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Ohio State demolishes Michigan State in (likely) Big Ten East championship

The Buckeyes bounce back by blowing their longtime nemeses off the field.

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Final score

Ohio State 48, Michigan State 3. THE BUCKEYES GET IT DONE. A new big win.

Fourth quarter


13:48. Well that was eventful. Ohio State’s Damon Webb picked off a deep ball and returned it to the MSU 16, drawing a late-hit penalty as well. But then a Barrett fade pass was too short, and despite offensive pass interference, MSU’s Justin Layne made an acrobatic pick right back. Barrett’s passing line OSU’s season in a nutshell: perfection with two bad mistakes (14-for-21, 183 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs).

Third quarter

0:00. Ohio State 48, Michigan State 3. The quarter ends with another Sean Nuernberger field goal. Easy, easy day in Columbus.

5:36. Ohio State is frustrating.

  • First 7 wins: OSU 7.6 yards per play and 51 points per game, opponents 4.1 and 16, respectively.
  • Two losses: Opponents 6.9 yards per play and 43 points per game, OSU 5.4 yards per play and 20 points per game.
  • Today, with 20 minutes remaining: OSU 9.4 yards per play, MSU 2.4

The good Ohio State is the best team in the country, and the quality that the Buckeyes have delivered has made the two duds even more confusing. You can’t say they’re not a “big-game” team because, frankly, the Iowa game doesn’t qualify; plus, their dramatic comeback win over Penn State happened to be the biggest game of the week.

This is a very, very good team, and it will once again rank quite high after Sunday’s S&P+ rankings update. Part of that is because of everybody else — with their current ratings, most of the current S&P+ top 10 wouldn’t have ranked in last year’s top 10 — but part is because of the ceiling they’ve shown now in eight of 10 games this year. Teams with this ceiling aren’t supposed to also have the floor the Buckeyes gave us a glimpse at in Iowa City. Weird team. Weird year.

Michigan State just punted again, by the way.

9:17. Ohio State 45, Michigan State 3. Sparty goes three-and-out again, but Ohio State merely kicks a field goal this time. It’s important to change the script up every now and then.

14:06. Ohio State 42, Michigan State 3. It took Ohio State three plays to make Dantonio’s field goal choice look even sillier. Barrett lobs a jump ball to Binjimen Victor, who beats his defender for the ball then runs through a desperation tackle attempt for a score.


Some stats:

  • Total Yards: OSU 320, MSU 104
  • Rushing Yards: OSU 253, MSU 55
  • J.T. Barrett (OSU): 6-for-9 for 67 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT, plus seven carries for 42 yards and two scores. Pretty much a perfect half until that last awful pass.
  • Brian Lewerke (MSU): 8-for-22 for 49 yards and a pick. He’s thrown 13 more times than Barrett and has 18 fewer passing yards. Suboptimal.
  • Mike Weber and JK Dobbins (OSU): 18 carries for 223 yards and two scores (both by Weber), plus three catches (all by Dobbins) for 18 yards and another score.
  • LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes (MSU): 10 carries for 36 yards (20 on Scott’s very first carry), one catch for four yards.

Second quarter

0:00. Ohio State 35, Michigan State 3. Give Mark Dantonio partial credit for briefly acknowledging reality. MSU works the ball 24 yards to the OSU 19 with two seconds left — Arnette got injured in the process, by the way — which seems like a prime opportunity for a meaningless “at least we’re not scoreless anymore” field goal. But the Spartans line up to go for the touchdown...

...until Urban Meyer calls timeout. Then Dantonio elects to take the three points. Okay.

0:59. Another small victory! David Dowell takes advantage of a woeful Barrett pass and picks it off. Barrett had a man over the top but threw a line drive, and Dowell stepped in front of it. He returns it to the OSU 43, so Sparty may be able to get some points before half.

2:07. It’s all about the small victories at this point. Yes, another MSU possession ended with a turnover (an Arnette interception). But a) the Spartans ate up four minutes first, b) they converted a fourth-and-short conversion, and c) OSU’s Dre’Mont Jones was ejected for targeting. That’s something, right?

Okay, it’s technically nothing, but work with me. I’m live-blogging a blowout.

6:16. Ohio State 35, Michigan State 0. Oh man. One play, 82 yards, touchdown. Mike Weber gets to the second level of the Spartans defense and ... finds no defenders there. He already has 161 yards and two scores (on just eight carries), and guys, I’m not one to jump to conclusions, but I’m thinking I know who’s going to win this game.

6:27. Michigan State punts. But the Spartans at least ate some clock.

7:53. FIRST DOWN, MICHIGAN STATE. Sorry, it’s been a while. Got excited.

9:21. Ohio State 28, Michigan State 0. Barrett to Marcus Baugh for 13 yards, Dobbins four-yard carry, and then swing pass to Dobbins for 12 and another touchdown. Call me crazy, but I think Ohio State’s responding pretty well to last week’s embarrassment.

10:17. Oh dear. Michigan State doesn’t even go three-and-out this time — the Spartans go two-and-fumble. Lewerke scrambles for eight yards on third-and-10 but is stripped by Tyquan Lewis. It’s recovered by Damon Arnette at the MSU 25.

11:35. Ohio State 21, Michigan State 0. Michigan State has no idea how to stop Ohio State right now. Ohio State’s third touchdown drive features nine carries for 53 yards (32 from Weber, who’s having a lovely day), a desperate pass interference penalty on an open bomb, and, finally, another Barrett touchdown. This is growing formulaic.

First quarter

0:00. Woof. MSU goes three-and-out in 17 seconds, with three Lewerke incompletions. He’s 2-for-10 for seven yards, and the second quarter will begin with another punt.

0:17. Ohio State 14, Michigan State 0. Michigan State’s best defensive play has been “have Ohio State make a bad snap.” The Buckeyes’ third drive is methodical and successful, highlighted by a quick sideline pass to Parris Campbell that turns into a 25-yard gain and capped by an easy four-yard score by Barrett.

Then, to make matters worse for Sparty, a shaky Ohio State kick coverage unit destroys Connor Heyward’s return attempt, and MSU will start its fourth drive at the 5.

4:12. Michigan State threw 113 passes over the last two weeks, and Lewerke’s on pace for about another 40 today. Unfortunately he’s also on pace for about 11 or 12 completions. Another “run, then two incompletions” three-and-out for the Spartans, and Hartbarger’s third punt is fair caught at the 27.

5:11. MSU gets a stop, with help from a bad snap. A second-and-7 hike zips over Barrett’s head for a huge loss, and OSU goes three-and-out. MSU nearly blocks the ensuing punt and nearly gets a roughing the kicker penalty, too. Drue Chrisman’s punt is downed 52 yards away.

7:09. Not really the response MSU wanted: a short run by Scott (who evidently tweaked an ankle and had to get it taped up on that first drive), followed by a pressured, off-target throw by Lewerke, a false start, and another pressured INC. Hartbarger’s punt gets a good roll to the OSU 29. Lewerke and Scott each had nice runs on that first drive, but if the line can’t buy Lewerke at least a little bit of time, the run game isn’t going to matter for long.

8:14. Ohio State 7, Michigan State 0. Okay, that was easy. The Buckeyes drive 86 yards in just six plays, and in very Ohio State fashion: J.T. Barrett rushes for 10 yards and flips a quick pass to J.K. Dobbins for seven, Dobbins carries for 15 and seven, then Mike Weber bursts up the middle for 47 yards and a score. Sparty better have more to offer than that.

9:33. Hit and miss early drive for Ohio State’s defense. LJ Scott rips off a 20-yard run on the game’s second play, but a Malik Harrison sack knocks the Spartans way off schedule. Third-and-18 = end of the drive, right? Nope. Brian Lewerke dodges a couple of shaky tackle attempts for a 16-yard gain, then sneaks forward for a fourth-down conversion.

The well dries up when Lewerke is sacked again on third-and-7 (this time by Nick Bosa), but Jake Hartbarger’s punt is fair caught at the 14. Flipped the field, ate up nearly six minute. That’s a success in the Dantonio book.

Maybe it’s the crowd mics, but ... damn, this crowd is silent.

15:00. Michigan State will take the ball first. Man, I just have no idea what to expect here. The Spartans almost always play their best game against the Buckeyes and may do so again today, but there’s just no telling how Ohio State will respond to a truly embarrassing performance.

Meyer teams tend to respond well to losses, but they’ve never had to respond to this before. The Buckeyes are down a couple of linebackers, which can’t be a great thing coming off of your most disappointing defensive performance of the year, but ... surely they bounce back anyway, right? Maybe?


Who wins in Columbus on Saturday?

On paper, Ohio State. S&P+ gives the Buckeyes a 78 percent chance of winning, with a projected margin of 13.5 points.

S&P+ still really likes Ohio State overall — the upside the Buckeyes have shown in seven wins dwarves that of virtually anybody else, enough to offset one mediocre performance (against Oklahoma) and one miserable one (against Iowa). They still rank second in S&P+ despite their ratings falling quite a bit.

That may seem strange, but realize this: Vegas, which also uses computers, likes the Buckeyes even more. Ohio State is a 15.5-point favorite over the Spartans.

MSU is good, but did need some turnovers luck to get by Michigan and Penn State. Based on national averages for fumble recovery rates and the ratio of interceptions to passes broken up, the Spartans’ expected turnover margin in those two huge wins was plus-zero. In real life, it was plus-seven. The average turnover is worth about five points’ worth of field position lost (by the offense) and gained (by the defense), so this discrepancy was worth around 35 points to the Spartans, who won these games by a combined seven.

(The turnovers god was far less kind to Sparty in a tight win over Minnesota and an overtime loss to Northwestern. I’m pretty sure that’s a trade State was willing to make.)

One thing we can be pretty sure of: the best version of Michigan State will show up in Columbus. The Spartans are 3-3 against Ohio State since 2011. They knocked the Buckeyes out of the national title race in both 2013 and 2015, and they nearly pulled off two other momentous upsets:

  • In 2012, an eventual seven-win MSU fell by just one point, 17-16, to a Buckeye team that finished 12-0.
  • In 2016, Dantonio’s worst squad (one that would finish 3-9) fell by a 17-16 margin to an Ohio State that went 11-2 and reached the Playoff.

Sparty tends to show up against Brutus. And it’s impossible to know Ohio State’s mindset after what might have been the most inept loss of Urban Meyer’s career. On paper, this one’s easy to project. We’ll see what happens in Ohio Stadium.

As things currently stand, here are your Big Ten East championship odds, based on those same S&P+ win projections:

  1. Ohio State 77.3 percent
  2. Michigan State 21.3 percent
  3. Michigan 0.9 percent
  4. Penn State 0.5 percent
  5. Rutgers 0.0004 percent

That seems like a comfortable spot for Ohio State to be in, but it’s temporary. One game will flip the odds pretty dramatically.

East odds if Ohio State beats Michigan State on Saturday:

  1. Ohio State 98 percent
  2. Michigan 1.2 percent
  3. Michigan State 0.5 percent
  4. Penn State 0.3 percent

East odds if Michigan State beats Ohio State:

  1. Michigan State 94.7 percent
  2. Ohio State 3.9 percent
  3. Penn State 1.2 percent
  4. Michigan 0.2 percent
  5. Rutgers 0.002 percent!

When Penn State’s Saquon Barkley told MSU players, “we’re playing for a [Big Ten East] championship right now,” he was only partially right. The loser was going to be all but eliminated from the race (and as you see, Penn State basically was), but MSU’s win got the Spartans a title shot.

Current odds seem to favor Ohio State, but by about 3 p.m. ET on Saturday, we’ll know most of what we need to know.