EAST LANSING, Mich. — Was it a reminder? A warning? Or just what should have been expected from a football team that always plays Ohio State tough?
Ohio State’s 17-16 win over Michigan State on Saturday might have been a little of all three of those things.
Maybe it was a reminder that things won’t always be as perfect as they were when Ohio State beat Nebraska and Maryland in back-to-back games by identical 62-3 scores in its two previous games.
OSU coach Urban Meyer chose to use it as a warning after the game. “It was a tough day at the office there, but we’ll take it. We had fumbles and two big (Michigan State) plays in the first half. That’s not us, that can’t be us. We’ll lose next week if we play like that,” he said, referring to OSU’s game at home against Michigan this Saturday.
The Buckeyes were a three-touchdown favorite coming into Saturday’s game, but that might have overlooked the recent history between Ohio State and Michigan State.
In the last five times the two teams have played, Ohio State holds a one-point edge, 121-120.
Ohio State won 17-16 at Michigan State in Meyer’s first season at OSU, lost 34-24 in the 2013 Big Ten championship game, then won 49-37 in East Lansing in 2014. Last year, Michigan State won 17-14 on a last-second field goal.
No. 2-ranked Ohio State (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) knew it was in for a fight from the start after Michigan State scored on the second play of the game when running back L.J. Scott turned a short pass from quarterback Tyler O’Connor, a Lima Central Catholic graduate, into a 64-yard touchdown catch 46 seconds after the opening kickoff.
That touchdown added to a statistic that seems unlikely for a team with Michigan State’s record (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten). The Spartans have had the lead in every game they’ve played this season.
“They’re tough. They shot everything at us today,” Meyer said.
In the end, Ohio State might have benefitted from Michigan State trying to take a shot that maybe didn’t need to be taken.
After L.J. Scott’s 1-yard touchdown run cut Ohio State’s lead to 17-16 with 4:41 left in the game, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio decided to go for a two-point conversion and the win, but Chris Worley intercepted a pass from O’Connor in the end zone to preserve the lead.
Michigan State had the ball for only two plays after that, both of them deep in their own territory. O’Connor was sacked on the first one and Gareon Conley’s interception on the next play sealed the win.
“I was somewhat surprised but I’ve been in that situation before. You have all kinds of momentum and you go swing and try to have a knockout punch,” Meyer said about MSU going for two points.
Dantonio said, “All week long I had said that if we get close at the end of the game, we’re going for two. We’re going to take an aggressive approach and play to win the football game, rather than tie the football game. So, that felt like what we wanted to do.
“We had a number of play selections so that if they had us covered up on that particular play, so, good job by them. I still felt like we had an opportunity with four minutes to go — if we stopped them and still had an opportunity to get the ball back and kick a field goal and win the football game,” he said.
Ohio State had two 100-yard rushers, with Mike Weber gaining 111 yards on 14 carries and quarterback J.T. Barrett carrying 24 times for 105 yards. L.J. Scott led Michigan State with 160 yards on 19 carries, including a 61-yard run in the first half and a 26-yard gain in the fourth quarter.
Weather conditions might have played a role in limiting both teams’ passing games. Barrett was 10 of 22 for 86 yards and one touchdown and O’Connor was 6 of 16 for 105 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Barrett said, “I watch film like everybody else and their record didn’t show the team we saw today. People look at records and think we should blow them out but that’s not the case.
“They get up for us and we like the match-up as well,” he said.
From the time MSU stunned the Buckeyes with a touchdown on the second play of the game until halftime, OSU was playing catch-up.
Ohio State took advantage of good field position and evened the game at 7-7 on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Barrett to Curtis Samuel with 7:56 left in the first quarter.
The only scoring in the second quarter came from two field goals early in the quarter.
Michael Geiger, who kicked the game-winner as time ran out last year against Ohio State, put Michigan State up 10-7 on a 28-yard field goal with 13:42 to play in the first half. Tyler Durbin’s 39-yard kick with 10:03 left before halftime tied it at 10-10.
After OSU took its 17-10 lead in the third quarter, it had the ball twice with a chance to go up two scores, but went three and out on both possessions.
“Guys came to play. I thought we played well on the defensive side of the ball and made some big plays offensively. The consistency offensively wasn’t there, but we did make some big plays,” Dantonio said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.