Michigan State: Five things we learned vs. Ohio State
Here are five takeaways from Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News following Michigan State’s 48-3 loss at Ohio State on Saturday.
Offensive up front
Before the Spartans got whipped in Columbus on Saturday, their previous largest margin of defeat under Mark Dantonio was 49-7 against Alabama in the 2011 Capital One Bowl. In that game, the Crimson Tide outclassed the Spartans up front on both sides of the ball. The loss to Ohio State had a similar look as Michigan State got pushed around at the line of scrimmage.
The offensive line had all sorts of problems as it managed to create enough space for just 64 rushing yards – the lowest output of the season – while it allowed six sacks. Outside of senior center Brian Allen there is plenty of youth up front and it showed. Sophomore left tackle Cole Chewins, redshirt freshman right tackle Luke Campbell and freshman right guard Kevin Jarvis all struggled as the Buckeyes had their way with the group still looking for cohesion.
Things weren’t a whole lot better on the defensive line as a unit that has had its share of success this season was consistently overmatched against the Buckeyes. They failed to get any sort of consistent pressure, hurried Ohio State quarterbacks just once while not getting a sack, and were pushed back routinely in the run game. The Spartans entered the game the No. 3 rushing defense in the nation, allowing just 87 yards a game on the ground.
It wasn’t all the defensive line as the linebacker crew failed to fill its gaps routinely and Ohio State running backs Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins were able to get upfield quickly and hit the Spartans for huge chunks of yardage, averaging 8 yards a carry as the Buckeyes gained 335 yards on the ground, the most rushing yards allowed by a Dantonio-coached team at Michigan State.
The passing attack for Michigan State had been among the best in the Big Ten the past two weeks as quarterback Brian Lewerke had thrown for 845 yards and six touchdowns while receiver Felton Davis had 20 catches for 276 yards and three touchdowns. However, Lewerke was under pressure from the first snap – he was sacked twice on the opening drive – and the receivers were having trouble getting separation. When the receivers did find room, Lewerke was off-target, no doubt affected by the fact he was continually on the run.
Davis was held to just one catch for 2 yards, his lowest production of the season, and the fact the Spartans failed to run the ball at all made them one-dimensional. It was a longshot to think Michigan State was going to throw for 400 yards again, but there’s no doubt the passing game came up flat against the Buckeyes.
Grasping for air
The Spartans have had their share of tackling problems this season, especially in space when teams get the ball on the edge and allow their playmakers to work. That was again an issue against the Buckeyes, but it was hardly limited to plays on the edge. Those hurt Michigan State, for sure, but the Spartans weren’t a whole lot better between the tackles as Weber averaged 18 yards a carry and Dobbins went for 6.9 yards per carry.
“I feel like it was a combination of not all 11 executing on our part and maybe some things we could have done differently,” Michigan State safety Khari Willis said. “We definitely weren’t tackling as well. I feel like the games we lost, that’s happened. The three games we lost was not our best tackling.”
As one-sided as the loss was, the Spartans are still ahead of where many expected they’d be, and with two victories to close the season – MSU will likely be a big favorite against Maryland and Rutgers – they’ll finish the regular season with nine victories, six more than they had last season. The Spartans will also know they are young and the loss, while painful, should help the team in the next couple of years. So, the blowout was decisive, to say the least, but it’s the sort of growing pains young teams often go through. And if a team can sustain that and still have a chance to win a 10th game in a top-level bowl, then a look back will prove Saturday wasn’t all bad.
“There’s always value in every experience you have,” Dantonio said, “no matter how negative it can become. There’s gonna be value in that if you learn from it. So, we’re gonna learn from every experience our guys have. Some of it’s you just got to play better, too, and we’ll learn our lessons in that area.”