'We're better than this': No. 3 Ohio State pulverizes Michigan State

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing – A week ago, it was hard for Mel Tucker to hide his excitement.

Michigan State had just upset Northwestern, a team that came to Spartan Stadium unbeaten and ranked in the top 10 in the nation.

BOX SCORE: No. 3 Ohio State 52, Michigan State 12

So, it’s no surprise that a week later, Tucker had just as hard a time suppressing his anger, his disappointment, his frustration after Michigan State got run over by another top-10 team. This time it was No. 4 Ohio State, down 17 scholarship players because of COVID-19, that came to town Saturday and destroyed the Spartans, 52-12.

Ohio State's Haskell Garrett pulls in the ball that he tipped off a Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi pass in the end zone for a touchdown for Ohio State in the second quarter.

It was clear from the game’s opening minutes that there wouldn’t be a third victory over a top-15 team this season. Instead, there would be only domination as Ohio State piled up 521 yards, including 322 on the ground while Michigan State mustered just 261, only 80 of those coming in the first half.

“I’m very disappointed today in how we played,” Tucker said. “And we need to do a better job with our guys to get more out of them. We need to figure it out quickly because outings like this are not acceptable. I don’t care who we’re playing. Even though that was a good team, when I turn on the film, I’m gonna be sick to see some of the things that we did.”

It wasn’t so much what Michigan State (2-4) did as opposed to what it didn’t do. Defensively, it had no answers for Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, and on offense, the Spartans couldn’t manage to cross midfield until the final drive of the first half, a series that quickly evaporated when Payton Thorne fumbled, one of four Michigan State turnovers.

Fields, who is in the thick of the Heisman Trophy race, was dominant. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more, gaining 104 yards rushing while completing 17 of 24 passes for another 199 yards.

“He can run and he can pass, and it’s pretty hard to stop quarterbacks who can do both,” said Michigan State linebacker Antjuan Simmons, who had 12 tackles. “Usually, if you get a guy who stays in a pocket, you want to blitz them force outside the pocket and make them uncomfortable. But a guy like Fields, you don't want that guy running all over the field. You want to have controlled rushes, you want to be sound in your rush and if you have the edge, you want to protect that edge.

“It’s just believing in yourself, believing in your technique. That's really the only thing you can do. … There’s no magic trick. There's no secret coverage. There's no extra stuff you can do. You just do your job, play sound and make plays.”

The Spartans were unable to do that against Fields or any of the other Buckeyes, for that matter. Trey Sermon ran for 112 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown for the Buckeyes (5-0) while Chris Olave caught 10 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown with Garrett Wilson also catching a touchdown pass. It was Ohio State’s eighth straight win at Spartan Stadium and its fifth in a row in the series.

Ohio State also got a touchdown from defensive tackle Haskell Garrett, who batted down a pass and caught it in the end zone.

“I took a lot of notes. I yelled a lot,” said Ohio State coach Ryan Day, who was back in Columbus after testing positive for COVID-19 this week. “I got really, really excited. On Haskell’s play, I was running around the house. It was not easy. It’s all about the team, but it was a difficult day.”

Michigan State (2-4) did little to nothing on offense until the second half. After quarterback Rocky Lombardi was injured, Thorne came in and went 16-for-25 for 147 yards while scoring on a 20-yard run.

Ohio State didn’t take long to prove it was out to make a point, short on players or not. After forcing Michigan State to punt after only three plays, the Buckeyes marched 83 yards on 12 plays, scoring on Fields’ 2-yard touchdown run when he waltzed his way through the defense to give the Buckeyes a 7-0 lead just more than four minutes into the game.

The Buckeyes were forced to punt on their next drive after getting called for a holding penalty, but the Michigan State offense was posing little to no threat, failing to get out of its own end of the field. The Buckeyes struck again with 2:01 left in the first quarter when Fields hit Wilson with a 28-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-0. Fields added a touchdown, this time on a 1-yard run with 10:25 left in the second quarter, before the Buckeyes closed the first-half scoring with Garrett’s touchdown.

That gave Ohio State a 28-0 lead with 5:15 to play in the second quarter. Thorne then replaced Lombardi, who was injured on a sack, and put together MSU’s best drive, but he fumbled on a fourth-down run to end the half.

By the end of the first half, Ohio State outgained Michigan State, 270-80, and had 16 first downs to just four for the Spartans.

Michigan State had a promising drive going to open the second half, moving to the Ohio State 41. But on fourth-and-5, the Spartans opted to punt. A 29-yard kick barely helped and five plays later the Buckeyes were in the end zone again when Sermon raced 64 yards for a touchdown to put Ohio State up, 35-0, with 6:14 left in the third quarter.

“If I thought we could get it, I would have gone for it,” Tucker said of the decision to punt.

The Spartans  got on the board on the next drive when Thorne hit Jayden Reed for 55 yards then scored on a 20-yard run to make it 35-7. But after forcing a fumble, Thorne threw an interception which the Buckeyes turned into a field goal from Blake Haubeil to take a 38-7 lead with 1:08 left in the third quarter.

“You can't turn the ball over,” Thorne said. “So I need to squeeze it tight when I'm running it and make sure I'm not throwing to the wrong color.”

Michigan State got a 32-yard field goal from Matt Coghlin with 11:58 to play to pull within 38-10. Ohio State closed its scoring with a 41-yard pass from Fields to Olave with 8:16 to play, and a 48-yard run from backup quarterback C.J. Stroud with 4:21 left in the game.

Michigan State got a safety in the final minutes when a bad Ohio State snap was recovered in the end zone.

“I believe that we're better than this,” Tucker said. “Some may disagree, but based upon what I see on tape, we're better than what we show today. Ultimately, I’ve got to do a better job getting out of these players what they have, because we’re not playing up to our full potential, in my opinion.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau