Matt Charboneau and John Niyo of The Detroit News analyze Michigan State's loss to Ohio State. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — When Ohio State coach Urban Meyer walked off the field Saturday at Spartan Stadium, he understood what his team had just faced.
For the No. 1 offense in the Big Ten and the fifth-ranked unit in the nation, getting 26 points against the Michigan State defense was no simple feat. Actually, the Buckeyes’ offense managed just 17 points — well off their season average of 42.2 points a game — as seven points were scored by the Ohio State defense and OSU picked up two points when Michigan State intentionally took a safety.
The 347 total yards for Ohio State came well short of its average of 547.2 yards a game.
“Everything about going against that defense was really hard,” Meyer said.
That’s what every team on Michigan State’s schedule has learned this season. While keeping the Spartans out of the end zone hasn’t been as challenging, getting there against their defense has been.
Entering Saturday’s game against Ohio State, the Spartans were allowing just 19 points a game, which ranked No. 16 in the nation. They’ve also spent the bulk of the season as the top rushing defense in the country, giving up 71.7 yards a game on the ground.
The Buckeyes walked away with a 26-6 victory, but the scenario was similar. Ohio State did become only the third team this season to reach 100 rushing yards, but it had only 14 in the first half and the bulk of the Buckeyes’ production came late in the game, as the MSU defense was on the field for more than 37 minutes.
More: Michigan State: Five things we learned vs. Ohio State
As the defense made stop after stop — Ohio State punted nine times — the offense couldn’t take advantage, converting just 2 of 16 third downs and holding the ball for just 22:31.
“They had (84) plays and 45 rushes, that will wear on you a little bit,” defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said. “That's the game of football, and I am very proud of the guys. I think they played until the last second. I don't think that there was ever a point in there where they started to soften or started to give up. I'm real proud of those guys playing 60 minutes.”
While Michigan State has been outstanding on defense, the offense has struggled all season. The reasons are many, but the bottom line remains: The defense has far outplayed the offense.
And when the season is coming to a close and the hopes for a division title are gone, there likely will be some guarding against frustration taking hold in the locker room.
“That's always the case and my message to my football team is, ‘Don't start pointing fingers. Make sure we're all accountable in this,’” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “There are things we can do better, whether it's offense or defense. We jumped offsides and gave them a first down; there's a lot of little things that you can look at.
“But the message to our football team is to stay together and to stay close. Make sure there's no problems and take the next step. We've got two games left, we go to Nebraska next week, they're an improved football team so we need to look forward.”
Following the loss to Ohio State, the players didn’t sound like a group that is divided. Instead, the Spartans seemed to understand exactly what has been taking place.
“The defense played outstanding,” quarterback Brian 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.”
The way the defense has played, Michigan State (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) has had a chance to win every game it has played this season.
That was the case against Ohio State, though the Spartans’ defense wasn’t giving itself a break.
“(The offense) probably has to play better, but it's my job as a leader and our job to pick them up when there not playing well,” senior safety Khari Willis said. “We are not going to point the finger. We had some times where we gave up some points and, in those areas, we jumped offsides on the drive they scored. So, there's things enough to go around for everybody. There's thing we could get better at, but I feel that we came out and competed.”
A shot at winning the Big Ten East is gone, but Michigan State can still get to eight regular-season victories and a solid bowl game. To do that, the Spartans will have to win next week at Nebraska and at home against Rutgers.
The offense will have a chance to find some momentum in both matchups, but in the meantime, the defense expects to keep showing up and shutting teams down.
“It's a team game and team sport,” junior safety David Dowell said. “We all are Spartan Dawgs and there were definitely things on defensive we could have done better to not allow them to score in the game. But we're not pointing fingers; we just have to keep moving forward and get ready for Nebraska next week.”