There have certainly been better days to be an Ohio State fan. The Buckeyes fell Saturday to No. 9 Michigan State, a harsh blow to a team favored by 13 points against its biggest in-conference competition. The conditions on Senior Night in Columbus were sloppy, and the play from the home team was even sloppier.
Playing without star quarterback Connor Cook, the Spartans were still able to put together a few quality possessions to eke out the last-second win against the Buckeyes. Tyler O'Connor, who honestly just sounds like the end result of someone getting lazy while in create-a-player mode, played well enough to lead the team, connecting on a first-half TD pass to Trevon Pendleton after a play that was eerily similar to the one that hosed the Spartans two weeks ago against Nebraska.
From there, it was enough to sit back and let the Buckeyes beat themselves. Ohio State was predictably solid on defense, but saw their own perfect storm of offensive ineptitude emerge to basically torpedo the season -- as far as playoff hopes are concerned, anyway. J.T. Barrett completed just nine passes for 46 yards (he threw 300 against the Spartans last year), while Ezekiel Elliott was bafflingly left out of the game plan for most of the day, during which the Buckeyes mustered just 132 total yards of offense. 132! It was a tough game to watch, start to finish, made no easier to stomach by the lamest walk-off celebration by a kicker in recorded history. Let's take a look at who's responsible for the first Ohio State loss since September 2014.
Blue Chip Stocks
Jalin Marshall, WR: Just to get it out of the way early: Marshall did, in fact, have an ugly drop on a play that would have converted a 3rd down for the Buckeyes and kept one drive, at least, afloat. Still, the two catches Marshall did reel in were both important. His first grab went for 16 yards and a first down, and was a glimpse at the kind of offensive flash that Ohio State is capable of when the team is firing on all cylinders. We know Marshall is a ridiculous athlete, and he showed off those qualities on his first catch.
The second was even more momentous. After Ohio State's best play of the day (a Cameron Johnston punt-turned-fumble recovery by Terry McLaurin), J.T. Barrett found Marshall in the end zone for a touchdown. Marshall only needed one hand to pull it in, again showing off the kind of bright future he'll have as he keeps developing his set of tools.
Sam Hubbard, DE: The redshirt freshman role player is absolutely relentless. Hubbard made one of the biggest plays of the day when he got off the edge and rocked Michigan State rotation QB Damion Terry, resulting in a fumble that Adolphus Washington was able to recover. Hubbard is a special player who should play pretty much full time next year with Joey Bosa gone, and that should make opposing offenses very, very nervous. Hubbard has 5.5 sacks on the year.
This also happened today, so it wasn't a total loss.
Ohio State's playcalling: While we're quite sure that various internet comment sections will get to the bottom of whether or not Ezekiel Elliott went too far in his criticisms of the coaching staff after the game, the fact remains that he made some salient points. Between Connor Cook sitting out due to injury, a home crowd, and an emotional Senior Night atmosphere, there were plenty of ingredients in play that should have allowed the Buckeyes to choke the life out of this game early en route to a comfortable win.
Instead, the Buckeye coaching staff got themselves flummoxed at every turn. Elliott, entering this game riding a 15-game 100-yard streak, carried the ball just 12 times. That's unconscionable. Zeke tends to play his best against good defenses, though he has taken a little bit of time to heat up in games this year, and this one should have been no different. A game in which he carries 25 times looks an awful lot different than one in which he carries 12 times, and the lack of touches would be completely inexplicable were it not for his hospitalization for a leg infection earlier this week. Still, he said he was good to go, and there's no reason not to believe him.
Instead, what we got was a baffling series of ill-devised plays that played right into the Spartans' defensive strengths. The Buckeyes have been outstanding on 3rd downs this season, but you wouldn't know it if you'd only watched this game, which featured everything from a designed tight end screen on 3rd-and-8 to a Braxton Miller edge rush on 3rd-and-9. Mind-boggling stuff.
Sell: Ohio State's locker room woes. Buckle up for a week of takes, hot and fresh out of the oven, about how Urban Meyer has lost control of the locker room, and how the team is caving in around a lack of chemistry. Much will be (and already has been) made of Zeke's post-game presser, in which he put the coaching staff on blast for the playcalling issues. Much will be made of Cardale Jones' post-game tweet, in which he made it seem pretty clear that he won't be returning to Columbus next season.
For those keeping score at home, that's three Buckeyes (Elliott, Bosa, Jones) who have explicitly or implicitly announced their plans to leave school early and enter the NFL Draft. Speaking of things that will be overblown, keep a wary eye out for people saying that they should have waited until after the season to do this, because reasons, even though it was pretty obvious that this was the trajectory for all three guys.
Now that we know the score, we can appreciate who we have in the time we have left with them.
Sell: Ohio State's playoff chances. Have you seen Penn State play lately? It's, uhh, not good. But the Buckeyes will need the Nittany Lions to show up in a big way next weekend against the Spartans to have a prayer of even making the Big Ten championship game, much less the playoff.
Penn State needs to beat Michigan State, and the Buckeyes need to beat the Wolverines, in order for Urban Meyer's team to return to the B1GCG. From there, they'll need to roll over an undefeated Iowa squad and really make a statement that they can win big games. A blowout of Michigan on the way wouldn't hurt, and they could really use some shenanigans at the end of the season in the ACC, SEC, or Big 12 to help make their case. It's not beyond hope, but the window looks mighty small after Saturday's egg-laying on their biggest regular season stage.
Sell: Ohio State's defensive invincibility. After a two-week stretch in which the Buckeyes allowed 55 rushing yards total, the front seven looked a lot more porous against the Spartans. Mark Dantonio's guys ran for a collective 203 yards, and MSU running back Gerald Holmes looked like the best player on either team for long stretches of this game. It's understandable that the Buckeye coaching staff was game planning for Connor Cook all week, which means defending a lot of quality passes, but playing as though surprised by repeated rushing attempts by a team playing with its backup QBs is pretty lousy.
Buy: A life beyond football. Losses like this are always easier to stomach when you're able to put things in perspective. Do yourself a favor: don't get dragged into a fight on Twitter about this. Go hug your kids. Go do something nice for your significant other. Knock a few things off your Sunday to-do list. There's always next year. College football grants us an eternity of next years. Thankfully.