Ohio State made things a little more interesting than a homecoming crowd of 105,287 might have liked, but like always the defense rose to the occasion during a 24-17 victory over Michigan State.
The Buckeyes were rolling along with a comfortable 24-0 lead in the third quarter and were about to put things on cruise control. But turnovers on successive drives gave the Spartans two defensive touchdowns, making the final score much closer than the game really was.
“Well, it was an interesting game our guys played today,” OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. “Defensively, I thought we played solidly all game. Our defense held them to under 200 yards, which is extraordinary for a college team. Unfortunately, our offense gave up 14 points which is something you cannot do if you want to be Big Ten champs.”
Perhaps senior co-captain Dionte Johnson summed it up best: “I guess they all can’t be pretty. The important thing was that we got the ‘W.’ That’s all I care about.”
A look at the final stats shows the dominance the Buckeyes enjoyed in the game. They more than doubled the Spartans in first downs (22-9) and total yardage (422-185), and ground out 229 yards on the ground while holding MSU’s vaunted rushing attack to only 59.
OSU quarterback Todd Boeckman experienced some lofty highs and depressing lows in the contest. He completed his first 11 passes in the contest, and coupled with two completions at the end of last week’s game against Kent State, set a new school record with 13 consecutive completions.
He finished the game 15 for 23 in the passing department for 193 yards and two touchdowns.
But just about the time Boeckman was elbowing his way into the Heisman Trophy discussion, his third-quarter mistakes – an interception and fumble after a sack – gave Michigan State its two touchdowns.
The star of the game offensively for the Buckeyes was sophomore tailback Chris Wells, who displayed speed, moves and toughness on his way to a career-high 221 yards on 31 carries.
Meanwhile, Michigan State running back Javon Ringer was held to 49 yards on 18 carries while his backup Jehuu Caulcrick got only 9 yards on four carries. The duo entered the game averaging a combined 204.4 yards per game.
While OSU was shutting down the Spartans on the ground, it also did a good job of keeping quarterback Brian Hoyer in check. The Cleveland St. Ignatius product managed to complete 12 of 23 passes for 126 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He was also sacked three times.
Ohio State opened the game with a 93-yard scoring drive that was accentuated by a 47-yard run by Wells. Tight end Jake Ballard made a leaping, juggling catch for a 14-yard touchdown, giving the Buckeyes a quick 7-0 lead with 11:50 remaining in the first quarter.
They added to that advantage at the 3:40 mark with a 42-yard field goal from Ryan Pretorius.
OSU took advantage of an interception by defensive tackle Doug Worthington early in the second quarter to score again. Wells capped a short 29-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run with 10:15 left before halftime. Pretorius added the PAT to make it 17-0.
Boeckman connected with Robiskie at the 6:52 mark of the third quarter for a 50-yard touchdown, and after Pretorius kicked the extra point, it was a 24-0 lead and what appeared to be a rout.
But on back-to-back possessions, the Buckeyes committed turnovers that resulted in Michigan State touchdowns. Backup free safety Otis Wiley picked off a Boeckman pass and returned it 51 yards for a score, and then linebacker SirDarean Adams scooped up a Boeckman fumble after the Ohio State quarterback was sacked and ran it back 25 yards.
In the space of only 56 seconds, the Spartans chopped 14 points off the Ohio State and trailed only 24-14 with 2:56 left in the third quarter. And it could have been worse. On the ensuing drive, Wells fumbled in the backfield and barely regained possession.
Michigan State got a 43-yard field goal from kicker Brian Swenson with 3:42 left in the game to cut the Buckeyes’ lead to a single touchdown at 24-17, but that was as close as the Spartans could get.
Ohio State got the ball back and the Spartans could not stop Wells. He ran the ball seven consecutive times for 32 yards, and after MSU took its final time out at the 1:49 mark, the game was over. A final 4-yard run by Wells on third-and-2 with 59 seconds left sealed the deal.
Defensively, the Buckeyes were led by junior middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, who had 12 tackles. Junior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins was next with eight stops while junior outside linebacker Marcus Freeman added seven. Laurinaitis, safety Kurt Coleman and defensive tackle Dexter Larimore were each credited with a sack, while Freeman shared one with defensive end Cameron Heyward.
Ohio State, now 8-0, travels to Penn State next weekend for the final night game of the season. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. Eastern. The Nittany Lions were 36-31 winners over Indiana earlier today.