Michigan State players couldn’t pinpoint the moment things escalated from bleak to blitzed. But they all felt the seismic shift.
“Yeah,” junior safety Khari Willis said, “when they kept scoring on us.”
The 16th-ranked Spartans’ run of defensive dominance came to an ugly end, bleeding into the most lopsided loss of Mark Dantonio’s 11 seasons at MSU. No. 11 Ohio State overwhelmed and overpowered the Spartans from the outset en route to a 48-3 blowout to seize command in the Big Ten East Division.
It eclipsed the previous 42-point loss Dantonio suffered in a 49-7 defeat to Alabama in the 2011 Capital One Bowl. The Buckeyes’ 335 rushing yards are the most allowed by MSU in Dantonio’s tenure, eclipsing the 313 gained by Nebraska on Nov. 3, 2012.
“I thought we were ready to play this football game,” Dantonio said. “But then as the closer the game got … in the locker room, maybe, I don’t know, it could be, but maybe we were a little flat. I don’t know. We didn’t start fast on defense, which we have done.
“And when bad things start to happen, that tests your confidence and everything else you’re doing.”The Michigan State Spartans lost a shot at a Big Ten title with a 48-3 loss at Ohio State on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. Video by Chris Solari/DFP
That leaves the Spartans at 7-3 and 5-2 in the conference with two games remaining, including next week’s home finale against Maryland. MSU wraps up the regular season at Rutgers on Nov. 25. Both games are TBD for kickoff time and TV broadcast info.
The only way MSU can win the East is if Ohio State (8-2, 6-1) loses its final two games — at home vs. Illinois next Saturday, then at Michigan on Nov. 25.
“It is pretty frustrating,” said sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke, who finished 18-of-36 for 131 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. “We had a great opportunity ahead of us, a great chance to do big things. Obviously there’s still some work left and a bowl game.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio speaks to the media after the 48-3 loss to Ohio State on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. Video by Chris Solari/DFP
There wasn’t a singular issue that cost the Spartans on Saturday. It was an amalgamation of ailments coupled with the Ohio State’s superiority from the outset.
The Buckeyes scored 35 straight first-half points, the most ever in a first half at MSU against Dantonio and equaling the 35 allowed in second halves against Northwestern and Penn State last season. Ohio State totaled 524 yards on the day, the most allowed by the Spartans this season and the third straight game of giving up 400-plus yards.
MSU entered the game as the nation’s No. 3 rush defense and without having allowed an opposing running back to gain more than 100 yards against the Spartans’ defense, but two Buckeyes did it Saturday. Cass Tech grad Mike Weber ran nine times for 162 yards, including touchdown runs of 47 and 82 yards before halftime, while freshman J.K. Dobbins also ran for 124 yards on 18 carries.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett threw for 183 yards and two scores through the air. His two rushing touchdowns and 8-yard scoring pass to Dobbins all came less than 6 minutes apart between the end of the first quarter and early portion of the second to give the Buckeyes a 28-0 lead with 9:21 left before halftime.
“Once they went up 28, 35 (points), I said, ‘Hey, you know, we gotta go out there and just have some fun, compete, play hard,’” MSU sophomore linebacker Joe Bachie said. “We have the fight in us — we’re 7-3 now, coming off a really tough year, a tough offseason, so we know we have the fight.”
As much as the defense struggled, so did MSU’s offense. After back-to-back 400-yard games, quarterback Brian Lewerke crashed back to reality under duress from the Buckeyes’ defense. He overthrew and underthrew receivers, was forced from the pocket and chased when he attempted to roll out. The sophomore also had a fumble in the second half deep in his own territory that led to another Buckeyes score.
MSU also ran the ball for just 34 times for 64 yards and finished with a season-worst 195 yards of total offense despite dominating the time of possession by nearly 8 1/2 minutes.
While the Spartans technically still have a chance to get to Indianapolis, It’s highly unlikely Ohio State will lose to the Illini next week. That could be even more surprising as a young MSU team, which was coming off a 3-9 season that was Dantonio’s worst, making it to this point in the season with a legitimate shot at the championship.
But as he’s preached to his team all fall, and again Saturday, Dantonio needs them now to salve the sting quickly. The Spartans did it after losses to Notre Dame and Northwestern, but those games didn’t end their Big Ten title hopes.
“We’re gonna watch the film and then toss it out,” Lewerke said. “No need to harp on it, no need to rewatch it a ton of times. Just kind of forget about it and move on to Maryland.”