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Football: Defense makes plays when it has to, focus shifts to Michigan

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OSU junior defensive end Jayln Holmes (11) watches as OSU junior cornerback Gareon Conley (8) catches the game winning interception during the Buckeyes' 17-16 win over MSU on Nov. 19. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

OSU junior defensive end Jayln Holmes (11) watches as OSU junior cornerback Gareon Conley (8) catches the game winning interception during the Buckeyes’ 17-16 win over MSU on Nov. 19. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

EAST LANSING, Mich. — The No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes had witnessed a familiar scene to Saturday’s against Michigan State not even 365 days ago. The Scarlet and Gray battled freezing conditions, rain and snow mixed and gusting winds for 58 minutes of the game, but the outcome rested on the shoulders of the defense.

In 2015, Michigan State then-junior quarterback Tyler O’Connor and then-freshman running back L.J. Scott drove to OSU territory for a game-winning field goal. On Saturday at Spartan Stadium, the defense would have none of that.

MSU was trailing 17-16 with 2:03 left on the clock needing only a field goal. Redshirt junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis stripped the ball from O’Connor, but Michigan State recovered on its own 10. Lewis then disrupted O’Connor, forcing him to float a pass that wound up in the arms of redshirt junior cornerback Gareon Conley. OSU survived in East Lansing.

“End the game. Just end the game and get it over with,” Lewis said. “Had them backed up so the plan was to get off the field, get the ball back to the offense, take a knee and get out.”

With its season hanging in the balance, the Silver Bullets were able to get the stop they needed to set up a colossal matchup next week against No. 3 Michigan.

Conley brought the ball he intercepted into the postgame press conference.

“Means the world,” Conley said. “Every game I take advantage of, and every time I get a chance to go out there … I know that I gotta give my all. And it’s just an honor to get this ball.”

The Ohio State rushing defense was ranked 11th in the nation entering Spartan Stadium on Saturday. However, Scott gave the Buckeye defense all kinds of trouble. By halftime, he had 151 yards of offense.

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio elected to feed Scott the ball on every play on the Spartans final scoring drive. Scott had eight carries for 52 yards and a touchdown, as he broke several tackles on his way down the field and into the end zone.

The sophomore from Hubbard, Ohio, finished the day with 160 rushing yards, 236 total yards and two total touchdowns.

With more than four minutes left in the game, Dantonio put up two fingers signaling he was leaving his offense on the field. Mimicking another Cleveland native Tyvis Powell who intercepted a two-point conversion attempt at Michigan to save the season in 2013, redshirt junior linebacker Chris Worley jumped in front of an O’Connor pass to hold the one-point lead.

“I was just kind of really just spying on the quarterback,” Worley said. “I saw in his eyes that he really didn’t want to run the ball and I zoned off the ball and played off.”

Conley’s interception and Worley’s play in the end zone were just two examples of the defense stepping up when it needed to. Several defensive players pointed out they missed several tackles on Saturday — something that’s uncharacteristic of OSU’s defense. However, the defensive secondary took advantage of poor passing conditions and held the Spartans to 127 passing yards.

“They’re really fine players,” said Greg Schiano, OSU co-defensive coordinator. “Our job is to put them in a position to make some plays, and they don’t disappoint. Generally you can count on them making the plays that are there for them. That’s a blessing as a coach.”

With Michigan State in the rearview, eyes are set on the rival Wolverines in The Game. OSU coach Urban Meyer said the team is going to enjoy the win, but the focus is already on That Team Up North.

“Think about it all year, but we gotta step one step at a time,” Conley said. “Now it’s here, go out and make plays.”

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