Columbus, Ohio – Michigan State entered Saturday's matchup with Ohio State looking for redemption. It walked away with not only that, but also a clear path to the Big Ten East championship and a spot in the conference title game.
Michael Geiger kicked a 41-yard field goal as time expired to give No. 9 Michigan State a 17-14 victory over No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday, in front of a record crowd of 108,975 at Ohio Stadium.
Those fans sat stunned as Geiger raced around the field, chased by his teammates in celebration. Michigan State avenged last season's loss at home to Ohio State, one that ended any championship hopes. The Spartans also ended the Buckeyes' 30-game Big Ten regular-season winning streak and 23-game overall winning streak.
What Michigan State (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) truly relished, however, was the fact almost no one expected it.
"Huge win for our program," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "When you really look at it we sat around all day and listened how we were underdogs, and I think that motivates people. This is the first game all season long where we can actually take on the role where we were underdogs and hunting the other football team.
"We came in with something to prove and usually when you have that you have a little chip on your shoulder and maybe even play a little better."
It couldn't have been much better for the Spartans, who have now won six of their last seven games against top-10 ranked opponents and are still the only Big Ten team to beat the Buckeyes under coach Urban Meyer, the first victory coming in the 2013 conference championship game.
Michigan State will also clinch the East Division and a third trip to the Big Ten Championship game with a win next week at home against Penn State.
But while the naysayers were out in full force, the Spartans never wavered.
"We continued to work hard with all the doubters out there," center Jack Allen said. "Someone said we couldn't stop Joey Bosa or Adolphus Washington and I didn't see them back there much today.
"I still think we make a lot of people look foolish. You look on TV and we're supposed to get blown out today or get beat pretty good. I think it's good to look back on that and see the people who said that."
Before there was any looking back, Michigan State had to figure out how it was going to win without quarterback Connor Cook. He had started 36 straight games, but a shoulder injury suffered last week kept him from playing on Saturday.
In came junior Tyler O'Connor for his first career start as he shared time Damion Terry. And with the wind howling and the rain pouring, it was going to be won on the ground, a place Michigan State has struggled this season.
But against the Buckeyes, the holes were opening and the backs were taking advantage. Michigan State ran for 203 yards against a team that was allowing 126.8 a game, good for 24th in the nation. Gerald Holmes ran for 65 yards and a touchdown while LJ Scott had 58 yards. O'Connor and Terry combined to gain 50.
"We've been waiting for this time for everyone to get a little healthier and jell," Allen said. "I think we did that today."
The Spartans didn't just win up front offensively, but they dominated on defense, as well.
Ohio State had just 132 total yards – a season low – and gained only 86 on the ground.
"There's no question we won up front," Dantonio said. "That's where it had to start. Ohio State is a great football team, a tremendously coached football team. We felt like we had to win up front and we did that on the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side of the ball."
Ohio State (10-1, 6-1) struck first, thanks to a fumble from Terry when he was sacked by Sam Hubbard and the Buckeyes recovered at the MSU 32. Ezekiel Elliott scored on a 1-yard run to give the Buckeyes the 7-0 lead with 12:45 left in the second quarter.
But Michigan State answered with an impressive drive of its own, going 75 yards on nine plays. The big play was a 36-yard pass from O'Connor to Aaron Burbridge on third-and-14 to put the ball at the Ohio State 28. Two plays later, O'Connor connected with fullback Trevon Pendleton, who hit the pylon with the ball for a 12-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7 with 7:57 to play in the second quarter.
By late in the third quarter, the game was still tied at seven when Michigan State committed another costly turnover as Macgarrett Kings Jr. fumbled a punt and Ohio State recovered at the MSU 6. On the next play, Barrett hit Jalin Marshall for the go-ahead touchdown with 3:33 left in the third quarter.
Michigan State answered again, though, as Holmes scored on a 2-yard run with 12:03 to play to tie the game at 14. The drive lasted 13 plays and didn't include a completed pass, but it did include a fourth-and-3 conversion from the Ohio State 30.
"Disheartening and especially it was all mostly run," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "That was a big transitional part of the game, when you feel like you got them stopped and then they hit a ball over the top on us. But I think it was disheartening is a correct word when you feel like you're 14-7 or 7-0, you go up and you're up 14-7 and they take it the length of the field."
The Spartans then answered with a stop deep in Ohio State territory, forcing the ninth punt of the game.
They took over at the Ohio State 48 and marched to the 23 before calling timeout with three seconds to play. After Meyer used a timeout to try and ice Geiger, the junior kicked the winner.
"Last February when we started back for winter conditioning, we talked about reaching higher," Dantonio said. "The only way to reach higher was we had to be able to come down here and win. So this was a focus. We were focused on this moment and when we finally got to the moment we played hard. I'm real excited for our football team. We can't lose sight. We have to win next week and if we win next week we at least control our own destiny."