It all came crashing back to earth a week later, but for a shining moment, Marcus Baugh found himself on the receiving end of Ohio State's biggest play of the year.
When J.T. Barrett hit Baugh from 16 yards out for the winning score against Penn State, the Buckeyes' postseason hopes had never looked higher. All they had to do was win out against a favorable schedule and take down Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game to punch their ticket to a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The euphoria lasted six days and change before a middle-of-the-pack Iowa team unleashed the most stunning beat-down of the Urban Meyer era and sent the Buckeyes' playoff dreams packing. The vaunted Ohio State defense couldn't stop a nosebleed, and the offense looked as lost and stilted as it had against Oklahoma two months ago.
In order to salvage the season, that offense is going to have to get back on track, and soon: the rebuilt Michigan State Spartans come to Columbus this weekend. Baugh, the hero of the moment against Penn State, won't be the architect of whatever fix Ohio State tries from here on out. But he could still play an integral role in it.
Name: Marcus Baugh
Height/Weight: 6'5, 250 lbs.
Line: 17 catches, 176 yards, 3 TDs
Since Urban Meyer took over at Ohio State, the tight end position has not been one that has factored heavily into the offense. Talented guys like Nick Vannett, Jeff Heuermann, and Baugh didn't get used much as pass-catchers, instead coming in to pass-block or run-block the bulk of the time.
That trend hasn't changed much in 2017—Baugh is only seeing three targets a game, about two of which he catches, on average—but he's made them count. The Penn State catch was obviously the highlight moment, but he's scored a pair of other TDs, and he's on pace for the best season of his career.
After a rare down season, the Michigan State Spartans have returned with a vengeance, racking up seven wins through their first nine games. They currently sit ahead of Ohio State in the College Football Playoff rankings, hot off of handing Penn State its second-consecutive loss. This is a far better Sparty than the version we saw last year, a 3-9 dumpster fire that nevertheless lost to the Buckeyes by just one point.
The Spartan defense is paced by LB Joe Bachie, who leads the team in total tackles (57.0), run stuffs (13), and forced fumbles (2). Bachie has a pair of interceptions on the year to go with his other monster numbers. The Spartans have some stars in the defensive backfield, too, with S David Dowell (4 INTs), Josiah Scott (7 pass breakups), and S Khari Willis (4.5 TFLs) leading the way for MSU.
What to watch for
That doesn't mean opposing teams can't throw on Mark Dantonio's squad, however. While the Spartans are one of the most exceptional run defenses in the country, ranked No. 6 by S&P+ and No. 3 against explosive plays, they fall off a bit when it comes to the passing game. They're ranked No. 38 against the pass by S&P+. The unit as a whole is at its worst in the third quarter and on third down—there are certainly weaknesses here.
Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki was able to exploit some of those weaknesses last weekend, snagging eight catches for 89 yards in a losing effort. Baugh is no Gesicki, who has NFL scouts salivating about his potential as a pro TE, but he has the skills to get past opposing LBs in pass coverage and move the chains a few times for the Buckeyes. Trace McSorley threw for 401 yards in the overtime contest—it's not crazy to think that J.T. Barrett could get back on track and have a big day throwing to Baugh and co.
But McSorley also got picked off three times, twice by Dowell and once by Bachie. If Barrett hasn't buried last week's yips, the Buckeyes could be in for another slog of a day against the Spartans.