Matt Charboneau and John Niyo of The Detroit News analyze Michigan State's loss to Ohio State. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing – For the most part, Michigan State’s players and coaches were struggling to come up with answers on Saturday afternoon.
The Spartans had just lost to No. 10 Ohio State, 26-6, another solid defensive performance gone by the wayside as the Michigan State offense simply couldn’t move the ball in front of 74,633 at Spartan Stadium.
The numbers were ugly with three fourth-quarter turnovers standing out, as well as a miserable 2-for-16 on third-down conversions. Add in just 54 rushing yards against a team that was middle of the pack against the run in the Big Ten and it was hard to find a bright spot.
“I thought it was pretty embarrassing overall by the offense today,” junior quarterback Brian Lewerke said. “We couldn’t pass the ball very well, couldn’t run the ball very well. We had a lot of turnovers, didn’t have a lot of time of possession, were 2-for-16 on third down.
“We did not play very well.”
It’s an understatement, to be sure, but it’s also becoming status quo for Michigan State (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten). The game against the Buckeyes was a chance to keep alive slim Big Ten East hopes while staking a claim as a team that deserved to be in a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Instead, it was a familiar script that played out.
“The defense played outstanding,” Lewerke said, “like they have all year. They kept us in the game. The way the defense was playing we should have been up at least by the second half or the third quarter.”
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio discusses the loss to Ohio State. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Michigan State finished with 274 total yards with only 54 of them coming on the ground. Lewerke and redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi were a combined 18-for-48 passing with one interception while the Spartans started all five third-quarter drives inside the 6-yard line.
When the fourth quarter arrived, so did the turnovers that effectively ended any shot the Spartans had at coming back.
“I don't know if you point to one specific area,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “We have not been able to run the football; last week we obviously ran the football well (against Maryland). Other than that, we haven't had a great push out front. LJ (Scott) has been banged up all year. It would be nice to have him in there. He helps a little bit.
“We continue to evaluate the scheme we're using; we continue to try and find ways to be able to run the football. Obviously, we struggled today. We were backed up like five straight times there and really not able to run some of our offense, so that made it a little more difficult.”
While Michigan State’s offense was going nowhere, Ohio State simply stayed patient against the Spartans’ defense. The Buckeyes finally put together a solid drive near the end of the first half that resulted in a 1-yard touchdown catch for Paris Campbell.
The Buckeyes (9-1, 6-1) then took advantage of MSU’s turnovers, getting a touchdown from Dre’Mont Jones when he recovered a fumble in the end zone early in the fourth quarter, then added a Blake Haubeil field goal two minutes later. They ran out the clock late and got a 2-yard touchdown run from Mike Weber to close the scoring.
“I'm proud of the way our guys came out and the energy,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said, “but we can't make mistakes and expect to win. You got to credit Ohio State. Their football team has gone through a lot this season as well and they played very well.”
Ohio State entered the game averaging better than 547 yards a game and managed 347 on Saturday. It was enough as quarterback Dwayne Haskins finished with 218 yards passing and one touchdown while the Buckeyes gained 113 yards on the ground, many of those coming in the fourth quarter.
“I just want to say I have tremendous respect for their program and Coach Dantonio,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “We knew exactly what this would be, and it went that way. It was November football at Michigan State. Mike Weber ran for 100 yards, and I would have to say 75 percent of those were post-contact yards, so he ran really hard. Everything about going against that defense was really hard.”
Michigan State QBs Brian Lewerke and Rocky Lombardi talk about the loss to Ohio State. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
It wasn’t until late in the half that the offenses started to find some openings. Ohio State struck first with an 11-play drive that featured some pinpoint passing from Haskins and ended with Campbell taking a short pass around the end for a 1-yard touchdown to give the Buckeyes a 7-0 lead with 1:29 to play in the half.
Michigan State made a change at quarterback on the final drive of the half as Lombardi took over for Lewerke. It resulted in the Spartans’ best drive of the game that ended with a 44-yard field goal from Matt Coghlin to cut the Ohio State lead to 7-3 with 30 seconds left in the half.
Michigan State looked like it took the lead on its second drive of the third quarter when receiver Cody White took a lateral and hit tight end Matt Sokol for a touchdown. But an ineligible receiver downfield negated the play and the Spartans settled for a 38-yard field goal from Coghlin to cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 7-6 with 5:35 left in the third quarter.
Ohio State added two points late in the quarter when Michigan State took a safety, intentionally snapping the ball out of the end zone on a punt from the 1-yard line. It gave the Buckeyes a 9-6 lead with 42 seconds left in the third quarter.
“We were right there,” linebacker Joe Bachie said. “(The turnovers) kind of deflate you for a second but we continued to play. This defense was ready to go all game. I was expecting a close game. The numbers don’t show it, but it was a close one out there.”
Early in the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes took advantage of a critical Michigan State mistake when a shotgun snap hit receiver Laress Nelson, who was in motion with the ball being snapped from the 2. The ball was recovered in the end zone by Ohio State’s Jones for a Buckeyes touchdown, giving them a 16-6 lead with 14:03 left in the game.
“I sent him in motion a little early,” Lombardi said. “We just didn’t connect on it. My fault. I got to fix it.”
Another fumble on MSU’s next snap led to a 35-yard field goal from Haubeil to put Ohio State up, 19-6, with 12:22 to play. Weber capped the scoring with his touchdown run.
“We've got two games left,” Dantonio said. “We go to Nebraska next week, they're an improved football team, so we need to look forward. I liked where our football team came out, I liked how we competed. We've got to come out in certain situations better.”