It was supposed to be the start of a five game march toward their 2nd straight National Title. Michigan State was limping into Columbus after a myriad of close games to inferior competition before ultimately getting nipped by a struggling Nebraska squad. It turned out to be anything but. Instead, it turned out to be a colossal disappointment to Buckeye Nation.
The Buckeyes had not lost a regular seasonal conference game under Urban Meyer and were riding a 23 game win streak that included an unlikely National Championship. In fact, the only Big Ten coach to defeat Urban Meyer since his arrival in to Columbus was Mark Dantonio. The 2013 Big Ten Championship was the Buckeye’s first loss of the Urban Meyer era and it was a game that felt eerily similar to Saturday’s contest. Michigan State seemed to control the line of scrimmage, but there was much more to it than just the obvious. The Spartans had a plan of attack on both sides of the football from which they would never deviate. It wasn’t the greatest plan, but given their situation, it was the best plan they could assemble. Without their All Big Ten quarterback in Connor Cook, the Spartans had little choice but to try to shorten the game and make it as ugly as possible. With some assistance from a driving rainstorm, they were successful on both accounts. However, it wasn’t easy to see how an upset could occur prior to kickoff. After all, the Buckeyes were nearly two touchdown favorites.
I always like to tweet out my three things to watch for prior to every game. With an ailing Connor Cook and knowing my former Defensive Coordinator, Mark Dantonio, fairly well: I tweeted according.
To loosen up MSUs safeties look for Barrett to take shots deep… Possibly w/ Miller in the slot #CLtheSilverBullet
With Connor Cook ailing… Looks for The Silver Bullet defense to bring pressure from everywhere to test his arm #CLtheSilverBullet
MSU loves trick plays on special teams… Look for OSU be extremely detailed in the kicking game #CLtheSilverBullet
Now Connor Cook didn’t play, but OSU still brought some pressure. However since MSU ran the ball nearly 80% of the time, the pressure was more focused on stopping the run. The trick plays in the kicking game didn’t occur, but it is safe to say that OSU’s punting debacle played a crucial role in the game. The final piece I thought would affect the game was OSU taking shots over the top of the MSU secondary. Much like last season, the Spartans have been extremely aggressive with their safeties in run support. This allowed Devin Smith to make plays over the top and Michael Thomas to get loose on a catch and run. Braxton Miller was able to get behind the defense, but due to the pressure, he was overthrown. The play was there, but for some reason OSU never came back to it. There were plays to be made to Michael Thomas on the edge, but if they didn’t work the first time the offense moved on to a new concept.
The Spartans had a plan. They were tight lipped on the status of Cook all week and for good reason. He was the epicenter of their offense. With him they threw the ball 40 times a game, but that wouldn’t be true against the Buckeyes. With inexperienced combination of O’Conner and Terry under center the Spartans would run the ball 51 times, but it was more tactful than just trying to pound it on a talented Buckeye defense. Early in the game they called a number screens and shovel passes. This forced the likes of Bosa and Co. into pursuit and helped wear them down for later in the game. The plan from there was simple, attack the inside of the defense with Gerald Holmes early and finish the game with a fresh LJ Scott. MSU would sprinkle in over 10 perimeter quarterback runs to keep the Buckeye defense honest. Any pass would have 7 men in protection and deep throws would be strategic and isolated. Nearly all the passes were hitches on the outside, except for the deep ball to Burbridge down (or even outside) the sideline.
The plan worked. The Spartans controlled the ball on offense and sold out to stop the OSU run game. Whether it was the weather or the fear of the Spartan defensive line, the Buckeye offense limited their deep shots down the field and rarely passed without having Barrett on move. The elements affected the way the game was played, but it wasn’t the typical OSU offense that attempted to impose their will on the team across from them. Instead of customary double dose of Elliot, some of the short yardage calls were Barrett on a draw from an empty backfield. Spartan safeties continued to fly up in run support and were only tested once down the middle of the field. MSU played the run with 8 players most of the game and tackled well in the open field. It was a risk, but Mark Dantonio was going to force the OSU passing attack to beat his squad on a cold and rainy November evening. MSU emerged victorious and with a win against Penn St in their final game, will serve as the B1G East representative in the Championship Game with hopes of a College Football Playoff birth still alive.
Mark Dantonio and Urban Meyer have faced off four times in as many seasons. The last three times have had National Title implications. They each stand at 2-2. Regardless of the how each team is playing entering the game in coming years, one this is certain: It will always be a physical game. They are two of the premier coaches in college football who will out coach each other from time to time. Even though Ohio State was the more talented team in 2015, it didn’t matter. Never again will I buy into a 13 point spread heading into this match up and Saturday was all the evidence I’ll ever need.