A grade card on Ohio State’s 17-14 loss to Michigan State, a game that was supposed to be the jumping off point for a stretch run by the Buckeyes that would take them back to the College Football Playoff to defend their 2014 national title. It turned out far differently, though.
Ohio State’s offense was a failure in every way. The Buckeyes couldn’t run the ball, couldn’t or wouldn’t throw the ball, and in the opinion of running back Ezekiel Elliott, couldn’t get the right plays called.
Ohio State had only five first downs and 132 yards total offense in its worst offensive performance since gaining 82 yards in the 2006 national championship game against Florida.
Both of OSU’s touchdowns were set up by Michigan State turnovers — the first by a fumble that was recovered at the Spartans’ 32-yard line on a sack and the other on a fumbled punt that gave the ball to the Buckeyes at the six-yard line. Without that help, OSU probably would have been shut out.
The Buckeyes had only 45 offensive plays, 24 fewer than their average this season. They had only one running play that gained as many as 10 yards and a 16-yard Barrett to Jalin Marshall throw in the first quarter was the only pass completion of more than five yards.
Elliott, who spent time in the hospital last week with a leg infection, had only 33 yards rushing on 12 carries and No. 1 receiver Michael Thomas had two catches for eight yards.
Michigan State’s defensive line dominated OSU’s offensive line. Even their usually reliable run blocking deserted the Buckeyes and they weren’t able to attack MSU’s secondary, the most vulnerable part of its defense.
The defense played better than the offense but was deficient in three major areas.
Michigan State rushed for 203 yards, the second-highest total Ohio State has allowed this season. With starting quarterback Connnor Cook out with an injured shoulder, Ohio State wanted to put pressure on starter Tyler O’Connor and back-up Damion Terry, but Michigan State’s offensive line wouldn’t let that happen.
Finally, both times Ohio State took the lead, Michigan State answered with long scoring drives — nine plays for 75 yards in the first quarter and 13 plays for 75 yards early in the fourth quarter. Also, the Spartans had the ball for the last four minutes of the game before Michael Geiger’s winning 41-yard field goal.
Special teams: B
There wasn’t much activity for the special teams. Jack Willoughby had three touchbacks in three kickoffs. OSU didn’t attempt a field goal and punter Cameron Johnston was solid except for a weird 5-yard punt that probably was weather related.
Ohio State losing might not have been as big a surprise as how the Buckeyes lost. Not too many people could have imagined what happened Saturday.
Elliott’s questioning of the play calls can be dismissed as youthful frustration, but combine his post-game declaration that he would enter the NFL draft after this season with indications from Cardale Jones and Joey Bosa that they would do the same might make some people wonder if there were a few distractions in the locker room this season.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.
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