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Stroud surges in Heisman Trophy race; ailing Walker fades

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Columbus, Ohio — It was billed as a Heisman Trophy showdown, and by the time it was over, it was clear that one man was left standing in the chase for the biggest individual prize in college football.

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud was 32-for-35 for 432 yards and six touchdowns in the Buckeyes’ 56-7 victory over Michigan State at Ohio Stadium on Saturday, completing 17 straight passes at one point, an Ohio State program record.

 Meanwhile, Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III, the nation’s leading rusher entering the game, touched the ball only seven times, carrying six times for 25 yards while catching one pass for 4 yards as he battled a sore right ankle that slowed him in the second half last week against Maryland.

Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III pulls in a reception in front of Ohio State's Steele Chambers in the second quarter.

“We just had great practices for preparation and then did some good things on defense,” Stroud said, downplaying his day. “We knew we had to be prepared for it and really everything we thought was going to hit us was coming down. It was good to come out there and execute all over.”

Ohio State scored touchdowns on its first seven possessions. The only thing stopping the Buckeyes was a kneel-down to close the first half. After a couple series in the third quarter, Stroud took a seat, comfortable he’d done enough.

“When you only really play one half of football and you throw for six touchdowns, I think that matters when you’re looking at statistics,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said when asked about Stroud’s Heisman chances. “The level he is playing at right now is very high and that needs to be taken into consideration.”

It was tough sledding for Walker, who did have a 10-yard run after collecting a 15-yarder in the first quarter. But it was clear, he wasn’t playing at 100%.

When the Spartans got behind so quickly, they needed to try and move the ball through the air. That limited what Walker could offer. He had one carry early in the third quarter before sitting out the rest of the day.

“He's a little banged up right now,” Michigan State coach Mel Tucker said. “We’re gonna get him as healthy as possible. Like I said earlier in the week, the guys that can go will give us what they have. Guys who can’t go, we'll try to get him back as soon as we can.”

Ohio State had one plan defensively entering the game: limit Walker and keep him from having a game like he did against Michigan when he scored five times.

“We didn’t want to be one of those teams that he did what he wanted against,” Ohio State defensive end Tyreke Smith said. “We just had that mindset and we were going to shut him down all week. We were playing the scout team like we were playing Kenneth. And then we just took that mindset and took it into the game. Took what we did in practice and put it into the game and it paid off for us.”

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud scrambles out of pressure in the second quarter.

Injuries mount

Walker isn’t the only one hurting.

Michigan State was short-handed once again, missing wide receiver Jalen Nailor and left tackle Jarrett Horst, each of whom has now missed the last three games. And late in the first half, wide receiver Jayden Reed was knocked out of the game and spent the second half on the sidelines in a walking boot.

“It’s just next man up,” Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne said. “If you’re playing, you’re a starter. That’s how we look at it.”

But when a team is down its top three playmakers, it can make things tough. It wasn’t a whole lot better on the defensive side of the ball.

Defensive tackle Simeon Barrow was out for the second straight game, as was cornerback Charles Brantley. Linebacker Quavaris Crouch, who missed last week’s game, was back but did not start, playing a handful of snaps with a brace on his right leg.

By the second half, senior safety Xavier Henderson was on the sidelines.

“I got a little shoulder action,” Henderson said. “I don’t think it’s too bad, but they told me I shouldn’t play the rest of the half.”

Michigan State was also unsure on kicker Matt Coghlin, who didn’t play two weeks ago and handled only extra points last week. On Saturday, he kicked off to open the game then missed a 46-yard field goal. When the Spartans scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter, freshman Stephen Rusnak kicked the extra point.

“We have good teams left to play,” Tucker said. “So we have to get as healthy as we possibly can. We have to get back on track and get ready to go again.”

Filling the void

With players knocked out, it gave others an opportunity to see extensive action.

Freshman wide receiver Keon Coleman had three receptions for 27 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown catch, the first of his career. Sophomore Montorie Foster got substantial time.

Defensively, Maverick Hansen started in place of Barrow at tackle while senior Noah Harvey started for the second straight game with Crouch limited.

“I think that we have a lot of good players,” Thorne said. “Even if we don’t have (Reed or Nailor), it's always the same thing. We gotta go out there and we gotta execute.

“So we'll see next week where we're at, and we'll go from there.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau