It wasn’t pretty, but Ohio State went into East Lancing at 9-1 and left at 10-1. In addition to covering their preseason Vegas win total, the Buckeyes are now just one game away from (potentially) another shot at the National Championship.
Michigan State came into the game hoping to run the ball and they did just that. LJ Scott converted his 19 rushes into 160 yards and a touchdown, as the Buckeyes’ defense was unable to consistently stop him, especially on explosive plays. Even if you want to take away Scott’s 61-yard dash, Sparty still averaged a respectable 4.29 yards per carry on the day.
The Buckeyes’ secondary proved once again why they’re the best unit in America. After a cleverly-designed screen went for 64 yards on the second play from scrimmage, Sparty gained just 3.15 yards per pass attempt the rest of the game. Michigan State’s leading receiver R.J. Shelton had just one catch for five yards as Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore locked down the outside receivers all afternoon.
Big plays were made by all three levels of the Ohio State defense last Saturday, let’s take a look at a few of the best moments from the Buckeyes’ victory over Michigan State.
“He is one of the heart-and-souls of our team who gives everything he’s got...I love who he is.” — Urban Meyer
Chris Worley has been flying around the field all season and has saved his best performances for the biggest games. He’s had seven-plus tackles three times this season, against Oklahoma, Wisconsin and now Michigan State. Despite Worley’s ability to layeth the smacketh down, it was his coverage ability that was on display last Saturday.
Tied at 10-10 with a 2nd and eight looming, the Buckeyes’ defense played their base cover-four scheme to prevent any big passes. Sparty dialed up a roll-out pass that involved both the running back and tight end staying in to block so they could get the edge. Sparty stacked their wide receivers in order to create some confusion in the Ohio State secondary, but the well-designed play was outdone by Worley’s pure athletic ability:
Worley briefly reads run before he’s able to adjust and get back into coverage. He doesn’t make a great cut, but knows his responsibility and works to gain depth and distance to get underneath the No. 1 wide receiver. Ohio State trusts its corners and safeties to prevent any big plays, so it’s up to Worley and the other linebackers to attempt to close the underneath windows as much as possible. Somehow Worley is able to get all the way from the hash to the numbers to intercept the deep-out route that he had no business being anywhere near.
Ohio State was out of position on this play, as both Denzel Ward and Marshon Lattimore took the deep receiver and left the underneath man wide open. Darron Lee’s ability to function as both a linebacker and cornerback has been well documented, but Worley can provide the same ability. This wouldn’t be the only big play he’d make in coverage...
“He has that arrogant confidence that he can do anything. And he does. He’s a winner. He takes all the special team reps and they keep track of the winners and the losers. There is one guy who is always at the top of the winners, and it’s him.” — Co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell on Worley.
Malik Hooker gets a lot of love in this space, but I’m giving the two-point conversion credit to Worley. He claims that he intercepted the Spartans’ two-point conversion pass attempt, although Hooker was right there as well. Regardless, Worley’s ability to read the quarterback’s eyes and put himself in a position to make a play were on full display during one of the biggest moments of the season.
Worley is lined up over the right guard and was responsible for “spying” quarterback Tyler O’Connor to prevent a scramble. Worley floats into the middle of the defense as he reads the quarterback’s eyes, but never stops working towards a receiver. Faced with pressure, O’Connor was forced to deliver a ball into tight coverage and Worley cemented his status as Tyvis Powell 2.0. Hooker was the responsible defender and had great coverage as well, but Worley’s ability to make an impact on the play away from his own responsibility is what ultimately held the Spartans out of the end zone.
“You just go to work, no distractions, just come in and go to work... That’s all I do. That’s all I know. Work hard. No slacking. Just got to work and that’s all I can tell you.” — Tyquan Lewis
Gareon Conley’s game-sealing interception was great, but resulted from a brutal blooper of a pass that never had a chance of being completed. The reason for the desperation was caused by Lewis’ strip-sack on the prior play.
With their season on the line, Ohio State turned to their base defense to get the job done. Instead of dialing up a blitz, the Buckeyes turned to their rushmen package to get pressure on the quarterback. Lewis easily rips past the Spartans’ overmatched right tackle and he was able to get to O’Connor before he could even throw to his first read.
Lewis has dominated offensive tackles for the better part of two seasons now. He gets to the quarterback with strength, technique and speed. Lewis may not be the flashiest defensive end in the world, but he goes to work and does a helluva job working hard. The Ohio State secondary may have more swag than any unit in America, but don’t forget that they’re so effective because of guys like TyGod Lewis making life hell for opposing quarterbacks.
The final: 17-16 Ohio State.
Defensive player of the game: Chris Worley.
Defensive play of the game: Chris Worley and Malik Hooker deny MSU’s two-point conversion attempt.
Next victim: That team up north. See you all next week.