Four first-half touchdowns were the perfect medicine for an ailing Ohio State offense Oct. 18 and the Buckeyes rolled to a 45-7 victory over Michigan State in front of 77,360 fans at Spartan Stadium.
The win kept OSU (4-0, 7-1) in first place of the Big Ten championship race with a showdown looming next week against undefeated Penn State. The third-ranked Nittany Lions rolled to a 46-17 win over Michigan.
Ohio State scored on three consecutive possessions in the first quarter and then tacked on another touchdown to grab a 28-0 halftime lead on the shell-shocked Spartans. The home team tried to make a game of it when redshirt freshman quarterback Kirk Cousins came off the bench to rally his team down the field to start the third quarter.
But that was as close as Michigan State would get. The Buckeyes sandwiched fourth-quarter fumble returns for touchdowns by defensive end Thaddeus Gibson and safety Jermale Hines around a 40-yard field goal Aaron Pettrey to close out the scoring.
The Buckeyes had been roundly criticized following last week’s 16-3 win over Purdue that failed to produce an offensive touchdown and only 222 total yards against one of the most porous defenses in the Big Ten. Against the Spartans, however, OSU rolled up 332 total yards.
Junior tailback Chris “Beanie” Wells and freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor led the way for the Ohio State offense. Wells rushed a season-high 31 times for 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns while Pryor added 72 yards and a score. The QB also completed 7 of 11 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, the Buckeyes played their second solid game in a row, holding the Spartans to only 240 total yards and the lone score. MSU entered the game averaging 368.9 yards and 29.7 points per game.
OSU was able to hold Michigan State tailback Javon Ringer in check. Ringer entered the game as the No. 2-ranked rusher in the nation, averaging 158.9 yards per game. He finished the game with a season-low totals of 67 yards on 16 carries.
The Buckeyes also did a number on the Spartan quarterbacks. Starting senior Brian Hoyer managed to complete only 5 of 13 passes for 27 yards while Cousins, who completed his first 10 attempts, finished 18 for 25 for 161 yards and a TD to go along with two fumbles and one interception. The duo was also sacked three times.
Ohio State drew first blood with its second possession of the game. After a short punt and 9-yard return by Ray Small, the Buckeyes had to go only 47 yards in four plays before Pryor took an option keeper around right end for an 18-yard touchdown. OSU kicker Ryan Pretorius added the extra point for a 7-0 lead at the 8:25 mark of the first quarter.
Three plays in Michigan State’s ensuing drive, the Spartans were seemingly ready to answer when receiver Keshawn Martin took a lateral and ran 10 yards up the far sideline. But when Martin was tackled by OSU safety Kurt Coleman, he lost control of the football. Cornerback Donald Washington scooped up the fumble and raced 44 yards to the MSU 17 before being forced out of bounds.
Five plays later, Pryor found senior receiver Brian Robiskie all alone in the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown, and after Pretorius added the extra point, it was 14-0 Buckeyes with 4:33 left in the first quarter.
After the OSU defense forced a three-and-out on Michigan State’s next possession, the offense went back to work with lightning quickness. On first down, Pryor connected with split end Brian Hartline, who made a leaping catch between a pair of Spartan defenders and then was brought down just short of the goal line. The 56-yard play set up a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Wells on the next play to make it 21-0 with 2:44 still left in the opening period.
In the second quarter, the Buckeyes had their most sustained offensive drive of the game, going 77 yards in nine plays. The big plays during the march were a 25-yard rumble by Wells and a 21-yard pass from Pryor to fullback Brandon Smith. Wells finished things off with a 12-yard scamper, and after the extra point, Ohio State enjoyed a 28-0 halftime lead.
Michigan State got its only points when it took the second-half’s opening kickoff and marched 85 yards. Cousins relieved Hoyer and went 5 for 5 during the drive, including a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Charlie Gantt. That made the score 28-7 with 10:51 remaining in the third quarter, and the Spartans had some life.
But on the first play of the fourth quarter, Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins came clean on a blitz and caused Cousins to fumble, a loose ball that was picked up by Gibson and taken 69 yards for a touchdown. The extra point made it 35-7 with 14:56 left in the game and sent many of the Green and White faithful headed to the exits.
Pettrey added a 40-yard field goal at the 5:34 mark and Hines put the final nail in the coffin when he returned a Cousins fumble 48 yards for a touchdown with just 27 seconds left in the game.
OSU linebacker James Laurinaitis led the Buckeyes with 11 tackles while Jenkins and linebacker Ross Homan added nine each. Homan also had two tackles for loss while Laurinaitis was credited with 1½ sacks.