The outcome of the entire year comes down to the final week of the college football season for the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes as they prepare an epic matchup with archrival No. 3 Michigan. When these two teams meet at the end of each season, the records can be thrown away because it comes down to execution in arguably the greatest rivalry in all of sports.
However, it almost didn’t happen that way. And if OSU plays the way it did against Michigan State, OSU’s chances at a national championship will dilute to nothing.
“Fumbles and two big plays in the first half, that’s not us and that can’t be us,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said after Saturday’s Michigan State game. “We’ll lose next week if we play like that.”
Michigan, or “That Team Up North” as it’s commonly referred to by players, is always the biggest game on OSU’s schedule every season — same goes for Michigan. The hatred and respect between the two programs is unrivaled, especially when considering the polarizing personalities on the two sidelines. However, there comes humility.
Michigan State had an opportunity to win the game on the final drive against OSU in East Lansing, Michigan. The Buckeyes’ defense stood tall with an interception from redshirt junior cornerback Gareon Conley in the final minutes of the game to preserve the victory, setting up the biggest edition of The Game in a decade.
It wasn’t just Meyer who said the team was underwhelming against the Spartans. Redshirt junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis, who was instrumental in the final defensive stand, echoed his coach.
“Come out next week kind of flat, you obviously won’t win the game,” Lewis said.
One of OSU’s most concerning storylines from Michigan State was the susceptibility to the big plays, especially on the ground.
Spartans’ sophomore running back L.J. Scott had more than 160 rushing yards and a touchdown. He broke several tackles and consistently got to the second, and sometimes third, level. Co-defensive coordinator and associate head coach Greg Schiano said that the caliber of play from the Silver Bullets on Saturday was uncharacteristic.
“We just missed tackles, just got to capitalize on those plays, on those short-yardage plays,” Lewis said. “Big Ten has a lot of physical ball carriers, so they’re going to fight for those extra yards. We just got to do a better job with that.”
Michigan running back De’Veon Smith presents the same challenges for the OSU defense. At all skill positions, the Wolverines possess NFL-caliber talent and will likely give the defense its greatest test yet.
For the offense, redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett and redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber both eclipsed 100 yards on Saturday. However, Barrett threw for just 86 yards on 10-of-22 passing. The weather played a factor, but OSU still only had 304 total yards of offense following two straight games of more than 500 yards each.
Meyer expressed that the team enjoyed the Michigan State victory, but there is no time to think about any mistakes made against the Spartans. Michigan leads the country in total defense and scoring defense, allowing just 245.6 yards and 10.9 points per game.
The Buckeyes will be looking to get the trio of Barrett, Weber and junior H-back Curtis Samuel heavily involved in The Game at noon at Ohio Stadium.
“We have to utilize all the weapons … Statistically the offense is pretty good,” Meyer said. “But you’re going to need it. Against a defense like this, you’ll need every one of them playing their best.”