Columbus, Ohio — Michigan State entered Saturday’s game at Ohio State as the best run defense in the Big Ten and the third-ranked unit in the nation.
Allowing just 87 yards a game and coming off back-to-back games where it limited the likes of Northwestern’s Justin Jackson and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley to pedestrian rushing numbers, the Spartans were confident they could do the same to the Buckeyes.
It didn’t take long to realize that run defense was about to get shredded as Ohio State ran for 102 yards in the first quarter on their way to 335 for the game, the most ever allowed by a Mark Dantonio-coached team at Michigan State.
“We played pretty well defensively the entire year and really, we just came apart,” Dantonio said. “We didn’t tackle well enough, we got outflanked. … You give up an 82-yard touchdown run, that can be devastating at times. We came in the game giving up about 80 yards a game and I think we gave up 300-some. I wouldn’t have thought that would happen, but we’ve got to deal with it.”
It was the most rushing yardage the Spartans have allowed since Nebraska ran for 313 yards in a victory over the Spartans on Nov. 3, 2012.
And it wasn’t just one player. Detroit native Mike Weber ran the ball nine times for 162 yards, getting touchdown runs of 47 and 82 yards, while freshman J.K. Dobbins had 124 yards on 18 carries.
“I feel like it’s a good thing for us,” Weber said. “We went into the week going hard about running the ball. The coaches did a good job saying we were just going to pound the ball and it worked out for us.”
It was the focus this week for Ohio State, which was coming off a blowout loss to Iowa and was looking for some offensive momentum heading into the final two weeks of the season. It did so by riding Weber and Dobbins.
“There was a mandate to make sure those guys touch the ball,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “The flow of the game also dictated that we were controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides. … But that was a mandate for me and it was, once again mandates are easy. The execution was outstanding.”
Michigan State hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season, but the Buckeyes got two in one game while quarterback J.T. Barrett added 55 yards on the ground and two touchdowns.
“The offensive line, I mean, when you play like that, really makes my job a whole lot easier,” Barrett said. “I think one of the main things with them is changing the line of scrimmage. Those linebackers, they usually shoot the gap. So, it's hard to get double teams on those guys.
“But being that (the offensive line) was getting so much push off the ball it was a great thing for them. They met the backers instead of on the line of scrimmage, they met them 3 yards downfield and our running backs did a great job making that unblocked defender miss and got some big hits.”
Dantonio admitted there were some coaching miscues but there were issues with personnel, as well, something the Spartans weren’t shying away from.
“I feel like it was a combination of not all 11 executing on our part and maybe some things we could have done differently,” Michigan State safety Khari Willis said. “We definitely weren’t tackling as well. I feel like the games we lost, that’s happened. The three games we lost was not our best tackling.
“They’re a great team. Credit to Mike and J.K., they did their thing, but that just can’t happen.”