EAST LANSING, Mich. – Ohio State defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones was talking about one play in the fourth quarter of OSU’s 26-6 win over Michigan State on Saturday but he just as easily could have been summing up the entire game.
That play came in the first minute of the fourth quarter when Michigan State back-up quarterback Rocky Lombardi fumbled in the end zone and Jones recovered the ball for a touchdown that put Ohio State in control of the game with a two-score lead at 16-6.
“He dropped it and we kind of wrestled for it a little bit and I came up with it,” Jones said.
Much of the game until that play had been a wrestling match between two defenses that were dominating the offenses. And the most important weapon either team had was a punter.
It was a weird game. But also a welcome kind of game for No. 10 Ohio State (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten).
Obviously, a 49-20 loss to Purdue three weeks ago created big questions about the Buckeyes. But even some of their wins, like closer-than-expected decisions over Indiana, Minnesota and Nebraska, weren’t completely satisfying.
But beating No. 18 Michigan State (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) felt different.
“That was a big one. Some other ones people didn’t feel like they won,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “But that was a great locker room (after the game).”
Jones said, “We held a tough team in their house to six points. It’s a definite confidence booster. Whether we like it or not we hear the stuff in the background. We don’t want to hear it but it happens. This was big momentum for us.”
OSU quarterback Dwayne Haskins said, “It was electric. We didn’t play our best ball. They really gave us a tough time but it wasn’t supposed to be easy.”
Ohio State’s defense was put on the spot right away when punter Drue Chrisman shanked a punt for only four yards on OSU’s first possession, which set Michigan State up on the Buckeyes’ 35-yard yard line.
But the defense stopped Michigan State without scoring, a pattern that would be repeated for most of the game.
And Chrisman turned into one of the stars in Ohio State’s win, pinning the Spartans with their backs against their own goal line time after time throughout the game.
“We knew exactly what this would be and it was. Everything about that was really hard against that defense,” Meyer said. “And I’m really ecstatic about our defense and how they came out and played. We just kept playing the field position game.”
Ohio State took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard pop pass from Haskins to Parris Campbell with 1:29 left in the first half at the end of a 55-yard drive. Michigan State cut the lead to 7-6 by the 5-minute mark of the third quarter on a pair of field goals by Matt Coghlin.
The early part of the game belonged to the defenses. Nine of the 13 drives the two teams combined for in the first half ended with punts, two ended with missed field goals, one resulted in a touchdown and another produced a field goal.
Then it got weird and better for Ohio State in a hurry. With Michigan State punting out of its own end zone in the final minute of the third quarter, MSU coach Mark Dantonio called for an intentional safety, which put the Buckeyes in front 9-6.
A minute and a half later on Michigan State’s next possession Jones scored his second defensive touchdown of the season for a 16-6 lead.
After another fumble by Lombardi, Blake Haubeil made a 35-yard field goal to put OSU up 19-6 with 12 minutes to play. An interception by Shaun Wade started Ohio State’s final scoring drive, which ended with Mike Weber scoring on a 2-yard run with 1:12 left in the game.
After the safety, three of Michigan State’s next four series ended with turnovers – two fumbles and an interception.
Weber rushed for 104 yards on 22 carries. Fifty-six of his yards came in the fourth quarter. Haskins was 24 of 39 for 227 yards and one touchdown.
Ohio State had 347 yards total offense – 227 in the air and 120 on the ground. Michigan State had 274 yards overall – 220 passing and 54 rushing.
The Spartans’ starting quarterback Brian Lewerke, who has tried to play through a shoulder injury the last two weeks, was 11 of 28 for 128 yards. Lombardi was 7 of 19 for 92 yards and also was MSU’s leading rusher with 49 yards.
Ohio State’s back-up quarterback Tate Martell made an appearance in a short-yardage situation on two series. His 5-yard carry took the ball to the 1-yard line before OSU’s first touchdown.
“We needed to play defense really well, create some turnovers, we needed to continue to run the ball and have a back run for 100 yards against these guys,” Meyer said.
“We really tackled well. I felt like we covered well and tackled well. That’s confidence. Talk about an outfit that needed it, we needed it,” he said.