A ton of people expected Ohio State to be tested last week in Lincoln, and instead were handed a 48-7 drubbing of the Cornhuskers in a game that made the Buckeyes look like one of the best teams in the country. The test, instead, came against Michigan State this weekend, where one of the nation’s top defenses held the Scarlet and Gray (and black, in this instance) in check for a quarter before Ryan Day and the boys righted the ship.
The Bucks were still impressive on Saturday night, knocking off the No. 25 Spartans 34-10 in what was a fiery atmosphere in the Horseshoe, but certainly looked vulnerable at times. Despite some early struggles, the game was never really in doubt thanks to yet another stellar performance for an Ohio State defense oozing with confidence. The team definitely has a few things to work on, and fortunately for them there is a bye week on the horizon.
Stocks may not be as sky-high as a week ago, but OSU is definitely still soaring in a positive direction as we take a look at the market.
Blue Chip Stocks
J.K. Dobbins, RB: Just another ho-hum, 170-plus yard performance for the junior. Dobbins led the way on offense, as his ability to break off big chunk plays really paved the way for everything else Ohio State did on that side of the ball. He finished with 24 carries for 172 yards and a touchdown, and was a huge factor in setting up the play-action passing game that has worked seemingly to perfection all season long.
Dobbins’ biggest play of the night was his 67-yard rushing TD, which was the longest play from scrimmage for either team in the game. Not only was it a huge crowd pleaser, but it set the tone for the remainder of the night. The score put the Bucks up by two touchdowns, and with Michigan State not having much to show on offense, seemed to put them in an inescapable hole even with so much time remaining.
Baron Browning, LB: The junior linebacker has really come out of nowhere this season as an essential part of the Buckeyes’ front seven on defense. Browning has shown tremendous speed and intelligence at the center of the Silver Bullets, all while not even playing a full-time role. Browning showed off the five-star skillset that got him to Columbus with another great outing, finishing with two tackles including one for a loss, a sack and a pass breakup.
Browning has made the most of his opportunities at the middle linebacker spot, splitting snaps with last year’s starter Tuf Borland. The No. 1 outside linebacker in the 2017 recruiting cycle had not been able to find a way onto the field in any consistent capacity his first few seasons, never surpassing more than 23 tackles in either of the last two years. This season, he has already tied a career-high with 23 total tackles in just six games, with career-highs in tackles for loss (6.0) and sacks (2.5) as well.
Chase Young, DE: You just can’t talk about Ohio State’s blue chips without mentioning the man they call “The Predator.” Generally it is a pretty good indication of your talent level when the opposing head coach doesn't even think of you as a human, and Mark Dantonio was right — Chase Young isn't a human, he’s a monster. While his stat line wasn’t as impressive as in weeks past, the Buckeye edge rusher had a huge impact at the line of scrimmage.
Young finished with four tackles, half a sack and one tackle for loss. The future top NFL Draft pick was a factor on more than a few occasions, picking up the half sack when he met up with Zach Harrison in the backfield early in the second quarter. However, what was most impressive is how much attention he demands, opening it up for other guys to succeed. On Browning’s big sack, the o-lineman peaked Young’s way for just a second, allowing Browning to blow by him with ease. Young also could have very easily had two field goal blocks, just barely missing the ball on both occasions.
Justin Fields, QB: Fields got his first look at a very good Big Ten defense — far and away the best defense he has seen in his young career. He struggled early on, especially in the first quarter, and was not helped by some uncharacteristic drops from his receivers on very catchable balls. He also threw his first interception of the season, floating a ball into zone coverage in an attempt to hit K.J. Hill on an out route.
Fields was still very good overall, and looked much better after he settled in. The sophomore QB would end up completing 17-of-25 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown with the lone interception. He also made some big plays with his feet, rushing for 61 yards and another score. Fields made things happen both through the air and with his legs, but made a few mistakes, including the pick and a fumble later in the game. The performance wasn’t what we have been accustomed to from Fields this season, but it was a promising outing against a tough defense, and one that he can build off of heading into the bye week.
Jordan Fuller, SAF: As the only full-time starting safety on Ohio State’s defense, Fuller is one of the most experienced players in the secondary. We did not say his name all too often in the first few games — to be fair he was usually only playing two quarters in blowouts — but in the last two weeks has really turned it on. After an interception last time out against the Cornhuskers, Fuller was excellent against the Spartans, leading the team with seven total tackles and yet another pick — one that should have gone back for a TD if not for a questionable flag on the return.
Fuller looked like an experienced ball-carrier on his long run back, dodging tackles and showing off his impressive speed down the sideline. The pick-six would have made it 41-10, but instead it was called back as Ohio State was called for a “blindside block” on what was nothing more than a light shove that had little effect on the play. Overall, Fuller has been extremely effective as the Buckeyes’ last line of defense, who luckily have not needed him to make all too many touchdown-saving tackles in the open field like they unfairly required frequently a season ago.
The Linebacker Rotation: It would be very hard to argue with anything Ryan Day and his staff have done to this point, as it seems as though everything this group of coaches touches turns to gold. However, if we are going to nitpick a little after a slightly less dominating performance, one issue that comes to mind is who should get the majority of playing time at linebacker. Specifically, the splitting of snaps between Baron Browning and Tuf Borland at middle linebacker.
A season ago, the struggles of the linebacker unit were well documented. This season, play has been lightyears ahead in that area, but it could still be even better. Borland, who did not play well in 2018 as he was recovering from injuries, has shown immense improvement this year. However, while he has been very serviceable thus far, Browning has dominated each and every time he has taken the field, and should see way more playing time as a result. The rotation has been good, as it has kept both guys fresh over the course of the game, but in the end it should be Browning on the field in big situations almost every time.
(Buy) Ohio State’s second quarters: The Buckeyes were able to really put away the Spartans with a dominant second quarter explosion. After only mustering 16 total yards in the first quarter, Ohio State put up 24 points with 296 yards in the second quarter alone. It is beginning to become somewhat of a trend this season for OSU, as the Bucks came into the game outscoring opponents 134-20 in second quarters. The offense has been rolling all year long, but it seems as though the team does some feeling out in the first before really turning it up in the second.
(Sell) Justin Fields taking hits: This was a very physical game, and both teams were up to the task with good, hard tackling the majority of the night. A few of the heavy hits on the Michigan State side came against Justin Fields, who had not been touched all that much through the first five games. The stout defense forced Fields to run a bit, finishing with double-digit carries for just the third time this year, and he was sacked three times. Fields will have to get used to this kind of physicality as the schedule gets tougher. However, the Buckeyes are not deep at the quarterback position, and anything that can be done to limit the abuse taken by the starter would be a big plus.
(Buy) A good test: Ohio State did not dominate from start to finish as we’ve grown accustomed, and while they never trailed in this game, it was a great experience for the team to go through a little adversity. The first quarter was rough offensively, as the Buckeyes struggled even to get first downs. The defense kept Sparty off the board with a pair of early takeaways, and after everyone was able to settle in, OSU got it done. Michigan State’s defense is legit, and Ryan Day was forced to make adjustments on the fly to move the ball. In the end, they were able to put up 323 rushing yards against a team ranked top five in stopping the run, and Ohio State passed this test with flying colors.