The Spartans of Michigan State showed up in Columbus today to tangle with the Buckeyes for the first time since 2008. This game turned out very differently than the previous one as the Spartans took advantage of the pathetic Ohio State offense on the way to an ugly 10-7 win. Neither team was competent in the offensive game at all, but Michigan State’s competence was enough to actually get them on the scoreboard. The OSU defense continued to grow and succeed, even managing to force two turnovers during the game, but their effort was largely wasted because of the offense. For the game, Jordan Hall picked up 91 all-purpose yards as the best offensive presence for the OSU offense on the day.
The Buckeyes began the game with the ball down a couple of men. Corey “Philly” Brown, who was injured several weeks ago against Toledo, continued to sit through this one with his sore ankle. Also, Nathan Williams remained out with his deep bone bruise with no indication of when he might be available to return. Thankfully, though, Jaamal Berry dressed and prepared for this game despite his issues earlier in the week.
The Buckeyes struggled to move the ball in their first drive much like last week. Jordan Hall found little running room against the tough MSU defense, and Jake Stoneburner was unable to gain more than a couple yards on third and seven. On the plus side, though, Stoneburner did catch a short pass early in the game, which is a promising sign considering what we’ve seen the last few saturdays.
Things weren’t much better for the Spartans in their own first drive. The first play of the drive was an extremely low snap that the running back was forced to cover up 6 yards into the backfield. Sparty was unable to make much on their next two downs and very nearly gave the Buckeyes huge field position on a bad snap on the punt. Big credit goes to Mike Sadler, MSU’s punter, for being able to scoop up the ball deep in his own backfield and get the ball off under pressure to put the Buckeyes back on their own 20.
The Spartan defense obviously had the Buckeye’s number early in the game. They knew when the Buckeyes wanted to run and were stacking the box with more than the OSU offense could block. Not surprisingly, MSU’s defensive talent is more than sufficient to make life difficult for the OSU running game when the numbers are unbalanced. After another three and out, it was apparent that the Bucks were going to have to look to the passing game to get the ball moving. Unfortunately with the strong wind and rain, passing the ball did not look like a serious possibility.
Michigan State was the first to get their running game unbuttoned a little. Le’Veon Bell managed to pick up 11 yards on first down up the middle that set the tone for the second MSU drive. Kirk Cousins quickly found another first down with a quick route to an open BJ Cunningham on the right side. Two plays later, they connected again on a 33 yard touchdown play that was initially broken. Cousins confidently directed Cunningham to the right spot in the endzone and put the ball where neither of the two available defenders could get at it.
The Buckeyes continued to struggle offensively. Even when they finally picked up a first down on a nice option sweep to the right side with Carlos Hyde, the play was called back due to a Chris Fields hold on the edge. On 3rd and 13, Braxton Miller was given a chance to attempt to make a throw, but was forced under pressure to scramble and ended up tossing an ugly duck that was nearly intercepted. Michigan State was clearly rolling with the momentum on the defensive end, and the Buckeyes had no answer for it.
The next drive started with promise for the Spartans. A quick first down on a nice short pass to the right side led to MSU feeling comfortable in their gameplan. Subsequently, the Buckeyes got fantastic push with their defensive line to stuff the Spartan running game and force them to punt the ball away. It finally seemed like the defense was getting the hang of the MSU strategy.
Finally things started to get unbuttoned for the OSU offense. After being pinned at their own 10 yardline, the Bucks found some success with a nice 12 yard gain from Carlos Hyde on a draw play. The Spartans very likely had been expecting a pass on a long second down, and Hyde made them pay for that up the middle of the defense. On third and short, Braxton Miller found Chris Fields open short for a big first down – the first of the day for the Buckeyes offense. As per usual this season, the OSU offense immediately shot itself in the foot with a false start and a bad snap and was again forced to punt the ball away.
Kirk Cousins continued to find success on the right side of the defense as the Buckeyes stuck with their soft zone defense. On third and 7, Cousins found a wide open Keith Nichol with a play that was nearly identical to the one that OSU found with Chris Fields earlier. The Bucks weren’t having much difficulty with the MSU running game and were continually stuffing the excellent Spartan tailbacks in the backfield. The Buckeyes eventually forced MSU into a 4th and 4 which Dantonio attempted to go for. The OSU defense did a fantastic job defending the play forcing the turnover.
Ohio State immediately burned the good field position as Corey Linsley committed the second false start of the game for the OSU offensive line. The Bucks looked ready to give the ball up again on a long 3rd and 13, but Braxton Miller managed to get one to a wide open Chris Fields. Thankfully Fields had been wide open, or the dead duck that Miller threw him would have been easily picked off. The drive continued to get help from MSU’s defensive gaffes until the Buckeyes handed the ball over. Braxton Miller looked for Devin Smith near the goal line and tossed the ball into double coverage. Darqueze Denard managed to get a hand on the ball as Smith tried to draw the catch in and Darqueze ripped the ball away for the interception.
Michigan State was forced to start at their own six and chose to go with quick passes to try to move the football. The strategy was successful at first, earning Sparty a quick first down with two solid passes. Surprisingly, after a 6 yard run, the Buckeye defense buckled down and stopped the MSU passing game – even nearly picking off a pass that looked like it could have gone for a touchdown.
It was pretty obvious that defensively these two teams were well matched, but offensively the Buckeyes were far inferior. Thankfully, the OSU defense was enough to strangle the MSU offense through most of the first half and keep the score within a touchdown long enough for the OSU offense to try to work out their woes and make something happen.
To that end, the Buckeyes went to a steady diet of Jordan Hall up the middle. Surprisingly, the strategy worked early in the drive giving the Buckeyes a quick first down. MSU wasn’t going to let the Buckeyes get away with having an offense for long though, as they blew through Jack Mewhort twice in a single set of downs to tackle Miller before he could even turn around on the playaction pass.
Michigan State finally made a critical mistake. With fantastic field position and three minutes left in the half, the Spartans were attempting to put points on the board going into the half. After dinking and dunking down the field with the short passing game, including a nice pass to BJ Cunningham on third down where he carried Travis Howard the last three yards for the first down, MSU had a first down about 25 yards out from the endzone. Cousins dropped back to pass, and dropped the ball as he reached back to begin his throwing motion. Jonathan Hankins swiftly moved in and dropped on top of the ball.
But, it’s not like the Buckeyes were going to do anything with the football. The time ticking down, OSU began to run the football up the middle, and even managed to work their way into Michigan State territory on a nice long Carlos Hyde run. But then the Buckeyes promptly pissed it away with poor clock management and a bad sack with less than 25 seconds left. Instead of taking a timeout and giving it a last shot, the Buckeyes chose to take the game into the half to a chorus of boos from the crowd.
It’s frustrating to watch the OSU struggle this much. Ohio State has only been shut out 7 times since 1960, most recently at Michigan in 1993, and most recently at home against Wisconsin in 1982. In fact, this was the first time OSU was shut out in the first half at home since that same game against Wisconsin. To see Michigan State completely stymie the already pathetic OSU offense, even if they are the best defense in the nation, must have been exactly what opposing fanbases felt when playing Tressel during the last decade. This was precisely Tressel’s favorite strategy, and it was freaking painful to experience it.
Michigan State got the ball first to start the second half, and discovered the going just as difficult as it was in the first half. The Buckeyes held them to a three and out on a great stuffed run by John Simon in the backfield on third and one. Mike Sadler got off a great punt and put the Buckeyes on their own 30 for their first drive of the second half.
The Buckeyes immediately went to the running game with Jordan Hall on five straight plays. On the first three, Ohio State managed to gain a neat 20 yards through the teeth of the MSU defense. Unsurprisingly, Michigan State buckled down on the last two and forced the Buckeyes into no gain and a punt. The third down play was a draw play for Hall up the middle that was sniffed out by MSU easily – far too obvious a play call to be successful for three yards.
It was time for the OSU defense to end up on their heels again. The Michigan State defense began to move the ball again, partly with the help of some untimely penalties by the OSU defense. CJ Barnett popped Keshawn Martin out of bounds after a short pass for a first down which gave MSU all the momentum they needed to move the ball down the field with impunity. The Bucks got a gift when MSU committed a holding penalty on a tough blitz on second down that put MSU 16 yards back from the first down. Sparty was unable to gain the necessary yards, and Dan Conway missed a 51 yarder wide right to give the Buckeyes great field position.
The Buckeye offense continued to look hopeless, despite every effort by Michigan State to give them an opportunity. After digging themselves a hole on yet another false start, Michigan State gave the Bucks 15 yards and a first down when one of their defensive backs hit Carlos Hyde after the ball had flown away. The penalty was one of the new calls design to protect receivers from overly aggressive defenders. As is typical for this offense, they were unable to do anything with the football and were forced to punt again.
The Spartans finally got their offense moving again. After Travis Howard nearly picked the ball off for six on second down, Kirk Cousins found BJ Cunningham wide open over the head of Travis Howard for a huge gain down into the red zone. The Buckeye defense stiffened and on third and goal the OSU defense finally did something right. Kirk Cousins took a shot to the corner of the endzone when a shorter pass would have done, and the Bucks tipped it up for CJ Barnett to pick it off in the endzone.
Ohio State chose to go with Bauserman on the subsequent drive. After a 5 yard penalty for a sideline infraction, and a half-the-distance penalty on first down for pass interference, the Buckeyes were pretty well shut down on the drive. Ultimately, Ben Buchanan was forced to punt with the ball snapped from the 3 yardline. Michigan State ended up with great field position after the punt, but weren’t able to move the ball much during their resulting drive. The Spartans ultimately kicked a field goal giving them a nearly insurmountable 10 point lead.
Jordan Hall ripped off an excellent return up to nearly the 40 yard line to give the Buckeyes a shot with about 10 minutes left in the game. But then the Buckeyes put Bauserman in the game. I won’t deny that I supported Bauserman early, but even with Braxton Miller’s struggles, he is clearly the better quarterback of the two. Not surprisingly Bauserman was unable to do anything in the face of the MSU pass rush and the Buckeyes, stop me if you’ve heard this before, were forced to punt the ball away.
Give credit to the Ohio State defense for refusing to give up in this game, despite the complete ineptitude of the Buckeye offense. Andrew Sweat completely debacled Edwin Baker in the backfield for a loss of two, and Cunningham missed an easy wide open catch in stride that could have been a touchdown. The plays resulted in another three and out for the OSU defense which stood tall all day long.
Bradley Roby simply wasn’t ready to give up with just under five minutes left in the game. He picked off an ugly pass from Kirk Cousins to give the Buckeyes the ball deep in their own territory. Bauserman continued to come into the game and found a quick first down pass to Verlon Reed over the middle. After a quick catch for Carlos Hyde in the flat, Bauserman found Verlon Reed at on the left side again for a first down, and the first real OSU drive of the game. Yet again the Buckeyes crossed the 50 yard line into Michigan State territory and completely shut down. Bauserman began overthrowing his receivers again, and on third down underthrew his receiver. Finally, under pressure on 4th and 10, Bauserman overthrew the runningback in the flat and ended any hope of putting points on the board.
The Buckeyes barely evaded the shutout when Bauserman found Evan Spencer for a 35 yard route across the middle of the field with 10 seconds left on the clock. Spencer barely managed to squeeze into the endzone between two Spartan defenders for a huge score that actually gave the Buckeyes an icicles chance to win the game. The Buckeyes came amazingly close to hauling in the onside kick with both Ryan Shazier and Nate Ebner, but they simply couldn’t get it.
Ultimately, no matter how bad the offense looked, you absolutely have to recognize the quality of this MSU defense. They may have given up more than thirty points to Notre Dame, but they are still quality enough to stymie our young and developing offense. OSU simply doesn’t have enough receiving options, and even experience at quarterback, to out perform a tough defense of Michigan State’s quality. This team will struggle the next couple of weeks, as Nebraska, Illinois and Wisconsin all have top defenses as well.
The Buckeyes will next face the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln on October 8th at 8:00pm. You’ll be able see that game on ESPN.