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4 things we learned from No. 13 Ohio State’s win against No. 12 Michigan State

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The Buckeyes (finally) discovered that they’ve had two really good running backs on the roster.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Holy smokes, Ohio State’s done it now. The madmen went out and destroyed Michigan State, a team that has traditionally played the Buckeyes close. Especially in the Urban Meyer era, Mark Dantonio’s squad from East Lansing, Mich., has wrecked havoc on Ohio State’s dreams of conference crowns and national titles. The last time Sparty came to Columbus was in 2015, and they walked out with a win after, technically, never leading in the game.

Saturday’s game had the hallmarks of Michigan State taking advance of Ohio State. There was #disrespect to the Spartans, courtesy of Vegas, who had the Buckeyes as nearly 16-point favorites. On top of that, the Scarlet and Gray were coming off a game against Iowa that went tremendously wrong. The loss was so bad, bowl projectors couldn’t really determine where the Bucks would end up come postseason time. Would they go to a New Year’s Six bowl? Some thought so. Would they go to a Citrus Bowl?One thought so. Would they even slip to a Holiday bowl? One thought so.

But, as the clock hit all zeros inside The Horseshoe at roughly 3:20 p.m. ET on Saturday, the fear of the Buckeyes reenacting an Iowa performance were gone; vanished without a trace. Ohio State kicked the Spartans into the proverbial pit, beating them by 45 points, 48-3. It was the biggest margin of victory ever in the 46 meetings between Ohio State-Michigan State.

Everything seemed to click for Urban Meyer’s team: his defense showed up, his running game was actually utilized, the penalties weren’t too bad, and they showed the country that they are the real deal.

Last week, I went in-depth about what went wrong against the Hawkeyes. It wasn’t too fun of an article considering 1) I was at that game and 2) I watched the game again on ESPN to figure out where exactly things went South.

Let’s get back to the way it was, and breakdown the things we learned in Ohio State’s victory against Sparty—a win that puts the Bucks in the driver’s seat for a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Mannnnnnnnnnnn, where was this rushing game against Iowa

Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins; they might be the best running back duo in the country. Against Iowa, though, you wouldn’t have realized that; they were given a combined 11 carries in the game.

After the media asked questions about why Dobbins wasn’t used more, Urban said he believed that Dobbins, the starter, should’ve gotten more than six carries against the Hawkeyes. In the past, tough losses brought up, generally, the same questions, and the same song was sung; the same dance, danced.

What would it take for Dobbins to get the ball more? Would the ghost of Woody Hayes need to be summoned? Would someone on the sideline need to use a pendulum to dowse, but instead of finding water, they would find out when they needed to give the RB the ball?

Against Michigan State, change finally took place, and the running game was actually used the way it should’ve been. Dobbins got his carries, which opened the door for Weber—and the rest is history.

Dobbins led all rushers with 18 carries, three times the amount he got last week, capturing 124 yards in the process. However, he didn’t lead in yards. That was Weber’s accolade.

Weber had nine attempts against Michigan State, and each one seemed like it had the potential to wind up on a highlight reel. Two of his rushes, both long-distance touchdowns, could’ve been a metaphor for the Buckeyes’ performance: the wrecking ball was back.

Weber had some of the most explosive runs we’ve seen from him. In week’s past, I’ve viewed him as a power rusher, the guy you bring in for those tough, gritty yards. Against Michigan State, he showed that he can be more than that. It’s also like the coaching staff discovered cheat codes, and could actually make Weber have Usain Bolt-esque speed.

Who would’ve known?

I think one of the worst, deep-down fears anyone has is to be embarrassed and exposed. That’s a reason why you don’t ask out the person you like, for fear of looking like a buffoon; it’s a reason for why you don’t take chances, as you would appear to be exposed as a failure.

But what happens when you do things you’ve always done, but get embarrassed anyway? That’s what happened to OSU last week. They did the same stuff they’ve done for the last few weeks, and got flat out exposed in front of a national audience. The gameplan that ran circles around Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland didn’t work against Iowa. The Hawkeyes knew better.

Ohio State got down against Penn State, but by the Nittany Lions playing scared, and the Buckeyes playing desperate, they got the win. Those two factors didn’t help one bit in the Bucks actually fixing their problems. If anything, the PSU victory hurt them: they believed that their gameplan was good enough to take down anyone, when in fact, it was the exact opposite.

Hubris will do that to you.

With what just happened to Michigan State, we saw first hand what happens when you shake off hubris, stop being complacent, and actually evaluate the problems to the gameplan. That’s not saying RB coach Tony Alford, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and the rest of the offensive coaching staff aren’t good at their job. I would wager that they are top-tier coaches in the respective area of expertise. But there will come a point in time when you’re going to have to stop ignoring the problem, and become proactive rather than reactive.

That’s a life point, too: don’t wait until the problem happens before you start looking for a solution. Try searching for a solution before the problems even begin to show up.

Iowa beating Ohio State showed a problem on offense. By the time Michigan State rolled into C-Bus, the problem had a solution—and it appears that solution worked well.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Wisconsin vs Penn State
And Indy We Go: With the win vs. Mich. St., Ohio St. controls their destiny for the Big Ten Championship Game
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Now, can they keep this up for the rest of the season? I like to believe so, because the problems were finally acknowledged.

But, over time, teams will adapt to Ohio State’s game plan. This is a circular problem in sports: teams find out how to stop you. It’s a chess game of being one-step better than your opponent. Ohio State is there now, but how long will they keep it that way? If they shake off hubris and complacency, they may be one-step ahead for the foreseeable future.

They learned to not take as many bad penalties

I think in every “things we learned” piece I’ve typed, I brought up the fact that penalties were, actually, bad.

But each week, we would see the same offsides call, false starts, and kicks going out of bound penalties. It felt like Groundhog Day.

You could’ve printed out a bingo sheet of all the possible penalties the Buckeyes were going to commit, and created a nice little lucrative game at a local bingo hall.

That idea would’ve worked up until today. Only two penalties were called on the Scarlet and Gray. Defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones left his feet, and was called for roughing the passer in the second quarter for making contact with the helmet of Brian Lewerke. The penalty was enough to be deemed targeting, getting him sent to the locker room—costing the Buckeyes an interception.

(For those keeping track on your bingo sheet: that’s back-to-back games where a Buckeye was tossed for “targeting” a QB.)

The second of the infractions happened on freshman cornerback Jeffrey Okudah for pass interference in the waning minutes of the game.

This is a huge step in the right direction for the Buckeyes, who just last week, committed nine penalties for 95 yards. Only 27 yards were surrendered due to yellow flags, which isn’t too bad, considering what they’ve been doing all season.

Depth D is your friend indeed

Waking up this morning, the thought that Ohio State was going to win might’ve been up in the air. When you found out that Jerome Baker and Dante Booker weren’t going to play, the thought might’ve drifted toward Sparty getting an “upset” win in The Shoe.

For me, the absence of two starting linebackers looked like a foreshadowing effect: Lewerke was gonna ball out for like 600 yards against OSU.

After the first nine Spartan plays, it looked more like a red herring than foreshadowing. On one play, Malik Harrison, who filled in for Booker, shot right through the line of scrimmage and got a sack. On another play, Nick Bosa was the one to put a tally in the sack column.

Tuf Borland, who also stepped up in a LB role, led the team with 11 tackles. With a name like that, you expected another great performance on the field—and he didn’t disappoint.

In the second quarter, the ejection of Jones didn’t really stop the prowess of the defense. The same goes when Damon Arnette went down with an apparent leg injury, which was later ruled to be a bruised thigh.

The core of the linebacking unit was out today, and the defense shutdown both the passing and running games of Michigan State. Lewerke’s hot-hand cooled off in stunning fashion. At one point, he threw seven straight incompletions; some of the passes were way off target, while others were just thrown at the wrong time. That’s par for the course when you’re under duress. It’s no surprise that he threw two interceptions.

Oh, and Tyquan Lewis forced a fumble from Lewerke, too.

L.J. Scott didn’t do much at all on the ground. After his first rush went 20 yards, Scott was held to six carries for 10 yards.

Wide receiver Cody White, one of Lewerke’s main targets, caught five passes for 42 yards. In total he was targeted 10 times, but the Buckeye defensive backs made life miserable for him. Right before halftime, White was rocked by an OSU defender as he dove in the back of the end zone trying to catch a TD.

Dantonio had one of his worst coached games of his career. Considering this was against Ohio State, a team that he’s had a handle on in recent years, he got, as the cool kids say, owned. Of their 13 drives, five of them ended in three-and-outs. It also didn’t help that MSU had an average starting spot of their own 24. However, the Buckeyes averaged a starting spot of their own 33, and did just fine. Only two OSU drives ended as three-and-outs.

The ‘next man up’ has been a mentality of the Meyer Era. Against Sparty, the defense showed what it’s capable of doing, even when a handful of starters were out of the game.

Ohio State is the best 2-loss team in the land...even though that sounds dumb to type/say/mumble out loud

So, where does this win leave us now? In the college football playoff rankings, this was an “upset”. Ohio State was No. 13, while Michigan State was just one spot ahead at No. 12.

The thrashing of MSU should speak volumes as to what OSU can do when they’re on a roll. The counter argument, though, is the Iowa loss: a game where the Buckeyes showed what they could do when everything goes wrong.

With Washington losing, Ohio State should be back in the top-10 of the College Football Playoff rankings this week. If OSU continues to go on the warpath, and ends up flattening their opponent in the Big Ten Championship Game, should they get into the playoff?

That’s a very wild thing to look into, considering they have two losses. It’s hard to imagine that a two-loss team pulls up a chair into either the Rose Bowl or Sugar Bowl semifinal.

But, if we’re comparing to other two-loss teams, Ohio State is the best. Southern California (USC) has two losses, but they’ve looked inconsistent in a handful of wins. Either Oklahoma or TCU will have a second loss after Saturday is done, and that’s debateable as to whether the Buckeyes would be a better team compared to a two-loss OU or TCU.

Georgia and Alabama will have to face each other in the SEC Championship Game if they both go undefeated, but that’s a big if, as Auburn can play spoiler to that idea.

Notre Dame has to win out to stay in, and the ACC has Clemson and Miami (FL) on a collision course.

After watching the Michigan State throttling, it appears that the Iowa loss has fundamentally changed the way Ohio State functions. Their defense got better, even though four starters were out at some point through the game, and the offense showed life.

Only time will tell how this all will shake out in the CFP rankings.