Defense helps swing momentum with turnovers

Tim May
tmay@dispatch.com
Ohio State defensive end Jonathon Cooper dives to recover a fumble in the fourth quarter, beating Michigan State running back La'Darius Jefferson to the ball. [Adam Cairns]

EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Ohio State defensive coaches could see the way punter Drue Chrisman was pinning Michigan State deep repeatedly, defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones said, and they could see the way the Buckeyes were responding in the second half Saturday.

“The coaches kept emphasizing, a lot more than usual, like, ‘Our moment’s going to come. We’re going to create a turnover,’ ” Jones said.

It happened. It was the pivotal moment in the Buckeyes’ 26-6 win, and Jones was in the middle of it. A possession after the Spartans had taken a safety to get out of danger, pushing the OSU lead to 9-6 in the third quarter, they found themselves on their own 2-yard line in the first minute of the fourth when Johnnie Dixon downed another lob wedge of a punt by Chrisman.

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On the first play, quarterback Rocky Lombardi stood alone in the end zone, with three receivers to his left and two to his right. One of those receivers, Laress Nelson, went in motion left to right but evidently arrived at the crossing point between the center and QB a beat too early, because the snap hit him and ricocheted to the ground.

Jones pounced on it in the end zone for a touchdown.

“We kind of wrestled for it a little bit and I came up with it,” Jones said.

It was Jones’ second touchdown of the season, the first being the interception he returned in the win over TCU on Sept. 15.

“They both felt equally as good because they changed the momentum of the game,” he said.

An Ohio State defense that for several weeks had been maligned for giving up big plays and points, held Michigan State’s struggling offense to 274 total yards, including just 54 rushing. And that 54 included the Spartans’ only long play, a 47-yard keeper by Lombardi off the goal line in the third quarter that briefly gave them hope before the Buckeyes forced a field goal.

“It shows we have confidence in everything we’ve been doing since the beginning of the season, it’s going to work,” said defensive end Jonathon Cooper, who recovered another Michigan State fumble on the possession following Jones’ TD. “We’ve been working hard, going hard, and even though everybody was telling us ‘Do this, do that,’ we just stuck with the plan and it pays off, as you can see.

“We went out there and showed we are the defense, we are Ohio State.”

Jones said the Buckeyes still have work to do, but agreed that the defensive play was uplifting.

“This was a big momentum (swing) for us,” Jones said. “We came out there and played with swag and a lot of enthusiasm.”

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports

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