It doesn’t get much closer than that.
The Buckeyes and Spartans opened up the Big Ten regular season with a tough fought classic B1G battle that ended with a 17-16 win for the now 5-0 Buckeyes. Braxton Miller threw 16-23 for 179 yards, a touchdown and an interception, and added 23 carries for 136 yards on the ground but with 2 fumbles. His effort was significant in securing the win against a tough, hard-nosed Dantonio team.
As much as we wanted to believe the Buckeyes the Buckeyes were going to put together a much more impressive offensive performance, the Michigan State defense had other ideas. There are ways to be successful against the Spartans, and they aren’t the mobile QB killers they like to think they are, but they’re still a Dantonio defense. Playing them requires a slog through the mud that takes a level of intestinal fortitude few actually possess.
Carlos Hyde may have been the saving grace for this team today. He ran tough all game long and gave the Buckeyes a first down on a third and four from the 50 late in the 4th quarter. His number may not be explosive, but they seemed to come when we needed them most.
Andrew Maxwell played extremely well for the Spartans today. I can’t tell you how impressed I am about how much he has seemed to have grown in the last couple weeks. He could be a dangerous opponent next year if he can get a few better wide receiver targets. Thankfully his receivers dropped a few catchable balls today at key moments.
The defense obviously still needs work, but they were very close to not giving up any touchdowns again. They blew that by deciding to try to strip the football instead of wrapping up and tackling. They need to change their focus in future weeks, especially against Taylor Martinez of Nebraska, who has improved his passing this year.
1. The tackling for the Buckeye defense was a huge step in the right direction (at least for most of the game). Players were wrapping up the Spartans and not allowing the extra yardage that was typical of the previous four games. There is still more work that can be done on this, but it’s a huge step in the right direction.
2. The Buckeyes came out of the gate with the first drive of the game and looked absolutely fantastic. There was great running from Miller and Hall and the playcalling was creative. It was exactly the kind of drive we’ve been hoping to open our games with all season, and it finally came true.
3. The punt block team got a big one at the end of the half! This was something Urban Meyer promised would be an improved part of the special teams, and they managed to get one at a critical moment and in great field position. Unfortunately, Miller fumbled the ball away, but it was a promising sign.
4. Defense essentially did what we needed and stopped Le’Veon Bell on the ground. It goes to show you the quality of the defensive line. It’s very clear that it’s the back 7 that has the most issues on the defense. Bell was held to 45 yards on 17 carries for the game.
5. A long passing play to Devin Smith for a touchdown down the right side of the field. Absolutely beautiful, and exactly what the doctor ordered to open up the defense a little bit for our offense late. It was just another example of the development of Miller as a passer.
1. Braxton needs to be more careful about not staring down his receivers and knowing where the defense is. His interception in the 2nd quarter killed a momentum building drive.
2. Braxton is holding on to the football far too frequently in this one. The fumble at the end of the half was a direct result of his trying to do too much.
3. The secondary is still having huge coverage issues. Players are thinking too much rather than reacting to what they’re seeing. While they’ve managed to lay a couple great hits to knock catches out of the receiver’s arms, there are still too many uncontested receptions down field. Then, if the coverage is there, they’re too busy holding the receivers to do any good. I’m not thrilled with the play of this secondary going deeper into the Big Ten season.
4. Far too many turnovers were given up by the Buckeyes while not getting any in return. I won’t blame Miller for that second fumble on the play that he twisted his knee. That’s just normal human reaction to grab and protect your body after an injury like that. The pick and first fumble though? Those were avoidable.
5. On the subject of tackling, that first MSU touchdown simply should not have happened. Too many players tried to strip the ball instead of just bringing him down. That absolutely should never have happened.
6. Bonus! Third and Long. Just never mention third and long to me ever again.
The Buckeyes are at home next week to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers. That game will be played at 8:00 PM EST.