Essentially, the Ohio State-Michigan State game Saturday night is a play-in game for the Big Ten East division title and the league championship game. After two quarters, the rematch of last year’s conference championship game that began looking like another Spartan statement turned into the Buckeyes taking over the microphone.
After the first two quarters in East Lansing, OSU and MSU are tied at 21-all on a cold and blustery night in East Lansing. Outscored 14-7 in the first quarter, the Buckeyes turned the tables and outscored the Spartans 21-7 in the second.
The Spartans took a 21-14 lead late in the second quarter on a Jeremy Langford one-yard touchdown run. On the ensuing kickoff, a Dontre Wilson fumble — his second of the game on a return — handed the ball right back to the Spartans at the OSU 18-yard line. On the third play of the drive, Langford scored on an 11-yard touchdown run… only to have a holding penalty take away the score. MSU had to settle for a 39-yard field goal attempt, which was promptly missed.
OSU took full and immediate advantage of the missteps, with J.T. Barrett connecting on a 79-yard touchdown pass with wide receiver and Keyshawn Johnson nephew Matthew Thomas to knot things up at 21-all.
The Buckeyes forced a punt on the Spartans’ next possession, and Barrett again made the home team pay as he hit Devin Smith on a pretty 44-yard scoring pass.
There were two other series of plays early on, however, that changed the tenor of the contest mightily and decidedly in favor of the Spartans.
After forcing an MSU punt midway through the first quarter, OSU was poised to take possession around midfield in a game that was tied at 7-all at the time. Instead, the punt hit the leg of a Buckeye and was recovered by the Spartans. The next play, Langford ran the ball 33 yards to put MSU up 14-7.
On OSU’s next possession, the Buckeyes drove from their own 27-yard line to a first down inside MSU’s 10-yard line… only to see a 15-yard hands-to-the-face penalty wipe out that first down. A sack and an intentional grounding call on third and 29 pushed the Buckeyes into a fourth and 43 from their own 45-yard line, with the Buckeyes punting the ball back to the Spartans.
OSU had little trouble navigating MSU’s vaunted defense as they rolled to 332 first-half yards; MSU came into the game giving up just 279 yards per game. The two turnovers vs. none for Sparty, however, played a significant role in the game. The Spartans, meanwhile, were able to produce 238 yards of offense.
Barrett only completed 10 first-half passes, but still threw for 232 yards. Smith accounted for six of the completions and 129 of the yards. Ezekiel Elliott, meanwhile, ran for 71 yards on seven carries.
Connor Cook, the offensive hero of last year’s Big Ten title game, endured a rough two quarters, completing just 6-of-18 passes for 98 yards. Langford ran for 94 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 10 carries.
The Spartans, incidentally, will get the ball to start the second half.