Grading Michigan State's disaster against Ohio State
A break from reality is always nice. Upsets over Michigan and Northwestern are the carrot on a stick to keep a rebuilding program on track for a brighter future.
But then there’s the slap in the face. A 40-point blowout at the hand’s of one of the nation’s premier teams serves as the reality-check of just how far Michigan State still has to go on its quest to return to Big Ten contention.
“I was very disappointed today on how we played, and we need to do a better job with our guys to get more out of them and we need to figure out how to do that. And we need to figure it out quickly because outings like this are not acceptable,” Mel Tucker said after the game. “I don’t care who we’re playing. Even though that was a good team, when I turn on the film I’m going to be sick to see some of the things that we did, some of the plays that we left on the field. And that’s execution.”
This year has been quite the rollercoaster for Michigan State, but the Spartans seemed to hit a new low just a week after finding a new high. It’s back to the drawing boards as Michigan State still has a quarterback question and a hot Penn State squad coming to town. This is how the Spartans shook out in their worst home loss of the season.
The only saving grace for this is that Michigan State maybe found a better option at quarterback. Payton Thorne came on in relief of an injured Rocky Lombardi in the 2nd quarter and had some modest success.
Of the 7 drives that Lombardi led, 6 ended in a 3-and-out and the other ended with a pick-6 on the 3rd play. Lombardi’s offense mustered all of 55 yards before Thorne relieved the injured starter.
Thorne, who had just 10 completions this season, actually provided a small jolt of energy for the Michigan State offense, completing 11 straight passes, although he did turn the ball over twice.
Thorne’s 20-yard rush with 5:30 left in the 3rd quarter was the only touchdown of the day for the Spartans’ offense. Thorne showed decent mobility in the pocket, buying some extra time against the Buckeyes’ pass rush, and finished as Michigan State’s leading rusher with 42 yards, as the Spartans continue to struggle on the ground.
Entering Saturday, Michigan State had the 4th-worst average yards per carry (2.72) in the nation, so the Spartans running for 2.9 yards a carry against Ohio State is actually progress. For the first time this season, Elijah Collins finished with the most rushing yards among the Spartans’ running backs.
Jayden Reed again showed his explosive potential, reeling in another long catch for 55 yards, but the 261 yards of total offense was Michigan State’s second worst output of the season.
Ohio State, missing upwards of 20 players for COVID-19 related reasons, including 3 starting offensive linemen, still managed to run rampant over the Spartans. Michigan State was nothing more than a mere witness to the magic that is Justin Fields as he unleashed for 199 yards passing, 104 yards rushing and 4 combined touchdowns.
“There’s no secret trick or secret play or coverage you can run to stop really good players,” Antjuan Simmons said. “You just do your job, you run to the ball, and you hit. I feel like we didn’t do those today.”
Ohio State had 6 rushes of at least 20 yards and completed 5 passes of at least 15 yards as Fields frequently broke containment and found wide open receivers en route to a 35-0 lead.
Simmons and Xavier Henderson once again led the defense with 8 tackles apiece, but there’s just not enough players on the Michigan State roster like those two to keep up with the offensive firepower of Ohio State.
Ohio State’s 521 yards were 69 more than any team has managed this season against the Spartans.
Special teams: D
Matt Coghlin connected on his only field goal try from 32, and Bryce Baringer pinned the Buckeyes inside their own 20 four times, but Michigan State’s continued poor field position put the Spartans behind the sticks before the drive could even start.
The Spartans started a pair of drives at their own 1 and 2-yard line and had an average starting field position of their own 26-yard line, which is essentially just taking a touchback for every drive.
If penalties are symbolic of discipline instilled by the coaching staff, a season-high 101 penalty yards on 10 flags is an indictment of Tucker. Tucker himself lost his cool and was flagged for 15 yards.
Jay Johnson was never expected to have an offense that could keep pace with the Buckeyes, but his play-calling was far too conservative. Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor have shown they can occasionally blow the tops off the secondary, but the Michigan State offense continues to not target the two on deep routes.