Before No. 3 Ohio State’s upset loss at the hands of No. 9 Michigan State, The Lantern’s sports editors Ryan Cooper and Kevin Stankiewicz wrote about five things they would be watching for during the game. Here is how those five items played out.
How will Connor Cook respond to his injury?
All week long, Connor Cook and Michigan State asserted that the redshirt senior was going to play against OSU despite injuring his shoulder against Maryland.
Even OSU players and coaches said they were preparing like Cook was going to play. However, right before kickoff, the script took a relatively unexpected turn, as it was announced that the Hinckley, Ohio, native’s shoulder was not up to par, meaning Cook would not play.
After the game, fill-in starter Tyler O’Connor said it was known since Friday that Cook would be unable to go, but Dantonio withheld that information to keep OSU off-guard.
“I found out last night,” the redshirt junior said.
It was a big loss for the Spartans, as Cook came into the game with a 31-4 record as the starting quarterback. To fill the winningest quarterback in program history’s void, the Spartans borrowed a page from OSU coach Urban Meyer’s book, using a two-quarterback system between O’Connor and redshirt sophomore Damion Terry.
Both Terry and O’Connor did a valiant effort in relief duty, as they combined for 141 yards of total offense, which was just about half of the team’s total.
The entire game was more about the defense than offense due to the rain and wind, but what Terry and O’Connor brought to the table was an ability to create problems with their legs, something that Cook would not be able to do as effectively.
As a team, Michigan State threw just 16 passes, 12 of which were by O’Connor. With the poor weather, the Spartans kept the ball on the ground, using a multiple rushers to dominate time of possession by nearly 17 minutes. At one point, Michigan State ran the ball for 17 straight plays.
“In a game like that, with the weather like that, it might be a little bit better in some instances,” OSU defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said about Terry and O’Connor’s abilities to use their legs. “The reality is they had to prepare. They put their best 11 out there, we put our best 11 out there, and the reality is we didn’t get the job done.”
What will Braxton’s finale be?
When Braxton Miller ran out on the field for the final time at Ohio Stadium, he was greeted with a thunderous roar from the 108,975 fans in attendance.
That, however, was the loudest the crowd got all night for Miller, as the redshirt senior H-back had a pin-drop quiet final outing.
Miller, who switched back to his old No. 5 jersey after wearing No. 1 for every game this season up until Saturday, had just 12 total yards on two receptions and one carry.
The offense as a whole struggled, compiling just 132 total yards. Miller’s performance was particularly uneventful, save one play before halftime.
With a minute left in the first half, Miller ran free on a post, beating his defender. Barrett sailed a ball out toward him, but the pass had too much mustard on it, falling incomplete, just beyond Miller’s outstretched hand. Had Barrett been able to connect with Miller, it looked like it would have been an easy touchdown.
Miller is OSU’s all-time leader in touchdowns with 88 and yards from scrimmage with 8,908, but on his final time wearing scarlet and gray inside the ‘Shoe, none of the electricity he displayed during his four seasons in Columbus was present.
Will J.T. Barrett find time in the pocket?
The buzzwords of the week for OSU were pass protection. Meyer harped on it after the win over Illinois and it continued to be the main subject of discussion throughout practice. He insisted it would be fixed come kickoff on Saturday, but whether or not that happened was hard to tell.
For the second straight week, the Buckeyes were inefficient throwing the ball but this time, it had a lot to do with the conditions and play calling. It was under 50 degrees when the game started and throughout most of the first half, heavy rain and wind persisted. When the rain let up for the second half, it was still windy.
When Barrett did drop back to pass, there was some pressure, but he only threw it 16 times, completing just nine of the attempts for 46 yards.
“The passing game was just, it was not there,” Meyer said following the loss.
Michigan State’s defense certainly came play, flustering the OSU offense all night long, especially on third down. The Buckeyes were just 4-of-14 on third down.
“We lost the line of scrimmage,” Meyer said of the third-down deficiencies, latter adding: “That was a very poor performance.”
Will Cam Johnston continue his record?
Cameron Johnston is now atop the record books.
On Saturday, the junior punter set the school record for most punts pinned inside the 20-yard line in career during the first quarter. It was his 79th. He had two more kicks downed inside the 20-yard line, extending his record to 81.
However, his record-breaking performance is overshadowed by his third punt of the game in the second quarter. With the Buckeyes deep in their own territory, Johnston struck the ball poorly, resulting in a low line drive that hit an OSU player at its own 23-yard line, which made it a dead ball. It was a net punt of just five yards, by far his shortest of the season.
Fortunately for Johnston, the OSU defense was able to cause Michigan State’s offense to stall out. A missed field goal by junior Michael Geiger meant there was no damage done, but nevertheless, Johnston’s blunder could have been costly for the Buckeyes.
For the most part, the Geelong, Australia, native had a solid day outside of the five-yard punt but even so, it was too big of a black eye to ignore. Due to the offense’s ineptitude, he finished the day with eight punts for an average of 38.4 yards per punt.
Will OSU repeat last year’s strategy for Cook’s top receiver?
Last year when the Buckeyes and Spartans squared off in East Lansing, Michigan, the OSU defense was determined to shut down former Michigan State star wide receiver Tony Lippett. To do so, they employed Doran Grant to blanket Lippett wherever he went on the turf.
It worked well, as he was limited to under 70 yards receiving.
To stop Michigan State’s top target this season, senior wideout Aaron Burbridge, there was talk about potentially using redshirt sophomores Eli Apple or Gareon Conley to do the same thing.
OSU opted to go a different route, where Apple and Conley stayed on a predetermined side of the field, rather than one guy following Burbridge throughout the whole game.
Despite the less-than-stellar conditions to throw the ball, Burbridge led all receivers with 62 yards on four catches. He also drew a critical pass interference call on Apple that helped set up Michigan State’s first touchdown of the game.
It was the stellar Spartan run game that hurt OSU the most, but Burbridge still a solid outing in the midst of it.