All week long leading into their game against Ohio State, Michigan State had to hear pundits downplay their chances of going into a Columbus and stealing a win from the No. 3 Buckeyes. Never mind that, ranked eighth in the country, the Spartans weren’t exactly coming into a gun fight armed only with a knife.
Saturday night, they served notice to anyone that overlooked them or just flat-out forgot about them.
Battling a hostile environment in inclement weather and without their starting quarterback, the Spartans stood tall, turning a gutsy performance into a stunning 17-14 upset of the Buckeyes. The game-winning points came of the right leg of Michael Geiger, whose 41-yarder as the clock expired was the difference.
For Ohio State, it was the end of a 23-game winning streak; a couple of years ago, it was Michigan State that ended the Buckeyes’ 24-game winning streak in the Big Ten championship game. The loss also ended the Buckeyes’ record of 30 straight regular season Big Ten wins.
For Michigan State, the win gives it complete and total control of the Big Ten East. MSU can earn a spot in the conference championship game opposite Iowa with either a win over Penn State next week or, if they lose, a Michigan win over OSU. The Buckeyes can still claim the East, but it would take a win over the Wolverines and a Spartans loss to the Nittany Lions.
Making the win all the more impressive was the fact that the Spartans did it without All-Big Ten quarterback Connor Cook, who sat out with an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder. In his place, Tyler O'Connor made his first collegiate start, and the junior did exactly what he was supposed to: manage the game and not turn the ball over. For the most part he did all of that, even as his one turnover, a fumble, led to the Buckeyes’ first touchdown.
It was the Spartans’ defense, though, that was the story of the game — well, that any the lack of any type of cohesive game plan on OSU’s part. The high-powered Buckeyes were held to a season-low 132 yards of offense; it was also the lowest total ever in head coach Urban Meyer‘s coaching career. On a night when they passed for just a mere 43 yards, and could do nothing down the field, Heisman Trophy candidate Ezekiel Elliott ran the ball just 12 times. Unbelievably, just three of those carries came in a second half in which the Buckeyes either led or were tied for all 30 minutes.
While much of the credit should go to the Spartans’ defense, Meyer will (rightly) have a lot of explaining to do for a plan that more closely resembled a game of blindfolded darts than anything else, especially for a game played in those conditions.
As for the playoff picture? It doesn’t change it much if at all in that it seems highly likely the winner of the Big Ten championship game, whether it’s one-loss Michigan State or unbeaten Iowa, will still be a decided favorite to claim one of the spots in the two semifinals. In fact, the only thing that really changed is, barring a significant turn of events, Ohio State won’t be getting the opportunity to defend its 2014 national championship.
Such is your lot in life, though, when you have a Porsche and you keep it parked for most of the race.