The sky was as gray as the concrete in Ohio Stadium and Ohio State’s offensive performance was just as drab as the Buckeyes dropped a 10-7 decision to No. 25 Michigan State in the 2011 Big Ten opener for both teams.
Until a touchdown drive in the final two minutes of the game, OSU was working on one of its poorest offensive outputs in many years. Before the team’s final two possessions, the Buckeyes had totaled a mere 83 yards that included minus-4 in the second half. Their final two possessions netted 33 and 62 yards, respectively, and they finished with 178 yards of offense.
Meanwhile, Ohio State avoided being shut out for the first time since a 28-0 loss to Michigan in the 1993 regular-season finale. The team hasn’t been blanked at home since a 6-0 defeat to Wisconsin in 1982.
“There’s not a lot to say,” OSU head coach Luke Fickell told reporters after the game. “Give Michigan State credit. They came in here and outplayed us. It was a physical football game and we just didn’t get it done.
“I know we’ve got some things to shore up on both sides of the ball. … There are a lot of things we have to do.”
There was plenty of blame to go around. Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller was victimized by poor protection throughout much of the game and was sacked four times before being relieved in the fourth quarter by fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman.
Miller finished with only 5 completions in 10 attempts for 56 yards and an interception. He rushed nine times for minus-27 yards.
After he came on at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Bauserman’s first three series were disastrous – a trio of negative three-and-outs totaling minus-32 yards – but the senior began to move the team after freshman cornerback Bradley Roby grabbed an interception at the OSU 24 with 4:24 remaining in the game.
Bauserman completed 3 of 4 passes to move the Buckeyes to the Michigan State 43, but the drive stalled there. But OSU got the ball back for one final possession and Bauserman put together a seven-play, 62-yard drive with the capper a 33-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Evan Turner with 0:10 showing on the fourth-quarter clock.
Bauserman finished 7 of 14 for 87 yards despite being sacked five times. The MSU defense totaled nine sacks for the game distributed among seven different players.
“Again, give Michigan State credit,” Fickell said. “Sometimes they were bringing more guys than we could block. … You don’t give your quarterback much a chance when you get sacked nine times.”
All of the sacks skewed the Ohio State rushing totals, giving the Buckeyes a game average of less than a yard per attempt. They wound up with only 35 yards on 39 carries, junior tailback Jordan Hall leading the way with 18 carries for 45 yards.
Redshirt freshman Verlon Reed was the top receiver for Ohio State with four catches for 43 yards. Tailback Carlos Hyde had three receptions for 14 yards to go along with five rushes for 33 yards.
Michigan State wasn’t much more effective on offense although the Spartans finished with 321 total yards. Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins completed 20 of 32 passes for 250 yards, but he pitched a pair of interceptions that prevented his team from ever taking a stranglehold on the lead. MSU managed only 71 yards rushing on 31 carries.
Senior receiver B.J. Cunningham was the star of the game for the Spartans, gathering in nine receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown.
The Spartans drew first blood early when Cunningham got loose from OSU cornerbacks Travis Howard and Bradley Roby in the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown pass from Cousins. That gave Michigan State a 7-0 advantage at the 7:44 mark of the first quarter.
It remained that way until junior kicker Dan Conroy drilled a 50-yard field goal for the Spartans with 10:35 remaining in the game to give his team a 10-0 lead before Ohio State earned a modicum of self-respect with the 33-yard hookup from Bauserman to Spencer in the final seconds.
That set up an onside kick try in the final seconds, and the Buckeyes appeared to have a shot at a recovery until Michigan State senior safety Trenton Robinson emerged from a pile of players cradling the football.
Ohio State (3-2, 0-1) takes to the road next week for its first-ever visit to Nebraska. The Cornhuskers (4-0) were set to take on Wisconsin this evening in Madison. Kickoff next Saturday is set for 8 p.m. Eastern.