Columbus, Ohio- The Buckeyes were on a mission Saturday night. They had heard enough from the critics and the boo-birds. Head coach Ryan Day has been accused of several things this week, including slow starts, lack of passion, and an inability to prove Ohio State belongs in the national title conversation. Although Michigan State is currently considered a low-tier Big Ten opponent, the decisive way the Bucks handled them by a score of 38-3 should quell any doubts.
The Bucks took all of the feedback, wanted or not, and used it to their advantage. They came out and scored touchdowns on their first three drives, scoring on five out of their six possessions in the first half. The Buckeye defense stood tough, as they’ve done all season, by not allowing a trip to the endzone the entire game. The Spartans could only score one solitary field goal in a lackluster effort.
In the end, the Buckeyes proved a few things: they may be peaking at the right time; receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. is absolutely a key component in this Heisman race; the offense, when healthy, has too many weapons to deal with. Yet, perhaps most importantly, this defense may not have all the flashy stats in the turnover or sack department, but they most assuredly can handle any scheme.
The Buckeye faithful had every question answered Saturday night. At times throughout the season, the offense has put up impressive statistics and scores, but for some reason, it never seemed enough. It is true that the offense hasn’t averaged the same scores as in the past and that the O-line has uncharacteristically struggled with their assignments. None of that existed when Michigan State lined up across from the Bucks. Receiver Emeka Egbuka, still struggling to come back from his ankle injury, proves that when he is in the mix, there’s too much to handle. Running back TreVeyon Henderson runs as well as anybody in the nation, maybe better, and is the clear leader of the stable in Columbus. The Buckeyes dominated the first half (and looked damn good in those all-gray unis doing it), allowing some younger talent to get meaningful reps in the second half.
Ohio State’s defense is everything Ryan Day and Jim Knowles have been building up to. Maybe it's because they get to go up against one of the best offensive units every day in practice. Maybe it's the “less is more” defensive schemes and pressures. Either way, the Buckeyes’ defense is built for the rivalry matchup at the end of November and the playoffs, even if they are banged up. Defensive backs Lathan Ransom and Josh Proctor, along with linebacker Tommy Eichenberg, were sorely missed. However, the Silver Bullets are built on a "next man up" mentality that coincides with Knowles' ability to fit the right pieces together.
This has to be a heartbreak and a setback, but not completely unexpected. The Spartans may have come off their first conference win of the season but wound up taking it on the chin from a Buckeye team that is clearly gearing up for the rest of their schedule.
To the Spartans’ credit, they were able to move the ball for brief moments. Their running attack looked solid at times and was able to average roughly three yards per carry for 94 yards. Sadly, Sparty’s passing attack had eerily similar numbers. Their quarterback, Katin Houser, went 12 of 24 for 92 yards. The only scoring came off the kicker Johnathan Kim’s leg as he launched a 53-footer for Michigan State’s lone points.
The Spartans will have to go back to the drawing board and try to reassert themselves as they prepare for the lowly Hoosiers next week. Another loss, and one to Indiana, may be soul-crushing for a team that can’t find its identity.
(3) Ohio State 10-0 (7-0) will welcome PJ Fleck and the Minnesota Golden Gophers 5-5 (3-4),11/18 at 4 PM Eastern, a final tune-up before The Game.
Michigan State 3-7 (1-6) will be in Bloomington, Indiana to face off against the Hoosiers 3-7 (1-6) on Saturday, 11/18 at Noon, Eastern.
(Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images)