It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t have to be. No. 10 Ohio State (9-1, 6-1) leaving No. 18 Michigan State (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) with a 26-6 win means the Buckeyes are still in position to make their own case not just for the Big Ten championship, but also for a spot in the College Football Playoff field. For either of those goals to be obtained, however, Ohio State still ha some work to do moving into the final few weeks.
Ohio State’s defense certainly looked improved in the road win in East Lansing. After being dominated by Purdue two games ago and then after a shaky performance after a bye week against Nebraska last week, Ohio State’s defense played much better on Saturday. Of course, the Spartans offense has been a bit damaged and may have served as the perfect recipe for an ailing Ohio State defense. The Spartans had just two third-down conversion in 15 tries and the running game never found a way to get going.
Things were so difficult for Michigan State, Mark Dantonio called for a signature trick play that seemingly worked for a go-ahead touchdown only to see a penalty bring the score off the board. The Spartans also took an intentional safety in a 7-6 game and the punter backed up at the back of the endzone. In a defensive battle like the one unfolding, that appeared to be a decent gamble in an attempt to flip the field. Ohio State punted after four plays, but the Spartans were still pinned deep in their end, and the Buckeyes recovered a fumble in the end zone on the first play run by the Michigan State offense. Suddenly, a one-point game had turned into a 16-6 lead for Ohio State.
Ohio State added a field goal to extend the lead to 19-6 after Michigan State fumbled on the first play of their next possession (for two fumbles in as many snaps by the Spartans, who had switched from quarterback Brian Lewerke to Rocky Lombardi). The teams then exchanged turnovers with Ohio State fumbling on the Michigan State four-yard line and Lewerke (who had returned to the game) being picked off by Shaun Wade.
Dwayne Haskins passed for 227 yards with a touchdown, and Urban Meyer found spots to get Tate Martell in the game as well. Although Michigan State’s Big Ten-leading rushing defense had contained Ohio State for much of the game, Mike Weber accounted for 104 yards and a touchdown in the game.
With the win, Ohio State continues to keep relative pace with Big Ten East-leading Michigan. The Buckeyes trail Michigan by one game in the loss column but will have a chance to win a head-to-head tiebreaker in the final game of the regular season as long as Ohio State does not lose next week. Ohio State will play at Maryland next week before returning home to host the Wolverines in two weeks, when a spot in the Big Ten championship game is expected to be on the line. And, of course, the game could carry some College Football Playoff implications.
Michigan State remains in third place in the Big Ten East, tied with Penn State but with a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Nittany Lions. A shot at the Big Ten East is now out of reach for Michigan State with head-to-head losses to Ohio State and Michigan. The Spartans now head to Lincoln, Nebraska next week to play a recently charged up Nebraska team. It could be a dangerous spot to be in for Michigan State.