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Just how good was Ohio State’s defense against Michigan State?

The Buckeyes defense dominated on all three levels against Sparty.

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Ohio State’s beat down of Michigan State was the most complete performance the defense has put on all season. The fact it came without starters Jerome Baker and Dante Booker was even more surprising. Some notes from the Buckeyes’ 48-3 win:

  • Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke averaged a miserable 3.6 yards per pass attempt, by far his worst performance of the season. After allowing a plethora of big plays throughout the opening weeks of the season, the Silver Bullets didn’t allow a single completion over 20 yards last week.
  • L.J. Scott gave the Buckeyes fits in 2016, totaling 236 yards and two touchdowns from scrimmage. His first run went for 20 yards last Saturday, but he gained just 10 yards on his remaining seven carries as the Spartans couldn’t establish a rushing attack all game.
  • Felton Davis III had racked up a 45-586-8 line going into Saturday, and left with the exact same statistics. Denzel Ward was attacked early and often (more on that in a bit), but stayed strong and managed to help take the Spartans’ best receiver completely out of the game.

Michigan State’s inability to either run or pass resulted in their fewest points since getting blanked by Alabama in 2015. The Buckeyes defense displayed plenty of speed and talent at all three levels Saturday, with more than a few players making numerous stand-out plays. Let’s take a look at some of the best highlights from the Buckeyes’ win.

Nick Bosa didn’t come to take part, he came to take over.

Part of the reason why Michigan State was able to play so many close games over the years was their ability to somewhat neutralize Joey Bosa. Jack Conklin, 2016’s No. 8 overall pick and now the starting right tackle for the Tennessee Titans, handled Bosa better than just about any other tackle in the country. Unfortunately for Michigan State, Conklin didn’t have a brother entering the program to pick up the slack.

Ohio State has been lucky enough to replace one game-wrecking Bosa with another, and Nick’s presence was felt from the first drive of the game:

It didn’t take long for Michigan State to realize they needed to at least chip Bosa on a play-by-play basis, and leaving any of the Buckeyes’ other defensive ends alone is a death sentence. When the Buckeyes are able to force the quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly, it naturally decreases the amount of time the defensive backs need to stay in coverage. Ohio State did a great job staying sticky in coverage and managed to make the Spartan passing game a living hell all over the field.

Denzel Ward made a serious case as Ohio State’s next first-round defensive back.

Michigan State wasn’t the first team to make a point of picking on Ward this season. Not that anyone had been overly successful, but it seemed as though opposing offenses weren’t nearly as afraid of the Buckeyes’ latest-stud corner as they had been in recent years. Well, Ward quickly closed the book on the idea that he was a part of the secondary worth attacking:

Ward’s viciousness in tackling is complemented by game-changing speed that helps him always have a chance to make a play on the ball. The Buckeyes were determined not to let the Spartan tight ends have success in the same manner of Iowa, and Ward, along with Kendall Sheffield, Damon Webb, Damon Arnette, and Jordan Fuller, all teamed up to make that goal a reality. It’s been an up-and-down season for the back end of the Buckeyes defense, but they demonstrated just how good they could be when everything is going right last Saturday.

The Buckeyes front seven completely eliminated the Spartans rushing game.

Ohio State’s defensive line has been the most-consistent unit all season, but their performance Saturday was only rivaled by how well they played during the second half of the Penn State game. The Spartans tried all the tricks in the book to put their over-matched offensive line in a position to succeed. Draws, misdirection, option looks: Nothing worked against this front.

Linebackers Tuf Borland and Malik Harrison filled in admirably beside Chris Worley. With the Buckeyes linemen causing plenty of disruption and garnering loads of attention, it was up to the linebackers to finish the play and fill their gaps. Other than the aforementioned first run of the game, they were able to consistently shut down Sparty:

It wasn’t uncommon to see a swarm of scarlet jerseys around the football at the end of any given play. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, but Michigan State found out what it’s like to deal with talent that does work hard.


The Buckeyes quest for Indianapolis remains very much in reach, but they can’t be looking ahead against a Fighting Illini team that will undoubtedly be prepared under head coach Lovie Smith.

The final: 48-3, Ohio State

Defensive player of the game: Tuf Borland (11 tackles, 8 solo, 2 TFLs, 1 sack)

Defensive play of the game: Damon Arnette interception.

Next Victim: Illinois. Keep it classy, Columbus.