Ohio State 52, Michigan State 12: Scarlet & Gray Matter analysis

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud (14) celebrates with wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba after scoring a rushing touchdown during the fourth quarter of the Buckeyes' win at Michigan State.

Observations on Saturday's Ohio State-Michigan State game, by Joey Kaufman and Ray Stein:

The game at hand

• Short-attention span synopsis: Next man up. And up. And up. Who gets credit for the win, Ryan Day or Larry Johnson? How ‘bout we give it to the program culture? Wearing all-white uniforms is not the same as waving a white flag. Justin Fields makes excellent snap decisions.

• Pregame buzz: When COVID came calling for Thanksgiving and burst the Ohio State bubble, it forced the cancellation of a game at Illinois and simultaneously eliminated the Buckeyes’ margin of error for qualifying for the Big Ten championship. Would OSU have enough bodies to play against Michigan State? Yes, as it turns out. Would some of those bodies be largely unrecognizable? Um, yes, that too. And that’s why coaches preach being ready.

Spread the wealth?: Ohio State revealed its weekly “status report” about an hour before kickoff. When it indicated that 23 players were “unavailable” — hey, they could all be ankle sprains — and that three were starting offensive linemen, the folks who had laid the 23½ points probably retreated to a corner to softly cry. After all, OSU hadn’t covered that margin since its opener. Turns out that was the smart play as the Buckeyes rolled up a big lead and this time didn’t cough it up.

Strategically speaking: Did Michigan State start the wrong quarterback against Ohio State? The decision likely would not have shaped the result in a mismatch of talent between the teams, but Payton Thorne fared much better than Rocky Lombardi when he took over for the injured QB late in the second quarter and provided a spark. Thorne completed 16 of 25 passes for 147 yards and ran 42 yards with a 20-yard touchdown. Lombardi was a pedestrian 5-of-11 passing for 33 yards despite having connected on some deep balls in previous games.

This week in vanity plates: YOU OK UM

The View

• How the team sees it: Now do we get to play Michigan, too? 

• How the playoff committee will see it: Nice to see you again.

• How Buckeye Nation will see it: We were down nearly two dozen players. Missed a game last weekend. Won by almost six touchdowns. Was that enough for style points? 

Larry's language

What he said: “If you’re going to be a head coach for one day, you want Justin Fields with you."

What it means: "I'm not joking." 

They said it

Your turn/the channel: ABC’s announcing team of Bob Wischusen, Dan Orlovsky and Quint Kessenich would make for monster wins on the Scrabble board. But in terms of delivering insight from a college football game? Not so much. Both “booth” announcers made far too much of Fields’ off game against Indiana, and Orlovsky totally spit the bit when he equated Tyreke Smith’s sack that knocked Rocky Lombardi out of the game with a personal foul on MSU’s Drew Beesley for landing on Fields – who had already delivered his pass. Worst of all, however, was ABC/ESPN camera work that had Twitter users calling for Breathalyzer tests.

• Pregame banter: Although Fox didn’t televise the Ohio State game – someone make sure Gus Johnson is OK – the network is still the place to congregate for pregame analysis. Urban Meyer is the difference-maker there; his insight into what makes a successful program tops anything the high school sophomores down the dial at ESPN provide. Saturday’s revelations dealt with “the edge” Meyer installed at Ohio State, including how the winners in a series of individual competitions would enjoy cold Gatorade while the losers were told to drink from a garden hose. Hit the hose, ESPN.

Numbers for dummies

104: Career-high in rushing yards for Justin Fields, who had previously gone over the 100-yard mark only once in his college career, when he had 100 rushing yards against Massachusetts as a freshman at Georgia.

5: Consecutive games that the Buckeyes scored a touchdown on their opening drive.

112: Rushing yards by Trey Sermon, the most since his sophomore season at Oklahoma in 2018.

59: Receiving yards by Garrett Wilson, who fell short of matching Cris Carter for a fifth consecutive game with 100 or more receiving yards.

81: Rushing yards by Michigan State, the third time in five games this season that the Buckeyes have kept an opponent below 100 rushing yards.

2: Interceptions in the past two games by cornerback Shaun Wade, who picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown in a win over Indiana two weeks ago.

3: Punts pinned by Drue Chrisman inside Michigan State’s 20-yard line, including ones at the 1-yard line and 2-yard line.  

3 of 17: Times Michigan State converted on third down.

0: Times this season that Ohio State's defense has allowed any points following a turnover by its offense. Wide receiver Chris Olave fumbled in the third quarter, giving Michigan State possession in the Buckeyes' territory.

21: Consecutive wins over Big Ten teams, a streak that began in 2018 in the aftermath of an upset loss at Purdue.

On tap

The end to the Big Ten regular season is upon us, which means a traditional matchup with hated Michigan. Then again, this is 2020, and the Buckeyes have only five games under their belts in December. And from here it looks like a Michigan game happening is a 50-50 proposition at best. The Wolverines shut down last week after a COVID outbreak, had their game against Maryland canceled and, you know, what Herbstreit said. 

Tweethearts

Reactions to the game on Twitter:

@OilerBuck: A quarter of the Buckeyes team is out but you left us Justin Fields and Garrett Wilson. You done screwed up, COVID.  

@dwismar: This run game is struggling. It’s almost like there are three OL making their first career starts.  

@TheMichaelGrey: Apparently the Buckeyes really CAN roll into your town missing most of their 2-deep and still run it up on your squad.  

@marykir: This new almost-fumbled snap playbook works better than the regular plays  

@Olivia_BKane: My mom: I’m so disappointed in you. You weren’t fast enough and now @justnfields has a steady girlfriend. Get on the ball Olivia. 

@LaurenEHolstein: Why does an undefeated Ohio State team have to prove they deserve to be in the playoff, but a one loss Clemson team doesn’t? 

@thebrianbartsch: And with that score by Ohio State, Michigan just had 5 more players come down with Covid. 

@c4men: I’m convinced the cameraman in this game is operating it remotely from his dining room. Using a GameCube controller. 

@LegitBenDavis: I wish there was a live look-in on @ryandaytime for this game 

@tsorama: Who knew the snap one of the most difficult plays in football? 

@stevieTbuckeye: Holy moly. That was an interesting drive. Could have gone sideways so many times. Thank you Justin Fields. 

@VeryMaryPetty: Too bad fields can't snap the ball to himself. He's already doing all the work out there! 

@Beetz13: So who does Ohio State have lined up for when @UMichFootball takes its ball and goes home under .500 on Monday? 

@JSamulakCLE: You can’t ask for a better performance on both sides of the ball right now. 

@BD40OSU: Rocky Lombardi is Joe Bauserman reincarnated. 

@usbs_usa: I think Justin Fields could accomplish a pass to himself in this game. Can he kick? 

@_CLEology: Dominating 1st half by the #Buckeyes. Need to bring this this home and put the ball in the committee’s court. If I were TTUN, I wouldn’t want to play us either

Horseshoe haiku

COVID suggests a 

weak link, but Buckeyes show they’re 

a sturdy chain gang 

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

rstein@dispatch.com