It’s been a strange few months for the Michigan State football team and head coach Mark Dantonio. In addition to coming off a shocking 3-9 campaign last season, the Spartans have been in the midst of an ongoing sexual assault investigation that has involved several players on the team and a support staffer.
Dantonio has discussed the allegations and investigations — vaguely — just once the past few months and there’s been what has amounted to a media blackout in East Lansing for spring football. The Spartans held their Spring Game on Saturday afternoon however but the most notable aspect of the contest was not the White team’s 30-23 victory over the Green team, but who wasn’t involved in the game.
Per MLive.com, a whopping 15 players of the football team did not participate in the event and at least 10 were limited to the sidelines in sweatshirts. Perhaps most prominent of the names was that of tailback LJ Scott, a likely starter who has contributed significantly in the backfield.
All of the players were listed on the roster handed out to the media before the game, prompting the question as to why they weren’t involved.
The school and Dantonio have announced that several players were suspended this spring but have declined to mention any names connected to the probe or who is out injured. The spring game was televised on the Big Ten Network but it appears it may be many more weeks (or months) before we find out who exactly is involved in the ongoing investigation as MSU looks ahead to 2017.
No. 2 Ohio State (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) did just enough to get out of their final road game of the season with a 17-16 win. Michigan State (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten) has been going through a frustrating season but gave Ohio State one of their best efforts of the year in their final home game. Despite riding LJ Scott as much as they could, a failed two-point conversion in the fourth quarter allowed Ohio State to get out of Spartan Stadium with a key win to keep their playoff hopes alive with one regular season to go.
Ohio State quarterback JT Barrett rushed for 105 yards and Mike Weber rushed for 111 yards and a score. Running was the key to the game for both teams, as Barrett completed fewer than half of his 22 pass attempts (although one was for a touchdown to Curtis Samuel) and Michigan State’s Tyler O’Connor completed fewer than half of his passes. Spartans running back Scott rushed for 160 yards and a touchdown. Defenses were on point though for both teams, but the Buckeyes won the turnover battle with a late interception on Michigan State’s final offensive possession of the game.
Michigan State scored a late touchdown in the fourth quarter with fewer than five minutes to play, cutting the Buckeye lead to 17-16. Rather than kick the extra point to tie things up, Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio gambled (as he had earlier in the game with some tricks up his sleeve) by keeping the offense on the field for a two-point conversion try. With nothing to lose, Dantonio went all in for the lead, but O’Connor’s pass over the middle was picked off in the end zone, securing a narrow lead for Ohio State.
Next up for Ohio State is a regular season finale rivalry game with Michigan. A stake in the Big Ten East Division will be on the line for the noon kickoff, but a win by the Buckeyes next week will not necessarily send them to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. Penn State can still wiggle their way to Indy with an Ohio State next week and their own win against Michigan State next week in State College. Penn State also must beat Rutgers tonight, which is pretty much a 94% certainty if we’re being conservative.
Ohio State Clinches Big Ten East If…
- Ohio State beats Michigan AND Penn State loses once
A win by Ohio State next week should make for a fun discussion about the Playoff. Assuming Ohio State stays in the top four this week, a win against a highly-ranked Michigan next week should probably wrap up a playoff spot for the Buckeyes despite the possibility of not playing for a conference championship.
Could the program that won the first College Football Playoff national championship set the precedent for a non-division winner to reach the playoff?
After two straight games with no shortage of offensive fireworks, No. 2 Ohio State is in a bit of a battle this afternoon on the road against Michigan State. These Spartans may be having a rough year, but they are looking to play spoiler today against the Buckeyes. At the half, Ohio State and Michigan State are tied, 10-10.
Michigan State wasted little time putting Ohio state on notice when LJ Scott took a screen pass from Tyler O’Connor 64 yards to the end zone for a touchdown on the second play of the game.
The Buckeyes were left to send the punt team out at the end of their first offensive possession but managed to pin the Spartans deep in their end and the defense forced a three-and-out to create solid starting field position for the offense their second time out. This drive went much better for Ohio State, with JT Barrett connecting with Curtis Samuel for a 24-yard touchdown over the middle of the defense in the end zone to tie the game at 7-7.
The two teams have since exchanged field goals and turnovers as the game has shifted toward a little bit of a battle of field position. Michigan State has out-gained Ohio State after one half, but the Buckeyes have the edge in total first downs and time of possession.
Ohio State does not necessarily need to win this game in order to win the Big Ten East Division, but a loss does put the Buckeyes in a real difficult spot for the division race.
No. 2 Michigan (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) overcame an early fight by Michigan State (2-6, 0-5 Big Ten) but created some separation in the second half and slammed the door shut on the Spartans in the second half for a 32-23 win. The win keeps Michigan undefeated on the season and on top of the Big Ten East Division and puts the Spartans on very thin ice as it relates to postseason opportunities. It was Michigan’s first win in Spartan Stadium since 2007 and most-lopsided win since 1997 (23-7).
Michigan State’s running game proved to be effective in the first half, but the lack of any threat in the passing game ended up being part of the reason the Spartans could not keep up with Michigan. LJ Scott rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown in the losing effort, but Mark Dantonio‘s game-time decision to go with Tyler O’Connor resulted in a 4-for-10 for 34-yard afternoon, with an interception. Damion Terry and Brian Lewerke would get some time on the field as well, bu the damage was already done by the Wolverines.
Michigan’s offense was just unstoppable, scoring points on all of their first-half possessions to take a commanding 27-10 lead into the halftime break. The box score may not reveal a fantastic performance by Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight, but he still passed for over 200 yards and found a way to connect with Amara Darboh for some big gains. Michigan spread the ball around well on the ground too, including De'Veon Smith (2 TDs), Eddie McDoom and even Jabrill Peppers (1 TD, and one two-point conversion fumble returned for two Michigan points). Michigan also just played a cleaner game, with fewer penalties and slightly more success on third down than the Spartans. It all helped put Michigan State’s clock management plan to the scrap heap.
A week after Ohio State slipped up on the road against Penn State, Michigan appeared to leave little doubt who the best team in the Big Ten is as we move into November. It’s the Wolverines right now. Next week Michigan will return to Michigan Stadium and will be a heavy favorite against Maryland. That should leave Michigan at 9-0 heading into the final three games, which will include road trips to Iowa and Ohio State. So there is still work to be done, but Michigan has every reason to feeling confident about their chances right now.
Michigan State is now in serious danger of failing to reach the postseason at all. Today’s loss dropped the Spartans to the six-loss mark, meaning they are just one loss away from being ineligible for postseason play under NCAA rules. Michigan State still has games to play against Ohio State and Penn State in the final two games of the season after getting Illinois and Rutgers in the next two weeks. The last time a power conference champion failed to reach the postseason the following season was in 2010, when Texas took the Big 12 crown and played for the BCS National Championship in 2009 and went just 5-7 the following season. Ironically enough, Texas lost in that championship game to Alabama, the same program that flushed Michigan State right out of the postseason last January.
Michigan State looked to have a good game plan going for them in the first quarter with a way to control the clock, but what was a close rivalry game has tilted in favor of No. 2 Michigan as the teams hit the halftime break. Michigan has a 27-10 lead on the Spartans after a 20-point second quarter.
Michigan has ended all of their possessions in the first half with a score, which has been the best counter to Michigan State’s clock management game plan. Michigan has rolled up 287 yards of offense and 17 first downs against Michigan State.
Michigan State drove 75 yards to open the game with a touchdown drive against the rival Wolverines. LJ Scott had a hand on all but one of the 12 plays on the drive, which ended with a five-yard touchdown run by the Spartans running back. Running the ball and managing the clock was key for the Spartans in the first quarter, as Michigan State held the football for 11 and a half minutes as the first quarter came to a close.
While the Spartans had control of the clock, Michigan’s lone possession of the first quarter still resulted in an 80-yard touchdown drive. De'Veon Smith and Eddie McDoom led the ground game, but Jabrill Peppers would score for the Wolverines out of the wild cat formation to tie the game. He also once again demonstrated just how awesome a good pylon cam is…
Michigan State managing the clock could end up being a factor in the second half, but the defense absolutely needs to find a footing against a Michigan offense that is mixing things up effectively and running the ball well. Michigan is averaging 6.8 yards per rushing attempt. The Spartans also need to play with more discipline after being flagged six times for 42 yards in the first half. Michigan has been flagged just once for five yards.