Ohio State got their revenge against Michigan State on Saturday night, as the Buckeyes took care of business in East Lansing to gain sole possession of the division lead in the Big Ten East. The win also gave Ohio State a new Big Ten record with 21 Big Ten consecutive regular season victories.
A lot of things went right for the Buckeyes on Saturday night en route to the 49-37 win over the Spartans and there were plenty of players that highlighted the evening to help Ohio State avenge last season's loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game. Now the Buckeyes have managed to keep their College Football Playoff chances alive and become the conference's best bet at making the inaugural playoff. Let's take a look at who's up and who's down for the Buckeyes after a convincing win over the reigning Big Ten champs.
Blue Chip Stocks:
J.T. Barrett, QB - I don't think there's any doubt that redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett has been the most valuable player for this Ohio State team. Filling in for the injured Braxton Miller, Barrett has helped lead the Buckeyes to an 8-1 record and has them contending for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Once again Saturday, Barrett was calm and collected for much of the night in a hostile environment and came away with big plays both through the air and on the ground. Barrett finished 16-26 passing for 300 yards and three touchdowns, and also had 14 carries for 86 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Devin Smith, WR - How about the play of Devin Smith the past two weekends? After Michael Thomas replaced Smith as the starter earlier this season, it appears there's a new fire under the senior wideout. Against Michigan State, Smith caught six passes for a season-high 129 yards. The Buckeyes are now 20-0 when Smith catches a TD pass. To add to that, Smith's touchdown catch was the 26th of his career, moving him into sole possession of third place on Ohio State's all-time list. Urban Meyer called Saturday Smith's best game as a Buckeye.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB - Ezekiel Elliott was an absolute beast against Michigan State, carrying the ball 23 times for 152 yards and two touchdowns, marking his fourth 100-yard game this season and the fifth of his career. Doing his best Carlos Hyde impersonation, Elliott kept the Spartan's defense honest, and allowed Barrett to make plays all night long. The balanced attack was tough to stop, and the scoreboard showed it.
Secondary play - Just looking at pure numbers, the Ohio State secondary wasn't something to be proud of, since the Spartans gained 358 yards through the air and had two touchdowns on the night, but if you were watching the game, for the most part it didn't really seem like the secondary was giving up big plays. In fact, the lack of bigger plays was probably the biggest thing they did well. Overall, I thought we saw more improvement from this unit as Eli Apple (playing through an injury) and Doran Grant came up big time when it mattered the most.
Playcalling - Credit to head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman. They had a gameplan ready to go against the Spartans and executed it to just about perfection. Keeping the offense extremely balanced and having success no matter what they ran must have been infuriating for the Spartans, especially since Herman called the same quarterback draw on almost every third and short (and even a fourth-and-goal) and ended up converting each time. After a poor showing against Michigan State last year, Herman had his moment for revenge and was able to put up 49 on the Spartan's defense. MSU's Pat Narduzzi said after the game, "They did a good job schematically. It just seemed like they were one step ahead of us all day."
2014 Dontre Wilson - What happened to Dontre Wilson? Look, I know he sort of redeemed himself towards the end of the game, but the scary thing is that Wilson didn't just play like he's capable of against the Spartans. He's been dropping passes left and right and has been streaky at best. As I mentioned, he turned it around towards the end of the game with a nice, tough late touchdown grab, but Wilson has been uneven this season and hasn't been the key player everyone thought he would be up to this point. The good news is that he's just a sophomore and the potential is still very much there.
Run defense - The run defense was pretty much the opposite of what the secondary was. While the secondary might have given up big aggregate yards, they were able to mostly contain the big plays. The run defense, however, allowed Jeremy Langford to keep Michigan State involved in the game for much of the night, as the senior running back had 18 carries for 137 yards and three touchdowns against the Buckeyes. To add salt to the wound, most of the yardage came on big plays. They'll need to tighten up over the next few weeks to get back to form.
SELL: Penalties and turnovers - The penalties were a killer, but luckily, Michigan State was even worse when it came to them. Ohio State had seven penalties that accounted for 50 yards while the Spartans had 11 for 105 yards. Somehow, the Buckeyes lost the turnover battle (two turnovers in crucial moments while the Spartans had none) but won the game. You won't find too many times that the team with the most turnovers wins, and I'm sure Coach Meyer will do his best to correct that problem immediately.
BUY: Jalin Marshall as a return man - Jalin Marshall provided some sparks on the offensive side of the ball, but also had a few small highlight plays when returning punts. With Wilson struggling as of late, it might not be a terrible idea for Marshall to get some burn returning kickoffs in addition to punts. You wouldn't hear any complaints from me, and honestly, between Marshall and Wilson, even in spite of their troubles (Marshall's lack of communication cost the Buckeyes the ball early), I'm a bit surprised there hasn't been a kick return for a touchdown yet this season. Both seem one cut away so often.
SELL: Poor tackling - It seemed like 2013 all over again for a while there. For the entire season, Ohio State has been excellent at wrapping up and making sure the opposing ball carrier doesn't fall forward for more yardage. But against the Spartans on a big stage, the Buckeyes defense reverted back to old ways with poor tackling attempts. In the first half, Michigan State took advantage and made a few players look just silly (Gareon Conley comes to mind). Expect Luke Fickell and Chris Ash to correct any mistakes, which could just be chalked up to the stage in such an important game.