Ohio State managed to blunt Michigan State’s vaunted running game and somehow overcame three turnovers to score a hard-fought 17-16 victory Saturday afternoon before 76,705 fans at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.
The Buckeyes moved to 5-0 for the season, but more importantly gave head coach Urban Meyer a win in his Big Ten debut.
“We learned something about ourselves today,” Meyer told reporters after the game. “This was a war, two sledgehammers going at each other. That was a fantastic game.”
OSU limited Michigan State to only 34 yards on the ground after the Spartans entered the game averaging 176.2 per game. MSU junior tailback Le’Veon Bell, who was the nation’s third-leading rusher with an average of 152.5 yards per game, finished with only 45 yards on 17 carries. The Spartans had 17 first downs in the game, not a single one of them was manufactured by the running game.
The Buckeyes were led once again by sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller, who was knocked out of the game a couple of times but kept coming back like a scarlet and gray Energizer bunny. Miller carried 23 times for 136 yards, and completed 16 of 23 pass attempts for 179 yards and a touchdown.
But Miller turned the ball over three times – twice on fumbles and once with an interception – as the Buckeyes struggled to maintain control of the game. In addition to the turnovers, Ohio State also committed six penalties for 65 yards. But the Buckeyes were able to total 383 yards and made enough plays on defense to preserve the win.
In addition to Miller, OSU got superlative offensive performances from wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown and tailback Carlos Hyde. Brown caught a career-high 12 balls for 84 yards while Hyde took over for an injured Jordan Hall and ground out 49 tough yards on 11 carries. It was Hyde’s slicing 5-yard run up the middle on third-and-four with the game clock winding under two minutes that clinched the game for the Buckeyes.
Brown’s 12 catches were the fourth-highest single-game total in OSU history.
Sophomore receiver Devin Smith added two catches for 79 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown catch with 3:02 remaining in the third quarter that accounted for the game-winning points.
Defensively, Ohio State allowed 303 total yards to the Spartans and missed tackles and blown assignments were again a major problem. But OSU got excellent individual performances from the likes of cornerback Bradley Roby and linebacker Etienne Sabino to close out Michigan State when the Buckeyes needed it most. Roby totaled nine tackles and also blocked a punt while Sabino turned in a career performance with eight tackles and a sack.
Michigan State was led offensively by quarterback Andrew Maxwell, who completed 22 of 42 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown.
Bell did far more damage as a receiver than as a runner, gathering in eight catches for 58 yards. Sophomore receiver Keith Mumphery added five catches for 79 yards and a highlight-reel touchdown.
The Buckeyes wasted no time getting on the board early, taking the game’s opening possession 75 yards in eight plays before Hall dived over from the 1-yard line. Kicker Drew Basil booted the extra point to give Ohio State a quick 7-0 lead at the 12:09 mark of the first quarter.
Michigan State responded on its first possession, going 50 yards in nine plays. However, a third-and-7 pass from Maxwell intended for Mumphery was broken up and the Spartans were forced to settle for a 34-yard field goal from senior Dan Conroy. That made it 7-3 with 8:23 remaining in the first period.
After The Opening salvos by both teams, neither team dented the scoreboard again although each had scoring opportunities.
Early in the second quarter, OSU moved from its own 20 to the MSU 25, but on first down, Miller tried to get a quick flip to Hyde that was intercepted by Spartans safety Kurtis Drummond.
The Buckeyes had another chance go by the boards late in the first half. Two plays after Roby blocked a Michigan State punt to give OSU possession at the Spartans’ 35-yard line, Miller fumbled on an aborted option read and MSU defensive back Chris Norman recovered at his own 33 with 1:42 left in the half.
Michigan State quickly moved back into Ohio State territory, but stalled at the OSU 24 before Conroy pushed a 42-yard field goal attempt wide to the right with 33 seconds remaining until the break.
The statistics were nearly even for the first 30 minutes. The Buckeyes had a slight edge in total yardage, 163-155, while holding the Spartans to only 26 yards on the ground.
MSU got within one point at 7-6 when Conroy thumped a 50-yard field goal through the uprights at the 11:04 mark of the third quarter. But the Spartans could have had more. Maxwell completed a pass to tight end Dion Sims to the Ohio State 9, but Michigan State was flagged for an illegal receiver downfield that pushed the Spartans back to the 38. The three subsequent plays netted only 5 more yards and MSU was forced to settle for Conroy’s field goal.
Ohio State had to settle for a field goal of its own on its next possession. Miller got the Buckeyes to the doorstep of the Michigan State goal line, but after reaching the 12-yard line, the QB misfired twice and got only 3 yards out of a bubble screen to Brown. Basil came on for a 26-yard field goal to make it 10-6 with 6:08 left in the third quarter.
But the Spartans came right back to take control with a 65-yard drive that took exactly 73 seconds. Nick Hill returned a short Basil kickoff to the 35 after which Bell took a direct snap and picked up 4 yards. Maxwell followed with a 17-yard completion to Sims that got an extra 15 yards tacked onto the end when Roby was flagged for a facemask penalty.
On the next play, Mumphrey gathered in a pass from Maxwell and broke six tackles on his way to a 29-yard touchdown romp. That gave Michigan State momentary momentum and a 13-10 lead with 4:49 to go in the third quarter.
But the Buckeyes quickly answered on the fourth play of the ensuing drive when Smith got loose behind MSU cornerback Johnny Adams for a 63-yard touchdown bomb from Miller, pushing Ohio State back into the lead at 17-13 with 3:05 to go in the third.
The Buckeyes threatened to add to their lead early in the fourth quarter, but as Miller was running for a first down, he banged his knee on the turf and lost control of the football. Drummond made the recovery for the Spartans at the MSU 32 to thwart that scoring threat with 12:14 left in the game.
Michigan State quickly went the other way and benefited from an Ohio State defensive holding call on an aborted fourth-and-1 play. That pushed the Spartans past midfield and they made it as far as the OSU 28 before Nathan Williams corralled Maxwell for a third-down sack. The 3-yard loss forced the Spartans to call upon Conroy again, and this time the MSU kicker converted a 48-yard field goal to make it 17-16 with 7:07 to play.
The Spartans had a final chance to pull out the victory. After forcing a three-and-out series by the Buckeyes after Conroy’s field goal, Maxwell completed an 11-yard pass to sophomore Tony Lippert to give MSU a first down on its own 31.
But Maxwell threw incomplete on the next play, Bell managed only a 1-yard run on second down and then Sabino hit Maxwell as he threw a third-down pass, a throw that fell incomplete. Michigan State was forced to punt the ball away with 4:10 remaining and never got the ball back.
The Buckeyes converted a trio of first downs on their final possession, the final one on a third-and-4 as Hyde followed a block from right tackle Reid Fragel and then sliced through a would-be tackler for a 5-yard gain. That gave OSU a first down with 1:29 remaining and three kneel-downs later, the Buckeyes had the victory.