On Saturday night, both the crowd and the home team’s jerseys were blacked out as the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes hosted their first night game of the season as Mark Dantonio’s No. 25 Michigan State Spartans came to Columbus for OSU’s homecoming game.
However, the Buckeyes’ offense was anything but blacked out following the first 15 minutes, as Justin Fields and J.K. Dobbins paced the home team to a 34-10 victory against what had been the nation’s No. 7 defense.
The first quarter proved to be the defensive struggle that many anticipated, but when the scoreboard moved to the second quarter, the game’s script completely flipped and turned into a high-scoring affair, with the Buckeyes establishing a lead that they would not surrender. Despite having only 16 yards in the first quarter, OSU finished the day with 529 total yards, including 323 on the ground.
Dobbins finished the game with 172 yards rushing and a touchdown against the fourth-best defense against the run, and if you ask me, officially threw his name into the Heisman Trophy race.
The opening drive for the Buckeyes was less than ideal, as the Spartan pass rush got to Fields early and often. The drive ended with an 18-yard sack by Ohio native Joe Bachie, forcing a three-and-out. However, the Buckeye defense quickly flexed its muscles as cornerback Damon Arnette stripped receiver Cody White after a nine-yard completion, and linebacker Malik Harrison picked up the fumbled ball and returned it 22 yards down to the Spartan’s 27-yard line.
However, as they have following every turnover on the season, the MSU defense refused to give up a point. Following some conservative play-calling from head coach Ryan Day, kicker Blake Haubeil missed a 37-yard attempt.
But, the blacked out defense came up big again for the Buckeyes as MSU attempted to run an out-of-character option play which resulted in a fumble, recovered by the home team deep in Spartan territory.
But, as with the previous possessions, Dantonio’s defense refused to allow Fields and company to do practically anything. So, on fourth and 10, Haubeil redeemed himself and hit a 39-yard strike to give the Buckeyes the early lead 3-0, seven minutes into the game.
The Spartans picked up a pair of first downs on the subsequent possession, but eventually had to punt, pinning the Buckeyes inside their own five yard line. In the early going, both teams seemed to be feeling each other out. Between the aggressive pass rush early on, and MSU’s stout rush defense forced Day to stay buttoned up, and Fields felt a bit antsy in the pocket.
After grad transfer Jonah Jackson got called for a hold that erased a 35-yard run by Dobbins, MSU’s Kevin Jarvis was flagged for a facemask. On second down from their own 27, Fields found Binjimen Victor deep, and even though the wide receiver had a step-and-a-half on his defender, he couldn’t bring in the ball. The Buckeyes were forced to punt again, but they had already missed on three or four big-play opportunities in the first quarter.
Through the first 15 minutes, Field was just 3-for-6 for 16 yards, and his -14 yards rushing (thanks to a pair of sacks by Bachie) erased Dobbin’s 14 yards on the ground.
However, the OSU offense got creative on their first possession of the second quarter. After first downs by K.J. Hill and Dobbins, Fields found Victor for what would ultimately be a 60-yard touchdown.
On the play, Fields stretched the field to the right, drawing in the MSU defenders, then he pulled the ball down and found Victor completely wide open. The WR raced down the sideline and dove into the end zone. However, as he was crossing the goal line, he lost control of the ball; the officials called the play a TD on the field, and upon review the call stood. Had it been decided that Victor had lost control before crossing the goal line, it would have been a ruled a touchback and Michigan State’s ball.
After the big score by the Buckeyes, MSU quarterback Brian Lewerke masterminded an aggressive five-play, 75-yard touchdown drive culminating with a 20-yard TD pass to Darrell Stewart Jr. After 13-yard and 23-yard runs on two of the first three plays of the drive, the Michigan State offense completed two passes against the Buckeye defense who had moved up to stop the run, resulting in room for receivers to run in the secondary.
Once the offensive dam broke, yards and points started flying quickly. On 3rd-and-5, Fields saw the left side of the field completely open up, so he took off and instead of sliding or running out of bounds, the transfer-QB turned on the gas and raced to a 35-yard gain.
Great vision (and speed) by Fields to see how much room he had to run. pic.twitter.com/LP4kgNcKZF— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) October 6, 2019
Then, after four-positive plays, OSU’s signal-caller again showed his poise in the pocket as he continued to scan his options downfield until he found tight end Luke Farrell for a good gain. However, Farrell was not going to be satisfied with just a first down. The 6-foot-6, 255 pounder carried multiple defenders into the end zone to put the home team up 17-7.
Great patience and vision by Fields and strength and determination by Ferrell. pic.twitter.com/xotBpumKQd— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) October 6, 2019
On the kickoff following the score, Ohio State was flagged for two penalties. The Buckeyes were called for a live-ball offsides penalty, and then following a fair catch, Marcus Hooker picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The pair of flags, combined with the fair catch, put the ball on MSU’s 45-yard line to begin the drive.
Lewerke was able to move the Spartan offense into the red zone with a mix of runs and passes, but on third down, White was able to slip out to the right side of the field with literally no defenders within range to stop him. However, the pass was well overthrown, and Dantonio’s squad had to settle for a Matt Coghlin field goal. The kick moved the score to 17-10 in favor of the Buckeyes.
But, the insane pace of the second quarter continued as it only took the Buckeyes three plays to go 75 yards thanks to an impressive 67-yard touchdown run by Dobbins. While the offensive line struggled to either open holes or keep MSU rushers out of the backfield in the first quarter, the Buckeye scoring binge was thanks in no small part to the slobs plowing the way for the running backs. With the score, OSU increased their lead to 24-10 with 2:24 remaining before halftime.
After the offensive line looked suspect at best in the first quarter, they are redeeming themselves in the second.— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) October 6, 2019
J.K. Dobbins with a 67-yard TD run. And, if the defense can hold, OSU had three timeouts remaining. pic.twitter.com/W7jP58sOAy
After OSU forced the Spartans to a rare second quarter three-and-out, Fields led the Buckeye offense down the field and to the edge of the red zone. However, on third-and-three Victor got flagged for a false start, pushing the Buckeyes into a different offensive mindset. On third down, Dobbins picked up half of the yards and Day called timeout to give Haubeil a chance to add to the lead.
The Buckeye placekicker essentially finished the first half by converting on a 43-yard attempt to give the home team a 27-10 halftime advantage.
The two quarters could not have been more different for the Buckeyes. In the first 15 minutes, the offense looked confused, overwhelmed, and incapable of sustaining drives. However, in the second set of 15 minutes, they moved the ball practically at will. In the first half, OSU totaled 312 yards of offense, 296 of those came in the second quarter.
Fields was 9-for-11 in the second quarter for 133 yards and a pair of TDs, and Dobbins ran for 112 yards in the second quarter alone. On the other side, Lewerke ended the first half going 11-for-19 for 122 yards and a touchdown.
As the second half opened, Michigan State continued to pick up yards in bunches, moving the ball 66 yards into the red zone on nine plays. But, perhaps influenced by a Chase Young rush, Coghlin pushed his field attempt wide to keep the score at 27-10.
On the subsequent possession, the Buckeyes continued their offensive success moving the ball quickly into Spartan territory. However, on first-and-10 from the 29, Fields through a looping ball in the direction of Hill, but MSU’s Josiah Scott picked off the pass for the QB’s first interception as a Buckeye.
The rest of the third quarter raced by rather uneventfully, as the teams traded punts. After a Baron Browning sack ended the third quarter, the Buckeyes continued their even-quartered offensive explosion. After starting the series on their own 20-yard-line, Day called a healthy helping of handoffs to Dobbins, including a big 29-yard sprint.
On the rush, after picking up a dozen yards, he made a sharp 90° turn to his left and turned back up field for an extra 17 yards. Five rushes later, Fields got into the end zone to up the lead to 34-10 in favor of the Buckeyes. The rushing score continued the QB’s streak of a passing and running TD in every game this season.
What's been great about Dobbins this season is that he refuses to ever go down. He is always looking to make the extra move.— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) October 6, 2019
Also, look who was in front of J.K. looking for someone to block. pic.twitter.com/YlD5K3Lhuu
With 6:36 left in the game, Fields was stripped of the ball, leading to his second turnover of the game. But, on the very next play, Lewerke’s pass was deflected right into the hands of Jordan Fuller. Though his return would eventually be called back due to an illegal blindside block, the effort from the safety was incredible.
It might not have counted thanks to a penalty, but this is an amazing return for Jordan Fuller. pic.twitter.com/s92x4QZIbP— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) October 6, 2019
With the pick-six taken off the board, that means that Day’s streak of eight straight games with 40 points or more to begin his coaching career.
The Buckeyes have an open date next week, and will return to the field on Friday, Oct. 18 — yes, Friday — in Evanston, Ill. against the Northwestern Wildcats.