Spartans Fall Just Short of Upset of No. 2 Buckeyes

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East Lansing, Mich. — Michigan State opened up this spoiler type game against Ohio State like they’ve done many times this season, with a hot opening drive. On just the second play of the game, Tyler O’Connor connected with L.J. Scott on a misdirection screen pass, who went untouched for a 64-yard score.

“It was a great play call, and [L.J.] made things happen and he executed,” said Coach Mark Dantonio.

Mike Weber moved the Buckeyes into plus territory as the Spartan defense bent, but did not break. The Buckeyes got into scoring territory looking to score, but Chris Frey and Shane Jones combined to sack quarterback J.T. Barrett on a third and eight play, moving Barrett back eight more yards and forcing a Cameron Johnston punt.

The Spartans offense couldn’t replicate their opening drive success as the Buckeyes defense stood tall and forced a Michigan State punt. Jake Hartbarger had to punt pinned deep into his own endzone, giving the Buckeyes explosive offense favorable field position to work with at midfield.

J.T. Barrett took his offense 50 yards on five plays to tie the game at seven. Barrett faked the handoff to Weber, and found Curtis Samuel deep in the endzone for a 24-yard touchdown pass.

Starting on their own 13 yard line, Scott took the handoff and busted into Buckeye territory after picking up 61 yards on the ground. After inching closer in the red zone, the Buckeyes got the stop they needed and held the Spartans to a field goal and trailed 10-7 early in the second quarter.

After a drive full of Spartan penalties, the Buckeyes were able to drive 50 yards down the field, but MSU’s defense remained tough and held the Buckeyes to a field goal. The teams entered the half tied at 10 a piece.

Tyler O’Connor was an abysmal 3-of-8 with only 87 yards at the half, while his counterpart Barrett did not do much better going only 6-of-12 through the air with 57 yards. Sophomore Scott led the way for the Spartans with ninety-seven yards on only eight rushes in the first half.

After a series of punts by both teams, the Buckeyes struck first in the second half. After a 52 yard Weber run down to the four yard line of MSU, it was Weber again who punched it in from four yards out, going ahead in the 3rd quarter 17-10.

With the third quarter winding down and the Spartans needing a jolt heading into the fourth quarter, linebacker Chris Frey took the direct snap on the fake punt and ran it for 25 yards into OSU territory. The Spartans moved back with consecutive plays on a holding call and then a negative R.J. Shelton rush, ultimately causing Hartbarger to boot it away again.

When asked about the trick play and why he felt that it would successfully work at that point in the game, Dantonio said “I can certainly show you some trick plays that haven’t worked.”

With 9:34 to play in the game, the Spartans started the the ball on their own forty-four yard line. Scott took a 26 yard rush inside OSU’s 30 yard line and continued to push the ball inside the 10 yard line. It was Scott again who found his way into the endzone again from a yard out, cutting the deficit to one.

Coach Dantonio decided to go for two with 4:41 to play in the game and O’Connor’s pass was intercepted in the endzone. The Spartans forced a punt from the Buckeyes and got a chance to win the game with 2:04 to play starting from their own 20 yard line.

While many can speculate that the Spartans should have kicked the PAT instead of going for the two, Dantonio stood behind his decision.

“We said heading into the game that if we get close at the end of the game, we’re going for two,” Dantonio said.

After O’Connor nearly lost the ball on the first play of the drive, he threw the game-sealing interception as Gareon Conley picked it off at MSU’s 33 yard line. Barrett kneeled the ball down three times and that was the game. No. 2 Ohio State squeezed out a 17-16 win in East Lansing, keeping their ultimate playoff hopes still very much alive as the Spartans couldn’t finish off their heroic effort.

“The consistency level of our drives weren’t quite there, we need more consistency down the field,” Dantonio said. “I’m proud of how we handled the week heading into the game and how we played today.”

The loss puts the Spartans at 3-8 for the season and they have a chance to end their season on a positive note heading into next season with a win next week in Happy Valley as they take on the 8-2 Big Ten East division leading Penn State Nittany Lions.