EAST LANSING, Mich. — Eleven months and a day after Michigan State beat Ohio State in the 2013 Big Ten Championship game, the No. 13 Buckeyes overcame an early deficit to top the No. 7 Spartans, 49-37, on the road.
After the game, sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott described OSU’s locker room as “ecstatic.”
“Everyone’s in there smiling,” Elliott said. “Toothy smiles; big, beautiful smiles. We love each other and we came out and we played for each other. And we’re just happy to go out there and win for each other.”
The win put the Buckeyes (8-1, 5-0) alone atop the Big Ten East Division standings, breaking a tie with Michigan State (7-2, 4-1). OSU also set a conference record with its 21st consecutive regular season Big Ten win.
“It was a great opportunity for two good football teams to go play, and I’m very proud of our guys,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said after the game. “A young team grew up tonight.”
Elliott said OSU came into the game with a chip on its shoulder, and added the Buckeyes wanted to prove their doubters wrong.
“Just coming into this game, no one believed in us,” he said. “We had no one behind our back besides Buckeye nation and ourselves. We just had to come out and prove to the world that we’re ready.”
Heading into the weekend, the Buckeyes were ranked No. 14 in the College Football Playoff rankings, while the Spartans were No. 8.
Senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett said beating Michigan State means OSU’s “dreams are still alive for this year.” He added the game was about playing for the future, rather than getting revenge for last year’s loss.
“It’s about accomplishing what we can accomplish this year,” Bennett said after the game. “And so by having that big win over a really good team, it really just keeps everything alive and starts putting us in the conversation.”
After a handful of early miscues put OSU in an early hole, the Buckeyes surged to a 28-10 run to take a 42-24 lead early in the fourth quarter.
“We just tried to forget about the mistakes, because mistakes happen in games,” redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett said after the game. “Those were…big mistakes, wish we didn’t make ‘em, but we did. We just all had to respond as a team and just get back together and play football.”
Michigan State responded with a touchdown to cut the lead to 11, but Barrett sparked the Buckeyes on the ensuing drive, extending the lead to 18 at Spartan Stadium.
On second-and-eight on his own 24-yard line, Barrett kept the ball and rushed outside before putting his head down to finish off a 55-yard run. Two plays later, Elliott powered the ball across the goal line for a 17-yard touchdown run, making it 49-31 with 7:12 on the clock.
The Spartans tacked on another touchdown from redshirt-senior running back Jeremy Langford, but OSU ran nearly five minutes off the clock to help seal the win.
The Buckeyes totaled 568 yards on offense, compared to 536 for Michigan State.
Coming into the game, the Spartans’ defense had given up an average of 279.4 yards per game.
“They’ve been talking about that defense, how they can stop everybody in the country,” sophomore safety Vonn Bell said after the game. “You seen our offense just shove it down their throats.”
In a first half filled with momentum swings, OSU found a way to take a 28-21 advantage into the locker rooms — thanks in part to four total touchdowns from Barrett.
After both teams scored early in the first quarter, OSU muffed a punt and Michigan State Jeremy Langford scored from 33 yards out on the first play of the ensuing drive.
Barrett answered with his second touchdown run of the night on fourth-and-goal at the one, but Langford scored again to make it 21-14, set up by a key third-and-23 pass to senior wide receiver Devin Smith for a gain of 43 yards.
“It was definitely a big time play,” Barrett said. “He did a great job just getting open and I just threw the ball to him.”
OSU sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson fumbled on the ensuing kick to give the ball back to the Spartans, but they missed a 39-yard field goal to give OSU the ball on its own 21-yard line.
On the opening play of the next drive, Barrett hit redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Michael Thomas for a 79-yard touchdown to tie the game at 21.
After the game, Thomas said he knew what was going to happen before the ball was snapped.
“Before the play came I knew I was going to score,” Thomas said. “Because of my confidence. I watch film on them.”
After a Michigan State punt, Barrett went deep again and found Smith for a 44-yard touchdown, capping a five-play, 64-yard go-ahead drive for the Buckeyes.
The 28-21 halftime lead came despite a pair of fumbles and six penalties for OSU.
Michigan State opened the final 30 minutes with a field goal, but a 13-play OSU drive was capped by a one-yard touchdown run from Elliott, making it 35-24 with 2:18 to play in the third quarter.
The Buckeyes stopped Michigan State on fourth-and-five on the ensuing drive, taking over at their own 36 to start the fourth.
OSU marched down the field in less than three minutes before Barrett hit Wilson for a seven-yard touchdown to make it 42-24 with 12:07 to play. Michigan State redshirt-junior quarterback Connor Cook responded with a 16-yard touchdown strike to sophomore tight end Josiah Price.
After Elliott’s touchdown, the Spartans took it back down the field for a touchdown, but Cook’s two-point conversion attempt fell short, keeping a 12-point advantage for OSU with 5:20 to play.
Barrett finished the game with exactly 300 passing yards and three touchdowns and added another 86 yards and two scores on the ground. Elliott led all players with 154 rushing yards while Smith totaled 129 yards receiving.
Senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett paced the OSU defense with four total tackles and the team’s only sack.
Cook threw for 358 yards and two touchdowns while Langford totaled 137 yards and three scores on just 18 carries in the loss.
The Buckeyes’ win marked their 12th consecutive victory on the road, which is the best ongoing streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
OSU is set to close out a two-game road trip Nov. 15 against Minnesota in Minneapolis. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.
After the Golden Gophers beat Iowa, 51-14, before the Buckeyes took the field on Saturday, Meyer said his team doesn’t have much time to relax before getting back to work.
“If you want to use the term exhale, we can’t exhale very long because we go on the road next week against a team that whooped Iowa,” he said.