Michigan State's defense dares you to make big plays, because it's going to stop just about everything else. Ohio State did just that Saturday night in East Lansing, putting together explosive scoring plays before grinding out a 49-37 victory to vault them back into Playoff contention.
Entering Saturday, Michigan State was allowing 279.4 yards of total offense per game. At halftime, Ohio State had already racked up 332. The Buckeyes ended up with 568 total yards, the most Michigan State has given up this season.
Michigan State looked like the better team early in the first half, but some big plays from Ohio State kept them in it before allowing them to take the lead. Ezekiel Elliot's 47-yard run set up J.T. Barrett's 5-yard touchdown and Devin Smith's 43-yard reception set up Barrett's 1-yard touchdown run -- both game-tying plays. Later in the second, Ohio State responded with another big play, as Barrett found Michael Thomas on a slant route for the 79-yard touchdown.
The Buckeyes finally took the lead with less than a minute to play in the half, when Barrett found Devin Smith on a perfect 44-yard score. All four of Ohio State's first half scoring drives included a play of at least 40 yards.
Ohio State scored in the third quarter on a different sort of drive -- the long and sustained kind that rarely occurs against this Michigan State defense. In over six minutes of game time, the Buckeyes drove 13 plays for 67 yards, punctuating with Elliot's one-yard touchdown run to make it a two-score lead.
The two teams traded touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and Ohio State was able to hold on for the 49-37 victory.
Three things we learned
1. Ohio State is your Big Ten Playoff hopeful. This game saw the two best teams in the Big Ten clash, and with relatively simple roads throughout the remainder of the regular season for both teams, we knew coming in the winner would have the conference's best shot.
It's by no means guaranteed, however. At least one power conference will miss the Playoff entirely, and the Big Ten's resume this season makes it as strong of a candidate as any.
Ohio State probably has a harder time than Michigan State would have, as well. The Buckeyes' non-conference loss (at home vs. Virginia Tech) is far worse than the Spartans' (at Oregon), and Michigan State has a win over Nebraska to add to their resume.
2. J.T. Barrett has arrived. Saturday was Ohio State's first real test of the season, so in turn it was the first career test for their freshman quarterback. Barrett scored more total touchdowns (5) against Michigan State than any team this season except for Oregon.
Barrett finished the game 16-of-26 for 300 yards and three touchdowns without a single interception against this Spartans defense. He also ran 13 times for 81 yards and two scores.
3. Revenge. Michigan State has played spoiler to the Buckeyes many, many times. It was finally Ohio State's turn to take down a favored Sparty team. It may not make up for those four potential national titles Michigan State has taken away from them in the past, but they returned the favor, at least partially, by knocking the Spartans out of the national title hunt this year.