Ohio State aces first test of the season
After five mismatches, Ohio State finally got a legitimate test Saturday night against Michigan State. Even with a 24-point second quarter, the Buckeyes were in a fight until late in the game before finishing off a 34-10 victory to give them a 6-0 record heading into their first off week.
As they have all season, Dispatch beat writers Bill Rabinowitz and Joey Kaufman dissect the game and its significance in Inside the Beat.
Rabinowitz: For a while, it looked like the curse of the Spartans might strike again. Ohio State managed only one field goal out of two early Michigan State turnovers in Buckeyes territory. OSU gained only 16 yards in as many snaps in the first quarter. The ghosts of 2013 and 2015 lurked in Buckeyes fans' minds. But it proved temporary. The second-quarter explosion put the Buckeyes in control, and their defense, though pierced at times, allowed only one touchdown. Still, it was the first time since the season opener that the Buckeyes didn't win by at least 40 points.
Kaufman: It can’t be fun to play Ohio State. The Spartans did pose some problems in the early moments, causing a three-and-out on the Buckeyes’ opening series and holding them without a touchdown in the first quarter for the first time this season. But eventually the Buckeyes’ talent is going to shine. They broke off a pair of big plays in the second quarter, when quarterback Justin Fields hit receiver Binjimen Victor off a run-pass option play for a 60-yard touchdown, then running back J.K. Dobbins broke loose for a 67-yard touchdown. Teams can be sound, but with a couple of mishaps, they’re down by two touchdowns. Unless opponents can match Ohio State’s talent and keep pace offensively, they have to be near perfect. Michigan State wasn’t.
Rabinowitz: I thought Michigan State controlled the line of scrimmage early, especially its defensive line. Branden Bowen, who didn’t start but quickly took over at right tackle after missing last week with back spasms, said MSU did a good job of moving around to prevent the Buckeyes from double-teaming on blocks. The Spartans also did a good job for a while of protecting the perimeter. But OSU is so talented that any breakdown can result in a touchdown. The drop-dead gorgeous touchdowns by Victor and Dobbins are proof.
Kaufman: One of the bigger takeaways, in my eyes, is that Ohio State can play just a good game and still rout a ranked team by three touchdowns. The Buckeyes were sharper last week at Nebraska, and in some of the earlier September matchups, but it didn’t matter much against the Spartans. Look, they bungled two of their early drives in the first quarter, twice gaining possession inside Michigan State’s 27-yard line but only getting three points. It became a moot point late in the second quarter. There’s a reason more and more national analysts are talking about the Buckeyes as the best team in the country.
Rabinowitz: Your description mostly applies to the defense as well. It wasn’t the Buckeyes’ best game on that side of the ball. Some sloppy tackling, too much going for the ball instead of getting guys down, some uncharacteristic coverage lapses that left receivers open. But they allowed only one touchdown. Chase Young didn’t light up the stat sheet, but he still blew up plays. Ohio State has so many defensive playmakers — Jeff Okudah (who was seldom tested), Shaun Wade, Malik Harrison and Baron Browning to name just some. And Jordan Fuller was robbed of a pick-six on a bad blindside block call against Browning.
Kaufman: The talent gap just became more obvious as the game continued, helping Ohio State overcome some of the sloppiness. Former Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry, who is now working as a Big Ten Network analyst, pointed out recently that the Spartans were a little less talented than OSU when they upset the Buckeyes in 2015 and 2013. He’s right, especially when you look at the difference in elite prospects. According to 247Sports’ composite rankings, the Buckeyes have 13 former five-star recruits on their roster. The Spartans have none. When they met in 2015, Ohio State had five compared to one for Michigan State.
Rabinowitz: Hmm, having better players helps, huh? But it’s not just about the star ratings. The Buckeyes are excelling in developing their players, too. Look at guys like Victor, Damon Arnette, Thayer Munford and Master Teague. They aren’t the same players they were early in their careers. The reason strength coach Mickey Marotti got the game ball Saturday is because he and his staff have toughened players up physically and mentally. Signing ultra-talented players and forcing them to fight to reach their potential is a pretty good formula for success.
Kaufman: No doubt, but I wonder whether Michigan State can pose the same threat as in previous seasons under Mark Dantonio, particularly during its historic stretch from 2013 through 2015, capped by a College Football Playoff appearance. One of the dominant storylines prior to kickoff Saturday was the track record Dantonio’s program had versus Ohio State, winning three times this decade, more than any other team in the Big Ten. But since its last triumph in 2015, Michigan State has lost four in a row to Ohio State, including the last three games by 20 or more points, a stretch where it scored one offensive touchdown. It’s become too tough to keep up with the Ohio State juggernaut.