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4 things learned from Ohio State’s first night game of the season

The Buckeyes prevailed over the Spartans—and now control their destiny in the Big Ten East.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

For the first 15 minutes, things looked dicey for the Ohio State Buckeyes. After receiving two turnovers from the Michigan State Spartans within the first five minutes, the Bucks had only three points — and a missed field goal — to show for it.

Then, just like in past games, the Buckeyes turned on the afterburners and ran away from their opponent. Sure, MSU had missed opportunities, but the Scarlet and Gray kept on grinding out big plays, ultimately busting the game open at halftime.

OSU is now 6-0, and is thus eligible to go to a bowl game. Getting bowl eligible isn’t the goal, though, obviously; punching their ticket to the College Football Playoff and National Championship Game are the goals. Through six games, Ryan Day’s squad looks more and more like a team in the hunt for the CFP. And they didn’t deviate from the plan on Saturday night in front of a blackout crowd inside the Horseshoe.

While the road signs to Indianapolis (the Big Ten Championship Game venue) and New Orleans (title game site) are reading smaller mileage totals each week, let’s look back at what the Buckeyes did against Sparty, and figure out how this impacts the road to Evanston, the place that OSU will play next, on Friday, Oct. 18.

Priming the engines

Mentioned earlier, the Buckeyes had just three points in the first quarter. Offensively, the home squad looked fazed by the MSU defense. Quarterback Justin Fields had trouble getting out the pocket. J.K. Dobbins was being held to short yardage rushes, receivers couldn’t bring down the catch. Basically, the hallmark signs of another Spartan upset of the Buckeyes was unfolding in Columbus.

But then the second quarter happened. And as we’ve come to know, this isn’t a surprising development for the Buckeyes. This time around, a 24-point second quarter paced OSU out to a 27-10 halftime lead. That was more than enough cushion to hold off the Spartans in the second half.

Day dialed up some stellar plays, busting out chunk plays left and right in the second frame. Arguably, the biggest play of the game came when Fields connected with wide receiver Benjamin Victor, who took the reception to the house for a 60-yard score.

Even though a replay review followed, momentum shifted squarely into OSU’s corner for the rest of the night, and it was just a matter of time before the Bucks wore down Sparty and his defense.

Just three minutes after the Victor TD, tight end Luke Farrell pulled down a Fields throw, and fought off defenders to cap off a 21-yard touchdown of his own.

Northwestern will have their hands full when they host Ohio State. When the Bucks get momentum, there is nothing that can be done to stop them; there’s just too many playmakers at the skill positions. Saturday night was an example of a stagnant start, but not a stagnant game. To beat OSU, you’ll need them to play average for 60 minutes.

So far, they are only having roughly 15 minutes of so-so football each game before exploding with a burst of energy. Even 10 minutes of great Buckeye football will put a game away. Don’t believe me? Just ask Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati, Indiana, Miami (Ohio), Nebraska, and now Michigan State. All it took was one great quarter of play, and the Buckeyes had the win sewn up.

Defense holds their own

While the OSU offense put up a 529-yard performance, the Buckeye defense held the Spartans to 285 total yards — only 67 of those rushing.

In the first four plays from scrimmage, the Spartans fumbled the ball away twice, and each time, the Buckeyes recovered. Quarterback Brian Lewerke threw for 218 yards on 20-of-38 passing, but lobbed an interception in the fourth quarter to Jordan Fuller. Tallying four sacks, the Buckeye frontline put pressure on Lewerke. However, Chase Young was not a member of this week’s sack brigade.

If OSU’s defense does a repeat performance after the bye week, it will be business as usual for the Buckeyes, who will be 7-0 heading home to host the Wisconsin Badgers on Oct. 26.

A one man wrecking machine

The second quarter offensive explosion that helped OSU pull away included Dobbins doing what he does best: breaking away from defenses.

A 67-yard sprint to the end zone included a whiffed punch-out attempt at the end of the run that, basically, summed up the game.

Gashing the MSU defense for 172 yards, Dobbins was the ground presence that every team dreams about having in these types of situations. A big home game at night, with practically the crowd donning black, while the team rocks their alternate black uniforms, a performance like Dobbins’ is as close to a shot of adrenaline as you’re going to get in human form. That second quarter TD run was electric, and combined with the Fields-Victor 60-yard TD pass, was the play that broke the Spartan defense.

It wasn’t his best career day on the ground numbers-wise, but it definitely will be one of the highlight reel worthy rushes when his OSU career comes to an end (likely this coming January).

If Dobbins does his thing, and Fields does his, there’s not much more an offense can do — including Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU or Oklahoma.

Circle the Date

Saturday, Oct. 26 is going to be a preview of what the Big Ten Championship Game will be like. That’s when Wisconsin travels to Ohio’s capital city to face Ohio State. With both teams unbeaten, and nobody having any sort of answer to either team’s offense or defense, the Badgers and Buckeyes are in the driver’s seat for their respective divisions.

Jonathan Taylor steamrolled Kent State for four touchdowns and 186 yards on the ground, and the men of Madison have looked untouchable. Granted, they haven’t played the stiffest of competition, but they did put Michigan’s chance for a playoff bid on life support. Outside of Wisconsin, the Big Ten West hasn’t looked great — making a Badgers’ pick to Indy look even more solidified.

As we’ve said, following this coming week’s bye, Ohio State still has Northwestern on the road, and end of season match-ups with Penn State and Michigan to navigate. However, Penn State is at home, and the Wolverines have struggled mightily at the Big House. The Wolverines had to survive both Army and Iowa at home, with each game being decided by one score., so Buckeye fans should feel as good as you possibly can when traveling to their rival’s ouse.

Beginning the season, the Spartan-Buckeye showdown looked to be the hot ticket in Columbus. Now, it looks like Badgers-Buckeyes on Oct. 26 will be the biggest show for any Big Ten football enthusiast.