Ohio State has been searching for consistency all year and couldn't find it against Michigan State, losing for the first time since their loss to Virginia Tech in 2014. The Spartans kicked it through the uprights with time winding down in the game, and the Buckeyes suffered their first loss of the season.
A defensive showcase between Ohio State and Michigan State left a scoreless first quarter, with both sides trading possessions. After a big forced fumble by Sam Hubbard was recovered, the Buckeyes put together a solid drive in the second quarter to set up a 4th and goal touchdown run by Ezekiel Elliott to go on the board first. The Spartans would strike right back on the following possession as Tyler O'Connor found his fullback for a touchdown to tie the game, 7-7. Overall, it was a rough first half for the Buckeyes, going three and out four times on their final six possessions.
The second half wasn't much better. With the weather seemed to worsen as the game wore on, both offenses struggled to string any sort of successful drives together. It wasn't until a muffed punt by Michigan State and recovered by Ohio State's Terry McLaurin that got the ball rolling again late in third quarter. On the very next play, J.T. Barrett threw a dart in the endzone that Jalin Marshall hauled in with one hand to put the Buckeyes back on top. A time-killing drive that ate up six and a half minutes by Michigan State on the following drive would result in another touchdown to tie the game at 14.
Here are three things we learned from Ohio State's 17-14 loss.
3 things we learned:
1. Feeding Ezekiel Elliott is the key to Ohio State's offense. Playing in what was more than likely his final game in Columbus, the junior running back didn't amaze, though wasn't provided as many opportunities. Elliott wasn't included much early on in the playcalling, but it seems impossible to not want to hand the ball of to the Heisman candidate. Still, the offense seemingly refused to put the ball in Elliott's hands for much of the first half. Elliott had 10 carries in the first half, eight of those coming from a single drive - the drive that Ohio State scored, which is a clear sign that the Buckeyes need to feed Elliott when possible. Elliott scored in his 16th straight game, but his streak of 100-yard rushing games came to an end.
At the end of the day, though, Ezekiel Elliott is without a doubt the focal point of Ohio State's offense this season and for good season. Even without touching the ball frequently, Elliott is a phenomenal blocker and still forces the defense to key in on him, allowing for J.T. Barrett to run an option that in theory should be effective. But he was mostly ineffective and seemingly forgotten for much of the game, finishing with less than 50 yards.
2. Ohio State's identity as a team lies with the defense. Much like the majority of games this season, Ohio State's offense wasn't producing much, other than Ezekiel Elliott willing the offense to first downs as much as he could. Even without Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, the Spartans still had a solid combination in the backfield with LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes, along with a top wide receiver in Aaron Burbridge. With some great performances from Joshua Perry, Joey Bosa, and Adolphus Washington, Ohio State was able to keep things close, but it wasn't enough to close out a win.
The awful weather conditions helped limit both sides and what they could do with the ball on offense, but there's little doubt the impact that both defenses had. When the offense has struggled this season, Ohio State has provided the necessary game-changing plays, and Saturday was much of the same. A Sam Hubbard forced fumble that Ohio State recovered resulted in the Buckeyes' only touchdown of the first half.
The defense held Michigan State for most of the game, but with the offense not lending any favors, it wasn't a surprise when early in the fourth quarter there was some clear fatigue as the Spartans started running their quarterbacks through the defense. A drive that lasted six and half minutes in 13 plays for 75 yards, Michigan State tied it up at 14. It was clear that the defense was getting gassed due to being on the field for much of the game and couldn't come up with enough energy to keep hold of the game.
3. It's still Michigan week. The good news is that Ohio State won't have time to dwell on the rough loss over Michigan State, as rivalry week is about to start. The Buckeyes will head to Ann Arbor next Saturday to take on a Michigan team that will be ranked among the top teams in the country in the first meeting between Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh. A game surely to be hyped up all week, Ohio State will look try to bounce back from a heartbreaking loss to the Spartans.
The Wolverines finished the rest of their regular season with a win over Penn State and enter the latest edition of 'The Game' with a 9-2 record. Other than an opening weekend loss to Utah and a bizarre mixup on a punt in the waning seconds of their last-second loss to Michigan State, the Wolverines have been one of the best teams in the Big Ten this season, and bring a stifling defense to the field. Ohio State will have its work cut out to win on the road against the Wolverines, but it should set up quite the epic showdown, even with this loss.