East Lansing – Mark Dantonio had talked about it all week – if Michigan State had the chance to go for two on Saturday and beat No. 2 Ohio State, he was going to go for it.
Well, that’s exactly where the Spartans stood with 4:41 left on the clock in the final home game of the season in front of 73,303 at Spartan Stadium. LJ Scott had just scored from a yard out on an eight-play drive that consisted only of runs by Scott, and the Spartans trailed by a point.
And Dantonio didn’t hesitate. The kicking team was nowhere to be found and the offense stayed on the field.
But following the theme of this season, Michigan State came up one play short as Tyler O’Connor’s pass was intercepted in the end zone by Ohio State’s Chris Worley and the second-ranked Buckeyes held on for the 17-16 victory.
“We said if we get close at the end of the game we’re going for two,” Dantonio said. “We were gonna take an aggressive approach and play to win the football game rather than tie the football game at the end. So that’s what I felt like we wanted to do and so we had a number of play selections. They had us covered on that particular play, so good job by them.
“But I felt like we still had an opportunity with four minutes to go that the risk would be if we stopped them we still had the opportunity to get the ball back and kick a field goal and win the football game. So we were moving the football a little bit, especially running it, we had some big plays. So I felt like either way we still had an opportunity to win the game.”
The Spartans (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten) did get the ball back at their 20 with 2:04 to play, but O’Connor was sacked and then threw an interception to end the game.
“I like the call,” said O’Connor, who was 6-for-16 with two interceptions. “I love the way Coach D goes about the pressure situations. He doesn’t back down. We don’t play for second place, obviously. Everybody was all-in for going for it and I liked the call.”
The play, of course, did not work out. Tight end Josiah Price was the primary read but he was covered by two defenders. O’Connor tried to force it in to tight end Jamal Lyles, but it never made it as Worley came up with the ball.
Michigan State went for two late in loss to Ohio State and came up short. Mark Dantonio explains the decision.
“As soon as they scored we saw (defensive coordinator Luke) Fickell screaming, ‘They’re going for two, they’re going for two,’” Worley said. “The biggest thing I try to do and try to enforce for the rest of the defense is, ‘Just relax.’ So it came down to it, and we made a play.”
It was a call that took the Buckeyes a bit off-guard, though they made the play that counted.
“I was a little bit (surprised),” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “They were controlling the line of scrimmage. It was a tough drive for us to watch. That usually doesn’t happen to us. They’re a good team. A really good back, No. 3, Ohio guy. Talked to him after the game, he’s a hell of a player.
“I was somewhat surprised, but I’ve been in that situation before. You have all kinds of momentum, go swing and try to have a knockout punch.”
Going with No. 3 might have been an option on that play. No. 3, of course, is Scott, the sophomore running back who had just single-handedly taken the Spartans into the end zone.
The native of Hubbard, Ohio, ran for a career-best 160 yards and a touchdown while also catching two passes for 76 yards and a score.
“Once I was on the sideline and saw the clock winding down, I had the idea in my head that I was going to have to come through for the team on the drive,” Scott said. “I had a feeling and my gut feeling was telling me the right thing.”
Instead of ruining another season for Ohio State (10-1, 7-1), Michigan State was again talking about a game that just slipped away.
“This one hurts. It hurts a lot,” linebacker Riley Bullough said. “I feel like we put in a lot of work this whole season, and this week we had a lot of confidence. The positive to it is that we came out and played hard. Ohio State is a great team. They have a lot of tremendous football players, so to hold them to 17 points and almost come out with a victory is something we can hang our hat on.”
Quarterback Tyler O'Connor on MSU's loss to Ohio State, including the failed two-point conversion try.
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett completed only 10 passes for 86 yards, but he did run for 105 yards while running back Mike Weber gained 111 and scored a touchdown.
“We contained the running game other than that big, long run,” Bullough said. “I think our game plan was great. I thought we executed it for the most part, we just couldn't get it done.”
Much like it has all season, Michigan State struck first, taking just 46 seconds to get on the scoreboard as Scott took a short pass from O’Connor and broke loose for a 64-yard touchdown on the second play from scrimmage to give the Spartans a 7-0 lead.
The Buckeyes took advantage of good field position to tie the game at 7, starting from the 50-yard line and needing just five plays to find the end zone. It came when Barrett hit Curtis Samuel on a 24-yard pass down the middle of the field with 7:56 left in the first quarter.
Michigan State went back in front early in the second quarter on a 28-yard field goal from Michael Geiger with 13:42 left in the half to make it 10-7. Scott broke free for a 61-yard run to get the drive rolling before it stalled inside the Ohio State 15. But the Buckeyes evened things up at 10 with 10:03 left in the second quarter on a 39-yard field goal from Tyler Durbin.
Ohio State got the first big play in the second half as Weber opened a drive with a 52-yard run to put the Buckeyes inside the Spartans’ 20-yard line. After two runs from Barrett, Weber plowed in from 4 yards out to give Ohio State a 17-10 lead with 5:33 left in the third quarter. It stayed that way until Michigan State’s rally came up short late in the game
The loss assures Michigan State will not reach a bowl game this season with the finale next week at Penn State. It’s the first time the Spartans will not play in the postseason in Dantonio’s 10 seasons as head coach.
“I'm very proud of our football team, the way they handled themselves, and not just on game day, but during the week in terms of how they got ready to play,” Dantonio said. “Everybody is all-in. We have a lot of young players playing and they work hard and I appreciate that. Tough for our senior group as they lose this game in Spartan Stadium.
“We will recollect ourselves and figure out who we are. I am proud of the way we come to work every day and the way we come out to play every day. We play with excitement, we play with toughness, a lot of effort. We come in and play until the end of the game.”
Mark Dantonio discusses the ups and downs of Michigan State's 17-16 loss to Ohio State.