Game 9 recap: #14 OSU dashes #8 MSU’s playoff hopes in E. Lansing, 49-37

J.T. Barrett does not care about your alleged elite defense, people.

OSU QB J.T. Barrett beats MSU LB Ed Davis to the end zone during the first quarter of yesterday's OSU 49-37 win over MSU in E. Lansing.  Andrew Weber -- USA Today Sports

OSU QB J.T. Barrett beats MSU LB Ed Davis to the end zone during the first quarter of yesterday’s OSU 49-37 win over MSU in E. Lansing. Andrew Weber — USA Today Sports

Okay, so maybe that’s somewhat of a stretch. While the Ohio St. freshman has been very impressive in place of injured QB Braxton Miller, he hasn’t been gunning down top-10, top-20, or even top-50 teams every week. However, all a player can do is execute against the competition and so far, Barrett has done that and then some.

I gave the 14th-ranked Buckeyes (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten East) a bit less than a puncher’s chance to escape East Lansing with a victory, and naturally, they went into East Lansing and pretty much trounced my 8th-ranked Michigan St. Spartans (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten East), 49-37. There were 86 points and over 1,100 yards of total offense between arguably the Big Ten’s two best teams, in a nationally televised night game, no less. There are those who will call this win an upset for Ohio St., but that’s really based on ranking, only. Clearly, the gap, if there is one, is not large at all.

Offense: You’d think that if the Spartans racked up 536 yards of total offense, in any game, that they’d come away the victor. Right? The problem is that while it appears Sparty’s offense was wildly effective, it actually wasn’t. Jeremy Langford had a great day (18 CAR, 145 YDS, 3 TD), but seemingly wasn’t utilized enough, especially considering MSU was somewhat in the game until early in the fourth quarter. QB Connor Cook (25-45, 358 YDS, 2 TD) continued to struggle with his accuracy, never really getting into a solid rhythm despite posting impressive game numbers. WR Tony Lippett was injured early, and was limited to just 5 catches for 64 yards. Fellow WR Macgarett Kings, Jr. and TE Josiah Price both hauled in 5 passes for a combined 136 yards, with Price hauling in a 16-yard TD catch after the game was pretty much well in hand. The offense did not turn the ball over, but went nearly an entire quarter in the second half without scoring a point, while the Buckeyes scored 14 in that time frame. As a result, the score jumped from 28-24 to 42-24. Cook was sacked only once, but faced good pressure at times. One of the more frustrating moments of this season came late in the second quarter, after the Buckeyes lost a fumble during a kick return. Sparty recovered and three plays later, Langford had a rushing touchdown negated because of a holding penalty. Two plays later, K Michael Geiger missed a 39-yard field goal and on the first play of the ensuing OSU possession, Barrett threw a 79-yard TD pass to WR Michael Thomas to knot the score at 21. Little did I know, the game was basically over at that point.

Defense: The defense was absolutely terrible. While I knew Barrett was no slouch, I had no clue he would have the type of game he had, against this MSU D, in what I believe can be a very raucous environment (especially when Sparty is, you know, good). All Barrett did against what was believed to be one of the nation’s top defenses was pile up 408 yards of total offense and 5 touchdowns, two of them coming on the ground. Barrett completed 16 of 26 passes for 300 yards and carried the ball 14 times for 108 yards. Similar to the Oregon game, whenever MSU’s opponent needed a play to be made, it seemed they could just dial up their QB’s number and get the necessary yardage or score. Buckeyes RB Ezekiel Elliott (23 CAR, 159 YDS, 2 TD) was a problem for Sparty, too, as was one of OSU’s top receivers in school history, Devin Smith (6 REC, 129 YDS, TD). Safeties Kurtis Drummond and RJ Williamson led Sparty with 11 tackles each; it’s never a good sign when your safeties lead the team in tackling. DE Shilique Calhoun was relatively quiet, but did manage to register 1.5 TFL and half a sack. My favorite defensive series: In the beginning of the second quarter, OSU faced a daunting 3rd and 23 from its own 36. Barrett completed a 43 yard-pass to Smith. Five plays later, on fourth and goal, Barrett powered it in from one yard away for six.

Special Teams: Nothing to report here, except that maybe it’s time for a new kicker?

What’s Next: At Maryland (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten East), 8 PM ET. Big Ten newcomer Maryland is just one game behind Sparty in the divisional standings and would love to have its first signature win as a conference member this upcoming Saturday night. Senior Terps QB C.J. Brown has been mostly serviceable as a dual-threat QB of sorts and offensively, there isn’t much behind him in the way of an actual threat. Maryland’s D is not very good, but is probably gleaming after allowing only 19 points in a trip to Penn State. Then again, they did allow 52 the week before in Camp Randall, so it’s possible Maryland is prime to give up another huge offensive output to its opponent. If Sparty doesn’t show up in College Park, MD, seething mad and ready to absolutely obliterate the Terrapins, I’ll be dumbfounded. Sparty’s chances of making the playoffs are over unless something absurdly miraculous happens, but head coach Mark Dantonio will make sure his squad finishes 2014 on a strong note.

GO GREEN. GO WHITE.

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2013 Big Ten Tournament: Michigan State (25-7, 13-5) vs. Ohio State (24-7, 13-5)

Point guard Keith Appling dunks over Iowa's Melsahn Basabe during yesterday's 59-56 MSU win. -- Dale G. Young, Detroit News

Point guard Keith Appling dunks over Iowa’s Melsahn Basabe during yesterday’s 59-56 MSU win. — Dale G. Young, Detroit News

With 17 minutes left to play in the second half and his Michigan State Spartans down by 9 to Iowa, Keith Appling made a play, and holy shit, was it a spectacular one. It was a spectacular one, but not the kickstarter that so many thought it was. Iowa actually recovered from diminutive point guard Keith Appling dunking all over Melsahn Basabe  to possess a lead of 12 before Sparty finally stormed back and eventually won, 59-56.

Iowa’s defense in the first half was absolutely stifling, as MSU shot only 28% from the field and went into the half down, 30-20. Fortunately, Sparty turned it around in the second half and outscored the Hawkeyes, 39-26, as frosh stud two-guard Gary Harris led the way.

Today, the Spartans will play in the Big 10 conference tournament semifinals against the Ohio St. Buckeyes, in a rematch of last year’s conference tournament title game, which MSU won, 68-64. OSU crushed Nebraska yesterday, 71-50. Forwards Sam Thompson and Deshaun Thomas led the attack, both scoring 19 points. The two schools split the regular season series, with Sparty winning the first matchup in a closely contested matchup at the Breslin Center.

Ohio St. should prove to be a tougher matchup for MSU than Iowa, although Iowa did all they could to give the Spartans genuine fits. Stopping Deshaun Thomas has to be the top priority for Izzo’s crew, as well as not allowing guard Aaron Craft to be his usual thorn in an opponent’s side. Certainly, another 18 & 10 performance from MSU forward Adreian Payne would benefit the green and white greatly, but others will have to step up, namely Appling and Harris.

The Buckeyes have won 6 straight after losing 2 of 3 by a combined 35 points, and winning this tournament would help them make a strong case for being a #1 seed. The same applies for the Spartans, who cannot come out even remotely flat, as they did yesterday. I wrote long ago that this MSU team is a rather mercurial bunch. They could just as easily take the Buckeyes to the shed as they could lose by 15 in ridiculously ugly fashion. I believe this game will come down to the 1-3 spots on the floor, and Sparty has an advantage there, in my opinion. Sparty holds on–barely–and advances to play the winner of the Wisconsin/Indiana game. Go Green. Go White.

Sparty gets booed at home (deservedly, I guess); enemy of the state on deck.

I couldn’t bring myself to post after Michigan State’s incredibly disappointing 20-3 home loss to rival Notre Dame. While some would look at the score and think Notre Dame “dominated”, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. ND amassed 300 total yards of offense to MSU’s 237. The Fighting Irish possessed the ball for 30 minutes, 40 seconds compared to Sparty’s 29 minutes, 20 seconds. Notre Dame QB Everett Golson didn’t even complete 50 percent of his passes. Leading MSU rusher Le’Veon Bell rushed the ball only four times in the entire second half, even though the Spartans entered it down only 14-3. Notre Dame picked up 16 first downs while Michigan State picked up 15. On third down, ND was 1-14 while MSU was a slightly more respectable 5-17.

For whatever reason, Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio felt that continuing to feed Bell the ball in the second half wasn’t an effective strategy, but having (sort of) rookie QB Andrew Maxwell throw the ball 45 times throughout the entire game was. Granted, the Irish front four is stout and their secondary is inexperienced, but this is the same QB who hadn’t taken advantage in his two previous games against Boise St. and Central Michigan, both with inferior defenses to Notre Dame. Bell finished with 77 yards on 19 carries, a bit over 4 yards per carry. Maxwell completed 23 of 45 passes for only 187 yards, with a decent chunk of them coming when the Irish were simply trying to close the game out. Ah, Dantonio. You lost me once again.

How did Sparty follow up that craptacular performance? With an equally craptacular performance against lowly Eastern Michigan. With just about everyone expecting MSU to absolutely demolish Eastern, the Spartans actually found themselves losing late in the third quarter before kicker Dan Conroy nailed a 35-yard field goal to put them ahead 9-7 with 1:11 left. Maxwell was slightly better in this one, finishing 16-29 for 159 yards and a touchdown against no picks. However, and once again, Le’Veon Bell was a man. Bell toted the rock a ridiculous 36 times (ridiculous because the opponent was Eastern and he probably should have had only half that total) for 253 yards and a 1-yard touchdown run very late in the fourth quarter that effectively iced the game for them.

The defense was impressive, as it should have been, but I believe it was the inept offense that drew the ire of the Sparty faithful. MSU didn’t score their first touchdown of the game until 12:47 was left in the fourth quarter and before that, besides Bell, the O did not look like one of a B10 contender. Fans expect much more from a team coming off back-to-back 11-win seasons and I suppose the booing showed as much. While Dantonio and school president Lou Anna K. Simon weren’t pleased with the booing, I didn’t have much of a problem with it. Yes, these are college students and they aren’t getting paid to play, but I feel that after high school, this is just a part of the game. I never booed when I was a student, but then again, the football team wasn’t really expected to do much, either. I’d like to think that those who booed weren’t directing them towards the players, but the tired, stale offensive scheme that hasn’t been very successful thus far.

#20 Michigan State (3-1, 2-1 Home) vs. #14 Ohio State (4-0, 0-0 Away)

Finally, conference play starts and the first challenge for Sparty is…well…a challenge. New Ohio St. head coach Urban Meyer will lead his Buckeyes into East Lansing for their first road game of the 2012 season while the Spartans will try to find a little bit of consistent offense outside of Bell to go with their stingy defense.

True sophomore QB Braxton Miller is the Buckeyes’ leading passer and rusher. It has been only four games, but it seems that Miller runs Meyer’s spread offense fairly well. Ignore the fact that OSU is ranked 52nd nationally in total offense. Once Meyer can recruit players he feels best fit his system, we’ll more than likely see offensive production similar to his Utah and Florida teams. Their defense is in the lower half of the nation in regards to total yards allowed and this could possibly be the game Maxwell breaks out. Again, he could possibly break out. The Buckeyes are one of the worst in the nation when it comes to defending the pass, and that combined with some familiarity could be what the Spartans average passing game needs.

Michigan State has stopped Michigan’s dual-threat QB Denard Robinson the past two years and should be able to at least contain Miller. Miller, who is much bigger and stronger than Robinson, has been the go-to guy for the Buckeyes. While he’s passed and run the ball with ease so far, he hasn’t gone up against a defense like Sparty’s. Despite OSU’s paltry pass defense, the Spartans would be best served establishing the run with Bell and then picking apart the OSU secondary when the opportunities present themselves. In fact, with Bell being recognized as one of the elite runners in the nation to this point, Maxwell could find things in the passing game to be a bit easier than they have been to this point.

After opening the ’12 season with a 56-10 win over Miami of Ohio, Ohio St. has struggled a bit in its last three games against UCF, California and UAB, respectively. In their 29-15 win over the UAB Blazers, the Buckeyes got off to a slow start before scoring three touchdowns in the second quarter. Senior RB Jordan Hall carried the ball 17 times for 102 yards and Miller ran for two scores. UAB K Ty Long made a 34-yard field goal to bring the score to 21-15 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but that was as close as the Blazers would get.

Like last year, the two schools will play their first conference game of the year against each other. Last year’s 10-7 MSU win in Columbus was one of the uglier football games I’ve ever seen, regardless of level. The Spartan defense smothered the Buckeyes’ offense as they snapped a 7-game losing streak to one of their chief rivals.

Clearly, this Spartans team isn’t as talented as last year’s squad, especially on the offensive side of the football. The experienced offensive line has to get it going against the Buckeyes D. We’ve seen that it doesn’t necessarily take an elite defense to take advantage of the Spartans’  early offensive woes, especially when trying to move the ball through the air. This Buckeyes team could be looking to replicate University of Southern California’s 2011 season, when the Trojans were literally playing for nothing, but went on to win 10 games, including a 38-35 road win over the then 4th-ranked Oregon Ducks which knocked the Ducks out of national title contention.

Michigan State can still salvage this season and play for a B10 title. Assuredly, Ohio St. is looking to play the role of spoiler. Braxton Miller is a bit more experienced, but he hasn’t looked that great against average defenses. Let’s hope that’s the determining factor in this matchup. If it is, MSU wins, 17-14.