COLUMBUS — Sometimes the student becomes the teacher.
After being taught a lesson by Iowa last week, No. 13 Ohio State studied its notes, prepared and then administered a similar beatdown to 12th-ranked Michigan State in Ohio Stadium Saturday.
It wasn’t even midway through the second quarter when the Buckeyes had more than 300 total yards and 35 points on the board. Running back Mike Weber had touchdown runs of 47 and 82 yards, quarterback J.T. Barrett had two rushing scores for 4 yards each, and freshman phenom J.K. Dobbins scored on an 8-yard touchdown pass. By then it was over and not even halftime.
Ohio State (8-2, 6-1 Big Ten) dismantled the Spartans (7-3, 5-2 Big Ten) 48-3, effectively took control of the Big Ten East, and showed everyone why it was a surprising 17-point favorite.
The Buckeyes also showed everyone what could have been if they didn’t blow their national title hopes last week at Iowa.
Head coach Urban Meyer went back to the ground game against Michigan in 2015 after the Spartans ended Ohio State’s playoff chances. After Iowa did the same, Meyer again reinstated his team’s identity on the ground.
For weeks, fans had called for Dobbins to have more touches and for Ohio State to run the ball more. In the first half alone, Dobbins had 10 carries and the Buckeyes ran the ball 26 times compared to nine passes. Last week he had just six carries.
Dobbins and Weber combined for 27 carries Saturday, compared to 11 against Iowa.
“I feel like after a loss you want to get back to what you’re good at and establishing the run game,” Barrett said. “So just getting back to who you are, whether it be fundamentals or even when it comes to offensively and defensively making calls and things like that.”
Ohio State’s offense, which gained 512 yards by the end of the third quarter, was just that much better Saturday because it established a ground attack from the beginning. A ground attack that gained 321 yards on 36 carries on the legs of Dobbins, Weber and Barrett against the nation’s third-best rush defense.
Like the offense, the Ohio State defense was that much better this week than last week from the first snap.
Sophomore linebacker Malik Harrison and sophomore defensive end Nick Bosa sacked Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke on the first drive to set the tone for the game. Even when Lewerke wasn’t on the ground, he was being pressured and had to scramble outside the pocket, throwing inaccurately on the run.
Given the inability of Ohio State’s defensive line to put any pressure on Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley last week, and the passing defense allowing multiple chunk plays, Lewerke’s two consecutive 400-yard passing games was possibly going to be extended to three.
Lewerke completed 18-of-36 passes for 181 yards and threw two interceptions, however. The OSU defensive line played like it was supposed to, as one of the best units in the country, and the secondary did its job. Ohio State allowed 195 total yards.
“I knew last week we kind of laid an egg,” Bosa said. “Came out flat and the attitude was completely different this week and I knew that this wasn’t going to be close. We were going to come out strong.”
But, it still doesn’t matter. Iowa spoiled the end goal and Ohio State let it happen.
Sure, Ohio State can still win the Big Ten championship, which should be a celebrated accomplishment for a football team. Yet, reigning atop the country is different than reigning your conference.
“When you see everybody click on all cylinders and then you think about how we played the previous weeks when we lost,” Bosa said, “it’s tough to think about and it’s frustrating, but you gotta keep going.”
Saturday was a good victory for Ohio State. Michigan State is a formidable opponent and the Buckeyes dominated. Weber said the focus all week was getting back to square one and the team’s true identity. However, the team should have never had to do that. It should have never lost to Iowa.
In the end, Ohio State might win the Big Ten title, but the notes the Buckeyes will take from the Michigan State game compared to the ones recorded from the Iowa game will reflect an opportunity missed.
The team that beat Michigan State should’ve always been the teacher, and never the student.