By: Will Burchfield
“These things snowball,” said Mark Dantonio following Michigan State’s 48-3 loss on Saturday, “and the first thing that should be said is Ohio State played very well.”
But it takes two to produce a blowout, especially one like this, and the Spartans deserve an equal amount of blame.
“We didn’t separate with our receivers. We didn’t throw the ball accurately. We couldn’t protect the quarterback. We couldn’t run the football. Defensively, we didn’t tackle well. We didn’t pressure their quarterback enough and couldn’t stop the run,” said Dantonio. “Consequently, a meltdown happens.”
With a spot in the Big 10 championship game likely on the line, Michigan State was outmanned and overwhelmed. They fell behind early and were down 35-3 at halftime. It could be said they lost their footing, but that would presume they had it from the start.
Dantonio wondered if his team — his young team, it should be noted — was emotionally prepared for a high-stakes game in a hostile environment.
“I thought coming in we were ready to play this football game, but then the closer the game got and the closer it got, in the locker room maybe we were a little flat. I don’t know he said,” he said.
Here’s what he does know. Michigan State’s defense has made a habit of starting games fast, and on Saturday it was nowhere to be found. Ohio State piled up 524 yards, including a whopping 335 on the ground.
“We just came apart,” said Dantonio.
Oddly, it was a matchup that appeared to play in the Spartans’ favor. Ohio State and Urban Meyer preached throughout the week about getting back to the run, and the Spartans entered the contest with the best rush defense in the Big 10.
“We come into the game giving up about 80 yards a game. We gave up 300-something. I wouldn’t have thought that was going to happen,” Dantonio said.
Ohio State’s unpredictable dominance on the ground can be captured in a number of ways, but consider this: In one scamper, an 82-yard touchdown scamper that stretched the lead to 35-0 in the second quarter, Mike Weber nearly matched the average number of rushing yards Michigan State has conceded this year. 87.
The bigger, stronger Buckeyes abused the Spartans at the point of attack, and Weber and J.K. Dobbins took care of the rest. They both finished with well over 100 yards.
“There was a mandate to make sure those guys touched the ball,” said Urban Meyer. “The flow of the game also dictated that we were controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides.”
“Mandates are easy,” he added. “The execution was outstanding.”
For the Spartans, the afternoon was just as frustrating on the offensive side of the ball. They failed to score a touchdown for the first time this season and Brian Lewerke, after throwing for 400 yards in two straight games, came crashing down to earth.
The sophomore went 18-36 for 131 yards and two interceptions before being lifted late in the game.
“I don’t think we threw the ball effectively,” Dantonio said. “Last week he was on top of it, this week not so much. You have to be able to run the ball, too, to take pressure off the throwing game.”
Michigan State wasn’t able to do that either, finishing with 62 yards on 34 carries. It wasn’t for lack of effort. Ohio State’s advantage in the trenches, specifically in terms of speed and power, was just too much to overcome.
It’s been a charmed season for the Spartans. In Dantonio’s words, they’ve “scratched and scrambled” back into the spotlight on the heels of a 3-9 campaign, rising all the way to No. 12 in the country prior to Saturday’s game.
The loss doesn’t negate the progress, nor does it wash away the good vibes. But it serves as a reminder that Michigan State still has a wide talent gap to bridge.
Football is a team game, but ultimately a matter of one-on-one battles. As Dantonio said, “We didn’t win enough.”