Before the football season began, many Spartan fans had Nov. 21 circled on their calendars. In a season full of lofty expectations, MSU knew the game against Ohio State would be the most important of the season.
Then-No. 9 MSU (10-1 overall, 6-1 Big Ten) upset then-No. 3 Ohio State (10-1 overall, 6-1 Big Ten), 17-14, off a 41-yard field goal from junior kicker Michael Geiger, silencing a record-breaking crowd at Ohio Stadium of 108,975 people.
“Last February when we started winter conditioning we talked about reaching higher, and one of the ways we needed to reach higher was to come in here and win,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “We focused on this moment and we played hard.”
How it happened
With Connor Cook all but guaranteeing his starting status for the game throughout the week, it came as a shock to many as game time approached that it wasn’t Cook taking a majority of snaps in pre-game warmups, but backup quarterbacks sophomore Damion Terry and junior Tyler O’Connor.
When Cook did take snaps in warmup with the first team, it was apparent something was not right. Most of his passes were softly lofted over the middle of the field, not showing his usual ability to put any power behind his throws.
When the Spartans took the field, they were without their quarterback who had started 36 consecutive games and compiled a record of 32-4 over that span. Instead, Dantonio opted for a dual-quarterback system with O’Connor handling most of the passing plays. One thing was for sure — without Cook, the defense would need to be dominant for the Spartans to have a shot against the Buckeyes.
The Spartans dominated OSU on both sides of the ball Saturday night to end the Buckeyes’ 23-game winning streak and 30-game winning streak in regular season conference games. The Spartans were 13-point underdogs.
“Huge win for our program, if you really look at it we sat around all day and listened to how we were underdogs and I think that motivates people,” Dantonio said. “I think this is the first game we’ve played all season long where we could actually take on the role as the people who were underdogs and hunting that other football team.
“We came in with something to prove, usually when you have that you have a chip on your shoulder and you play a little bit better.”
Buckeyes star running back Ezekiel Elliott had an FBS-leading streak of 15 consecutive games with at least 100 rushing yards coming into the game.
The Spartans held Elliott to just 33 yards on 12 carries with an average of 2.8 yards per carry, a stark contrast from his season average of 6.5 yards per carry.
“We tackled well, we won at the line of scrimmage,” Dantonio said. “There wasn’t a lot of places (for Elliott) to go.”
Coming into the game match up, MSU had only allowed a total of three points scored off of turnovers. All 14 of Ohio State’s points came from two Spartan turnovers.
The first turnover came off of a sack-fumble on MSU quarterback Damion Terry for the Buckeyes’ Sam Hubbard. OSU then went on a 10-play, 32-yard touchdown drive capped off by an Elliott touchdown run.
The second turnover came on a muffed punt by Macgarrett Kings Jr. that the Buckeyes recovered at MSU’s 6-yard line. OSU scored on the very next play with a touchdown pass from J.T. Barrett to Jalin Marshall.
Overall, MSU held the Buckeyes to just 132 yards of total offense — 321 yards less than their season average of 453.
The Spartans forced six OSU three-and-outs and held them to 4-of-14 on third down conversions. MSU also dominated the time of possession battle with 38:10 compared to 21:50 for the Buckeyes. OSU was forced to punt on nine of their 11 drives, the only two non-punts were the two that came from turnovers.
“Two (backup) quarterbacks went in and did an excellent job, didn’t flinch,” Dantonio said. “I think it’s important that as a football program you overachieve and I think we did that.”
Whenever the Spartans and Buckeyes play there is a lot on the line. In 2013, MSU defeated a previously undefeated OSU team in the Big Ten championship. Had the Buckeyes won they would have been headed to the BCS National championship.
That victory in the Big Ten championship ended a school-record winning streak of 24 games for the Buckeyes.
Last season, OSU came into East Lansing and defeated a then-No. 8 MSU team. The Buckeyes would go on to secure a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoffs where they defeated Alabama and Oregon en route to a national championship.
This season, the Spartans ‘win over the Buckeyes likely ended OSU’s playoff hopes and rekindles their own. OSU head coach Urban Meyer is 29-0 against other Big Ten teams and 2-2 against MSU.
For MSU, its dreams of reaching higher are within grasp, the Spartans control their own destiny. To clinch the Big Ten East Division, MSU only has to defeat Penn State at Spartan Stadium next week.
A win over the Nittany Lions next week would give the Spartans a berth in the Big Ten Championship game where they will face a likely undefeated No. 3 Iowa (11-0 overall, 7-0 Big Ten).
“Real excited for our football team and our program,” Dantonio said. “We cannot lose sight. We have to win next week, we at least control our own destiny and that’s the goal.”
A win over the Hawkeyes will give the Spartans a very strong resume for a playoff berth. MSU has a win over then-No. 7 Oregon (8-3 overall, 6-2 PAC 12), a win over then-No. 12 University of Michigan (9-2 overall, 6-1 Big Ten), a previously undefeated No. 3 OSU team and a theoretical win over what would be an undefeated Iowa team that could put MSU in the top four.
MSU’s offensive line was just as dominant as its defensive line. The front five opened up holes for the running game that allowed the Spartans to put up 203 rushing yards as a group compared to OSU’s 86.
With the whole offensive line finally healthy, MSU controlled the pace of the game and won in the trenches.
“I looked somewhere and someone said that we couldn’t stop Joey Bosa or Adolphus Washington and I didn’t see them back there too much today,” senior center Jack Allen said. “Obviously we’ve gone through some adversity up front, but I think this week we truly gelled as an offensive front and as an offense. We just need to continue to do what we’re doing and keep believing in what we thought we could do all year.”