Matt Charboneau and John Niyo of The Detroit News break down what went wrong for Michigan State in its loss at Ohio State. The Detroit News
Columbus, Ohio — Michigan State talked about it this week — if you expect to win the Big Ten championship, you’re going to have to beat Ohio State.
Michigan State got its chance on Saturday night, and thanks to a second-quarter explosion from the No. 4 team in the nation, the Spartans found out exactly where they stand as Ohio State rolled to a 34-10 victory in front of 104,797 at Ohio Stadium.
“We said, ‘Hey, you got to measure up,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “You come down here you got to measure up and they come up there you got to measure up. We've been in these games before, close enough to have a chance to win them. Not so much today.
“Although first half we're hanging, you know, we're hanging. We were making it interesting. It's just that I thought the last two drives of the second quarter hurt us.”
Really, it was the entire quarter that did in No. 25 Michigan State (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten).
The Buckeyes piled up 296 yards in the second quarter alone, turning a 3-0 lead into a 27-10 advantage headed to the locker room at halftime. Ohio State (6-0, 3-0) finished with 529 total yards for the game while running for 323 yards. Quarterback Justin Fields was 17-for-25 for 206 yards and two touchdowns while adding a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter. J.K. Dobbins ran for 172 yards on 24 carries, highlighted by a 67-yard touchdown run in the first half.
Brian Lewerke was 20-for-38 for 218 yards and a touchdown for Michigan State (4-2, 2-1) and was plagued by a handful of passes dropped by his receivers. The Spartans ran for just 67 yards with Elijah Collins getting 59 yards on 11 carries.
“Disappointing outcome obviously,” Dantonio said. “I thought we came in here and thought we had the right mindset coming in. We knew we needed to play mistake-free football and we were unable to do that early in the game. … We were playing hard and making plays on defense and we put together a couple drives, but in the end, when you look at the football game, we've got to play at our best, which I don't think that we did.”
Michigan State's Brian Lewerke, Darrell Stewart, Joe Bachie and Raequan Williams talk about the loss to Ohio State. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Michigan State clearly wasn’t at its best offensively early in the game. On the second offensive play, Cody White fumbled the ball away but the defense kept Ohio State off the board. On the fourth play, a bad pitch from Lewerke to Collins ended up in Ohio State’s hands and turned into a Buckeyes field goal.
The Spartans had dodged a bullet, but by the time the second quarter began, things started to fall apart.
Ohio State’s second-quarter outburst began with a 60-yard touchdown pass from Fields to Binjimen Victor less than three minutes into the quarter on a blown coverage by the Spartans secondary. The momentum was hardly slowed even after Lewerke hit Darrell Stewart with a 20-yard touchdown strike to cut the Ohio State lead to 10-7 with 10:36 left in the first half.
From there, things kept getting worse for the Spartans. Fields hit Luke Farrell with a 21-yard scoring pass, complete with missed tackles near the goal line, and after a Matt Coghlin 39-yard field goal, the Buckeyes kept piling on with Dobbins’ 67-yard scoring scamper. They added a 43-yard field goal from Blake Haubeil with five seconds left in the half.
“We just started out rough,” Fields said. “The offense, we were kind of killing ourselves. We kind of got it back together in the second quarter and did what we were supposed to do.”
Ask the Spartans, though, and they feel they were the ones killing themselves.
“They're very athletic and probably the most dynamic backfield in the Big Ten,” linebacker Joe Bachie said. “They’re very explosive, but we shot ourselves in the foot this game.”
The Spartans certainly did that on both sides of the ball. The early fumbles were the first problem but a handful of dropped passes didn’t help, either. Then, when it was still a game early in the second quarter, Lewerke missed White on what would have been an easy touchdown, forcing Michigan State to settle for a field goal.
That was just on offense. A defense that entered the game ranking among the best in the country, gave up a slew of big plays, including the 60-yard touchdown pass and the 67-yard scoring run by Dobbins.
“I'll remember that play now for a while,” Bachie said. “He hit the gap and I zeroed myself out a little bit. Everyone else was in their gap and I’ve just got to do my job.”
Michigan State looked like it was going to keep it a game, marching down the field on the opening drive of the second half before it stalled inside the 10-yard line and Coghlin missed a 27-yard field goal.
“Too many big plays and too many missed opportunities,” Dantonio said.
The Spartans never threatened again after the drive to open the second half, even after Josiah Scott intercepted Fields, the first interception of the season for the Buckeyes quarterback, who capped the scoring with a 1-yard touchdown run with 10:41 to play in the fourth quarter.
“We're halfway through and we're a 4-2 football team,” Dantonio said. “At the end of the day, that's what we are, and as I said earlier, we will be defined on what we do next, and go to Wisconsin. That's our next challenge, and they're very good as well. So we've got to get our mindset right.
“I truly believe that you're defined by how you handle problems and how you handle your next challenge. So that's what we’ll do, regardless of whether we won this football game or lost it, that was going to be a challenge. What do you do next?”