EAST LANSING, Mich. — After jumping into the College Football Playoff rankings this week, No. 18 Michigan State hosted No. 10 Ohio State in their last big test in the Big Ten this season. While the Spartans were focused on earning their way to a better bowl game, Ohio State was still focused on winning and getting closer to a showdown for the Big Ten East title against No. 4 Michigan on Nov. 24. They did just that, controlling the game after halftime and pulling away to win 26-6.
On the game’s opening drive, Michigan State converted a 4th-and-1 on their own 35-yard line but was forced to punt shortly after. Punting seemed to be the theme for the first quarter as every drive that took place ended with a punt, three for each team.
After the Spartans’ Matt Coghlin missed a 51-yard field goal attempt to start the second quarter, Ohio State was not able to get anything going and were forced to punt the ball for the fourth time. The Buckeyes missed a field goal of their own soon after on a 44-yard attempt by Blake Haubeil.
Another three-and-out from the Spartans and a poor punt by Bryce Baringer gave Ohio State the ball on their own 45-yard line. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins and running back J.K. Dobbins were instrumental in the Buckeyes’ 55-yard drive to the end zone, which ended in a 1-yard pitch pass from Haskins to Parris Campbell to open the game’s scoring with just 1:29 left in the first half.
On the ensuing Michigan State drive, backup quarterback Rocky Lombardi took the field in place of starter Brian Lewerke and immediately made an impact with his first pass to Cody White going 27 yards. Lombardi completed three passes on the drive to set up Coghlin for a 44-yard field goal to put the Spartans on the board before the end of the first half, 7-3.
Both teams began the second half with a punt, continuing the same pattern from the first half. Lombardi looked to put Michigan State on his back, as he broke a 47-yard run followed by a 12-yard run to put the Spartans in good field position. A would-be touchdown on a trick pass from White to tight end Matt Sokol was called back for an ineligible receiver downfield, preventing Michigan State to take the lead. The Spartans were forced to settle for another field goal from Coghlin, this time from 38 yards, bringing the score to 7-6.
The game continued to see punt after punt, with Ohio State’s Drue Chrisman putting four straight punts inside the Michigan State 6-yard line. After starting on their own 1-yard line, the Spartans went three-and-out and appeared to intentionally snap the ball out of the end zone for a safety, bringing the score to 9-6. Cole Hahn’s kickoff went out of bounds, giving Ohio State excellent field position at midfield.
Despite Ohio State not being able to use their good field position, Chrisman’s following punt was downed at the 2-yard line. On Michigan State’s first play, Laress Nelson was running a potential jet sweep and the ball bounced off of him in the end zone, which was recovered by OSU’s Dremont Jones, giving them a 16-6 lead after Haubeil’s extra point.
After a touchback on the ensuing kickoff, Lombardi fumbled the first snap that came to him, which was recovered by Ohio State’s Jonathon Cooper. Ohio State lost eight total yards on the drive, but was able to kick a field goal due to their field position from the fumble, bringing the score to 19-6.
Lewerke, who had been brought back into the game after Lombardi’s fumble, completed passes to White and Brandon Sowards before a pass was intercepted by OSU’s Shaun Wade.
In an effort to run out the clock, Weber led the charge of running the ball bit by bit downfield. He was able to find the end zone on a final 2-yard run, scoring the final points and ending with 104 rushing yards on the day.
MSU’s three turnovers, compared to Ohio State’s one, led to 17 points scored by the Buckeyes and were the deciding factor in this game.
“I think if you watch NFL football, and all levels of football now, turnovers are absolutely the key,” defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said. “I think if you look at us, first and foremost on the defensive side of the ball, which is what we’re always gonna do, we needed more takeaways to get off the football field.”
The quarterbacks, Lewerke and Lombardi, combined for nine of their team’s 18 runs. The Spartans produced 54 yards on the ground total, most of which came from Lombardi’s 47-yard scurry in the third quarter. The disparity between run and pass attempts, 18 and 48 respectively, was a factor to Michigan State’s loss in the eyes of head coach Mark Dantonio.
“You’re forced into situations at times, too, where you gotta throw it,” Dantonio said, “especially when you get behind at the end.”
Dantonio revealed postgame that the reason senior LJ Scott did not play against Ohio State is that Scott will redshirt and return next season. Scott will be the only player remaining from Michigan State’s 2015 Big Ten championship and College Football Playoff team.
Michigan State falls to 6-4 on the season, 4-3 in Big Ten play, heading into their final road game of the season against Nebraska. A time and TV network is to be determined.