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Ohio State faced a stiff test in their first road game, but overcame three turnovers and a stronger-than-expected showing from Michigan State QB Andrew Maxwell to come away with a 17-16 victory.
The Buckeyes's battle with the Spartans of Michigan State was billed as a defensive grudge match all week, and neither team disappointed. Michigan State's do-everything power back Le'Veon Bell was limited to 45 yards on only 17 carries, forcing the Spartans to repeatedly put the ball in the hands of untested QB Andrew Maxwell and a receiving corps that had suffered from the a bad case of the dropsies all season. Maxwell performed admirably, going 22/42 for 269 yards and a TD, but they were never able to sustain enough consistent drives to put them over the top.
Ohio State got another strong performance from Braxton Miller, but things didn't come easy against a tough Michigan State defense that hit hard. Miller was ultimately forced out of the game in parts, and caused 3 turnovers. Miller went 16/23 for 179 yards, a touchdown, and a pick and also ran for a team leading 136 yards on 23 carries. Carlos Hyde got 49 yards on 11 carries, including multiple big carries in the 4th quarter, while Jordan Hall added 26 yards and a touchdown on 6 carries though left the game early due to injury.
Unlike their previous games, Ohio State wasted no time in getting on the scoreboard. Braxton Miller bolted ahead for a 20 yard gain on OSU's very first play from scrimmage to get to the OSU 45. After a Hall run for 4 and a Miller run for barely a yard, Miller found Philly Brown for a 8 yard gain to get the first down in Spartan territory. Braxton uncorked another big run, aided by a 15 yard personal found penalty on Isiah Lewis that briefly took Miller out of the game. The Buckeyes were able to ride Jordan Hall to paydirt though, with an 11 yard run, a 2 yarder that juuuuust missed the endzone, and then a final 1 yard TD plunge to give the Buckeyes a 7-0 advantage.
Michigan State quickly struck back with a score of their own though. The Spartans knew that their path to victory hinged on a strong performance from Le'Veon Bell, and they worked to get him involved in the passing game right away. After his first rushing attempt of the night was stopped for a measly yard, Maxwell found Keith Mumphery for a 20 yard gain, and then Bell in space for 13 yards to get to the OSU 33. After an incomplete pass, Maxwell found Bell for another 13 yard gain, and then a 5 yard gain as Buckeye partisans everywhere groaned. The Buckeye defensive front stiffened up though,stuffing Bell for a 2 yard loss, and then forcing an incomplete pass under duress to bring up MSU's field goal unit. Dan Conroy connected on the 34 yard field goal, bringing the Spartans to 7-3, where the game would remain for some time.
The Buckeyes were unable to get back into an offensive rhythm on their next drive. OSU dodged a bullet early when Philly Brown fumbled after a 3 yard catch, right into the hands of Reid Fragel. Miller missed on his next two throws, and after Carlos Hyde was stuffed for a minimal gain, the Buckeyes were forced to punt. Michigan State downed the ball at the 10, but Carlos Hyde was hit with a 15 yard personal foul after crushing Nick Hill "too high" for the official's liking, so the Spartans began their next march at their own 25.
Michigan State started to feed Bell (2 carries for 8 yards), but then switched to Maxwell, with mixed results. A false start moved MSU to their own 32, and completions to Tony Lippert and Le'Veon Bell weren't enough to get them the first down. The Buckeyes and the Spartans traded 3 and outs, and Ohio State started their first drive of the 2nd quarter at their own 20.
After two Miller rushes that led to a combined four yards, the Buckeyes finally connected on a big pass play, finding Philly Brown on a 16 yard pass where Brown was only barely inbounds. Miller then ran for 8, and found Devin Smith, who broke a tackle for a 16 yard gain to the MSU 36, putting the Buckeyes firmly in business. The Buckeyes drove all the way to the Spartan 25 before Miller had his first big mistake of the game, completely missing Kurtis Drummond, who picked off the errant pass for no gain.
Michigan State was unable to capitalize on the momentum shift however. After a few Bell runs, the Spartans found themselves with a 2nd and 2 at their own 35, but a holding penalty wiped out the advantageous position, and Maxwell had to run for his life to avoid the pass rush, leading to another incomplete pass and a punt.
After a Jordan Hall 11 yard run, Michigan State clamped down on the Buckeyes, sacking Miller and forcing a punt. As had been the case all day, Le'Veon Bell was consistently met with multiple defenders every time he carried the ball, preventing him from getting into the secondary, and Michigan State's wideouts couldn't haul in Maxwell's passes, perhaps hearing Buckeye footsteps. Their drive stalled at their own 46 and the Spartans attempted to punt, only to meet Bradley Roby deep in the backfield with the block. Late in the first half, the Buckeyes found themselves at the MSU 35, in excellent position to break the game open.
They did not get that chance. An ill-executed Miller scramble led to a 3 yard loss, and Miller fumbled on the very next play, which was recovered by Michigan State's Rashad White. OSU had two scoring opportunities deep in Spartan territory in the first half and came away with no points.
The Spartans frantically tried to capitalize on the Buckeye miscue. Maxwell hit Dion Sims for a 19 yard gain, and then almost immediately found Keith Mumphrey for 19 more, giving the Spartans the ball at the OSU 24 with less than 1:40 left in the half. Maxwell faced heavy pressure and threw three straight incomplete passes, forcing a 42 yard field goal attempt that went wide right. OSU continued their streak of not giving up any points after a turnover, and went into halftime leading 7-3. Everybody then watched highlights of the WVU/Baylor game, looked at OSU and Michigan State, and sighed wistfully.
After a defensive slugfest in the first half, the second half opened with a scoring outburst. Aided by an ill-timed holding penalty by Roby on 3rd down, Maxwell found a wide open Bennie Fowler for a huge 35 yard gain. The Spartans were only able to get 5 more yards from a Bell dumpoff pass on the drive though, forcing a long 50 yard field goal attempt that Dan Conroy cleared to bring the Men in Green to within a point, 7-6.
After a mostly quiet half, the Buckeyes found a few big plays to set up a response of a scoring drive. Miller started things off with an electric 14 yard scamper, and then found Philly Brown for an 18 yard gain to put the Buckeyes in Spartan territory. A steady diet of Miller keepers and Carlos Hyde rushes gave the Bucks a 1st and 10 at the Michigan State 12. Miller threw 2 incomplete passes in a row, and then a bubble screen to Philly Brown that was swallowed up well short of the first down. Drew Basil just barely connected on the 26 yard field goal, and the Buckeyes sat on a 10-6 lead with 6 min left in the 3rd.
The Spartans didn't need long to respond, flashing big play capability for one of the only times during the entire game. Maxwell found Dion Sims for a 17 yard gain on the 2nd play of the drive, and found themselves quickly sitting at the OSU 29, thanks to a 15 yard face mask penalty on Bradley Roby. Maxwell then connected with Mumphrey on a short pass that turned into a 29 yard touchdown gallop, as multiple Buckeyes attempted to go for the strip instead of the ball carrier, and bounced off of Mumphrey like pinballs. The Spartans suddenly had 13-10 lead with 4:49 left in the 3rd.
The lead didn't last long. After tantalizing Buckeye fans by getting OHSOCLOSE on big passing plays multiple times over the previous games, facing 3rd and 1 from the OSU 37, Miller and Devin Smith connected. Seeing a streaking Smith in man coverage, Miller lobbed a perfect deep ball that Smith caught in stride and easily beat Johnny Adams in the ensuing footrace for a hee-uge 63 yard score. The Buckeyes now had a 17-13 lead. Michigan State's next drive stalled, with Sabino sacking Maxwell on 3rd down at the MSU 46, giving the Buckeyes a chance to put the game away as the 4th quarter started.
It certainly started off the way, as Miller hit a wide open Brown for a big 24 yard gain. Carlos Hyde added 15 yards on three carries, and the Buckeyes found themselves at a manageable 3rd and 6 at the MSU 46. Miller sprinted along the sideline for the first down, but let the ball pop out just as he crumpled into a heap on the sideline with an apparent knee injury. Luckily, the knee was only sprained and Miller would miss no significant action, but the Spartans had the ball and the momentum once again.
Maxwell wasn't particularly efficient, but he led the Spartans to the near midfield on the strength of a 12 yard pass to Lippet. OSU stopped Le'Veon Bell setting up a critical 4th and short, but a holding penalty gave Michigan State the first down they badly needed. Two Bell runs set up a 3rd and 4 at the OSU 28, but Nate Williams recorded a huge sack, setting up another field goal. The Spartans nailed it, cut the lead to 1, and then forced a 3 and out, getting the ball back with 5:39 left in the game.
After an 11 yard gain on first down, Maxwell and Bell were unable to continue the march. Relentless pressure forced two incomplete passes and a one yard gain, forcing MSU into a 4th and 9 on their own 32, with 4 min left to play. The Spartans elected to trust their defense to get a stop and give them the ball back, but OSU's rushing attack, led by Carlos Hyde, kept the ball long enough to run out the clock.
The game was certainly ugly at times, but there are plenty of positive takeaways. After struggling to get off the field on 3rd down and tackle effectively, Ohio State was able to swarm one of the best running backs in the Big Ten, if not the country, and force Michigan State to throw the ball nearly 50 times, the opposite of their game plan. Maxwell had a few great throws, but with the exception of the touchdown pass, missed tackles were not nearly the issue that they were with UAB, Cal, etc. OSU shot themselves in the foot multiple times, failing to take advantage of a blocked punt, and had 3 turnovers on drives that could have led to scores. With Hall leaving the game early and Miller getting knocked around, the health of their running game could be a big concern.
At the end of the day though, it's a huge win for OSU as they establish themselves as the cream of this year's Big Ten crop. You take every road win you can in a place like East Lansing, and Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes can't hear you over how undefeated they are right now. 5-0 looks great from here, no matter how you get there.