defense: 303 yards yielded
Home against Nebraska for Ohio State’s homecoming next Saturday at 8 p.m.