Spartans outmatched in Columbus, lose 48-3 to Buckeyes

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Michigan State walked into Ohio Stadium on Saturday afternoon with a chance to play for the Big Ten East. After their 48-3 blowout loss to Ohio State, it looks as though that dream was a bit far-fetched.

A pair of touchdowns from Michigan-native running back Mike Weber led the Buckeye offense in a performance that was well within their capabilities, coming into the game with the fifth-best scoring offense in the country. Ohio State should have been playing this game to cement their place in the Big Ten title game, but a loss to Iowa the week before meant Ohio State technically had their backs against the wall.

Michigan State’s loss was their worst since 2002, a season-ending loss to Penn State during a year in which they went 4-8. That game finished 61-7, and this game looked about as ugly as that one.

“It’s very difficult to continue to play hard when it’s 35-zip,” head coach Mark Dantonio said postgame. “Some of it’s just ‘you’ve got to play better’ too.”

From the start of the game, the Spartans were the team that played scared. The Buckeye defensive line has been touted all season as one of the best in the country, and it showed against Michigan State’s young offensive line. OSU’s Nick Bosa had a field day, making up for the injuries that kept two starting Buckeye linebackers out. Bosa finished with just two tackles and one sack on the day, but his impact could not be measured by a box score – he was Ohio State’s best defensive player against the Spartans. Tuf Borland led OSU’s defense statistically, recording 11 tackles and two sacks.

It didn’t take long for OSU to get on the scoreboard following Michigan State’s opening drive. Mike Weber’s 47-yard touchdown run was the longest run the MSU defense had allowed to that point in 2017, and it preceded a game that was full of solid running from the Buckeye offense. By the end of the game, OSU ran for 335 yards, the most MSU has let up all season. The option run of JT Barrett and JK Dobbins was too much for the MSU front seven, as linebackers could not identify where to stop the Buckeye rushing attack.

The Weber touchdown run kicked off a string of four Buckeye touchdowns in five drives, broken up only by a missed snap on OSU’s second drive that forced them to punt. The Buckeyes were able to move the ball at will against MSU’s defense, something the Spartans had not seen all season.

“Everything that they ran, we had seen before,” linebacker Joe Bachie said. “They had their way up front with us today.”

The following Buckeye drives in the first half all went for touchdowns, as Barrett ran for two short touchdowns and freshman running back JK Dobbins added another in a 21-point OSU second quarter. That explosion was given an exclamation point by a 82-yard touchdown run by Weber to stretch OSU’s lead to 35-0. Michigan State’s defense was completely thrown off by the Buckeyes’ running game.

The Spartan offense did not fare much better, given the pressure from Ohio State’s defensive front. Brian Lewerke finished the day 18 of 36 for 131 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions, including a fumble in the second quarter. Lewerke was given very little time to throw, and was inaccurate as a result, with several of his passes nowhere near catchable.

“It’s a good learning experience to be able to play in a big game like this,” Lewerke said. “Being able to learn how to play in big games, how to perform, and just playing better overall.”

The first half ended 35-3 in favor of Ohio State, MSU’s largest deficit of the season at any point, and from there, it was more about damage control than anything else. There were positives here and there, as David Dowell picked off Barrett late in the first half to pick up his fifth interception in the seven games he has started this year. However, there wasn’t much for the offense to cheer about, as they passed the 100-yard mark just before halftime. 

Michigan State now faces two games against Maryland and Rutgers before heading to a bowl game. Now a game behind the Buckeyes in the Big Ten East and behind on the tie-breaker to OSU, their shot at the Big Ten is over. However, based on projections, it seems as though MSU will take place in a Florida bowl game, potentially on New Year’s Day – a scenario that had seemed rather unlikely a year ago.

Michigan State’s matchup with Maryland will take place on Nov. 18 at Spartan Stadium. A time and TV network for that game is to be determined.