A 49-point victory in a Big Ten football game does not just happen spontaneously.
A shellacking of that magnitude takes years of program-building and bringing in high level talent year after year. It takes perfect execution from a roster whose talent is on a different level than its opponent. It takes a lack of execution and a litany of mental mistakes from the team being blown out.
All of the above happened on Saturday for Michigan State.
From the opening kick, Ohio State outplayed the Spartans in every facet of the game leading to a decisive 56-7 victory. The 49-point winning margin was the largest in the Michigan State-Ohio State series, which dates back to 1912.
It is the second consecutive year the Spartans have been thoroughly outmatched by the Buckeyes (OSU won 52-12 last year), showing the sizable gap between the Spartans and the top of the Big Ten.
“We gotta give Ohio State a lot of credit,” Michigan State Football Head Coach Mel Tucker said following the loss. "It's a very talented team in all three phases. They outplayed us in pretty much all three phases.”
Tucker was not just trying to downplay the Spartans’ embarrassing loss in the postgame press conference, he was explaining what MSU still has to do to reach Ohio State’s level moving forward.
On the 2021 roster, Ohio State has 16 former five-star recruits and 52 former four-star recruits thanks to bringing in a top-five recruiting class in the country for four of the past five years. In those same five years, Michigan State’s highest-rated recruiting class was ranked 31st in 2018.
The talent disparity between the two rosters was more than apparent in Michigan State’s thorough dismantling on Saturday. The players for Michigan State looked smaller, slower and less talented than the Buckeyes from start to finish, leading to MSU’s worst loss since losing to Ohio State 48-3 in 2017.
The talent gap between the rosters reared its head on the opening drive of the game. After winning the toss, Michigan State elected to defer and let Ohio State start with the ball. The Buckeyes answered with a 14-play, 86 yard touchdown drive to get the scoring started.
It was the beginning of a career game for Redshirt Freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud, a former four-star recruit. He completed 32 of his 35 passes, all of which came in the first half and the first drive of the second half, for 432 yards and six touchdowns. All six touchdown passes came in the first half as Ohio State jumped out to an insurmountable 49-0 lead at halftime.
The Buckeyes' three-headed monster at wide receiver — senior Chris Olave, freshman Jaxon Smith-Njigba and junior Garrett Wilson — reaped the benefits of Stroud’s Heisman-esque performance. The trio combined for 24 catches for 371 yards and five touchdowns. The talented receivers (former 4 and 5-star recruits) were able to run past MSU’s secondary effortlessly to give Stroud easy completion after easy completion on the way to the endzone.
“I've played against those dudes so I knew how fast they were,” safety Xavier Henderson said. “But, for some of the guys that haven't played against somebody, it's hard to really tell how fast dudes are until you get out there and you're on the field with them.”
The speed killed Michigan State in the first half before they even rubbed the crust out of their eyes.
The Buckeyes scored in the first four minutes of the game on a 23-yard pass to Olave, who left MSU junior cornerback Chester Kimbrough in his dust on the way to the endzone. And Ohio State’s early assault did not end there.
The Buckeyes, with an endless amount of weapons, scored a touchdown on its first seven drives of the game to go up 49-0. The first three touchdowns came on big passing plays outside of the red zone, as Ohio State’s receivers sprinted past the MSU secondary with ease while Stroud had all day to throw.
“They were throwing the ball over our heads,” Henderson said. “It started early. We dug ourselves a hole that we couldn’t get out of.”
Mercifully for Michigan State, Ohio State Football Head Coach Ryan Day took his foot off of the Spartans’ throats in the second half. After hanging nearly 50 on MSU’s head in the first half through its torrid passing game, Ohio State only scored one touchdown in the second half. OSU chose to run the ball heavily to burn the clock and only attempted 12 passes in the second half.
The first-string players of Ohio State got an early rest thanks to the massive lead at halftime. Players like Stroud, Olave and Wilson got to enjoy the second half from the bench as they rested. They were replaced by Ohio State’s reserves like freshman quarterback Kyle McCord, another former five-star recruit.
The sheer talent and depth of Ohio State’s roster proved to be the difference between two teams that were vying for control of the Big Ten East. Today, the team with waves of four and five-star recruits was able to dismantle the roster that was completely rebuilt through the transfer portal over the offseason.
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So far this year, the revamped roster has not been the issue for the Spartans. Until today, Michigan State always had the talent to be competitive with the teams it has played this year.
But those teams have not been Ohio State.
For the first time this season, Michigan State did not have a talented enough roster to compete with their opponent. Tucker said following the game that MSU will be aggressive moving forward to close the talent disparity.
“Recruiting is where we're going to close the gap,” Tucker said emphatically. “And that's because we need more depth. And we need more guys that can win one on one. And I think that's obvious ... and that's not news, actually, if anyone's really paying attention.”
For the second consecutive season after losing to Ohio State, Tucker has hinted at not having the talent necessary to dethrone the Big Ten’s Goliath. Last year, he famously said “compete to play, compete to stay” following MSU’s 40-point loss to the Buckeyes last year.
The message today was not much different from Tucker. He said the pieces are in place for MSU to recruit at a high enough level in order to get closer to having the extreme wealth of talents the Buckeyes are spoiled by year after year.
“We are going to recruit like crazy like we've been doing and continue to do that,” Tucker said. “We're built to recruit at a high level and we'll continue to work to improve our team, get as healthy as we possibly can and get ready for this next game. But big picture, that's what we need to do. We need to recruit like crazy.”
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