Michigan State football: Spartans clearly not ready for the big time just yet
It was supposed to be a knock-down, drag-out, old-style Big Ten battle — at least, that’s how No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Ohio State was billed entering Saturday.
A true showdown.
Anticipating a tightly played game, probably more like hoping for one, Spartans coach Mel Tucker said he didn’t want a shootout vs. the Buckeyes in Columbus.
Well, he didn’t get one of those at all.
In fact, it was more of a merciless beating, just for the sake of showing who’s the boss — and it only took 17 minutes of game time for the Buckeyes to seal the deal.
Following domination via critical strikes through the air, Ohio State led 21-0 after the first quarter and delivered another body-shot by way of a short passing TD during the first 2 minutes of the second quarter.
Pack up your stuff, Spartans.
It was 49-0 at the break and ugly the rest of the way. And really, the 56-7 final doesn’t really reflect OSU’s grip on the flow of the game. The outcome was never in doubt.
Ohio State kept throwing jab after jab for the final 2 quarters. The Buckeyes dipped into their depth chart, just to provide experience for the next group of Big Ten beaters and give their starters a breather for next weekend’s season finale vs. Michigan.
Yes, MSU’s notoriously bad pass defense was picked apart by the nation’s top aerial artists. Buckeyes QB CJ Stroud had 393 yards and 6 TDs in the first half — the worst damage done to the Spartans all year.
During the opening 15 minutes, Stroud threw a 23-yard TD pass to Chris Olave. Then there was a 77-yarder to Garrett Wilson. Then another to Olave, a 43-yarder that enabled him to set an OSU career-record for receiving touchdowns (35).
THAT’S THE RECORD! Chris Olave has the most TD catches in @OhioStateFB history ‼️
Buckeyes take a 21-0 lead 😳
— 247Sports (@247Sports) November 20, 2021
On average, the Spartans were giving up 329 passing yards per game, worst in the country. Stroud had 245 yards and 4 passing TDs just minutes after the close of the first quarter. He didn’t even need the entire half to basically tilt the Spartans to their season average limits.
Completing 32 of 35 attempts, Stroud finished with 432 yards and 6 touchdowns — in just 2.5 quarters. Backup Kyle McCord played the remaining 1.5 quarters, just to get reps and rest Stroud for Michigan.
Challenge Ohio State? Backyard street-fight?
Right? Just like how it was advertised?
The Spartans never posed a threat.
Their offense never got into rhythm and their defense just couldn’t fend off the No. 1-ranked total offense in the nation. When the wheels fall off for the Spartans, they really fall off — just take a look at the Purdue game, for example. Saturday was supposed to be Michigan State’s shot at redemption and re-entrance into the four-team College Football Playoff.
Well, it turned out to be the worst-case scenario for Tucker, who’s being considered for a 10-year, $95 million extension, per several media outlets. Now he has to pick up the pieces and prepare for the season-finale against Penn State.
Pass D torched
Spartans CB Chester Kimbrough was a frequent target for Stroud, whose first TD pass of the afternoon came against the vulnerable MSU defender. The TD toss to Wilson in the first quarter was against Kimbrough’s coverage. See the trend? Stroud picked at a weakness and reaped the rewards.
Smart QBs study film and know where to throw, and when to throw. Stroud did his homework.
TWO POSSESSIONS = TWO TOUCHDOWNS FOR OHIO STATE 🔥
The Buckeyes are firing on all cylinders on ABC 📺 pic.twitter.com/IYDXhrexTz
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 20, 2021
Others were guilty of poor coverage too, not just Kimbrough. Darius Snow and Anthony Grose were also burned on TD throws. MSU’s secondary, as a whole, looked like it didn’t belong on the same field vs. the Buckeyes exemplary corps of elite wide receivers.
From Miami’s D’Eriq King to Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe, or Michigan’s Cade McNamara, or Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell — just about every opposing QB has found ways to unravel Michigan State’s safeties and cornerbacks this season. It was only a matter of time until Stroud, who strengthened his Heisman resume, inflicted even worse damage on the field.
For a team that knew it was coming, the Spartans appeared to be helpless as Stroud hit 8 different receiving targets … in the first half alone.
For the first time all season, the Spartans didn’t score in the first half — and that was just one of many alarming signs for Michigan State, which entered with a potent offense in its own right. There was zero production from QB Payton Thorne, who had at least 5 balls altered during first half, including 4 batted at the line of scrimmage. In total, there were at least 7 balls batted/altered in traffic (not counting standard PBUs).
Thorne appeared timid and nowhere near confident. He completed just 8 of 26 attempts for 77 yards in the first half. The Spartans had just 7 first downs, their lowest total from any half of football this season. He finished 14-for-36 for 158 yards and 1 touchdown.
Kenneth Walker III, a Heisman contender, was expected to get a little something against Ohio State. Other than a 15-yard carry in the first half, Walker hardly dented the Buckeyes, turning in 5 carries for 24 yards at the break. He had one more carry, a 2-yarder, and was then removed from the game with roughly 7 minutes to play in the 3rd quarter.
Saturday was brutal for MSU, which had 116 total yards at halftime (224 total).
A late 12-yard TD throw by Thorne to Keon Coleman put the Spartans on the board — that was it, in terms of scoring. Other than a 46-yard reception by Tre Mosley, and that 15-yard run by Walker, the Spartans had nothing, offensively, to speak of after Saturday’s blowout at The Shoe.
In order for MSU to re-emerge as a power, it needed at least to hang tight with the Buckeyes — not even necessarily win, just don’t get embarrassed. From 2011-2016, Michigan State vs. Ohio State was the game to watch in the Big Ten. This year’s matchup was supposed to rekindle the series, but it didn’t turn out that way.
The Buckeyes have skated to gaudy wins for the past 5 seasons — and it doesn’t look like things will change anytime soon.
Michigan State is a good Big Ten team. It had playoff potential for a couple weeks during the season, so that was certainly a step in the right direction for Tucker’s program. MSU beat Michigan, so that provided a boost in the conference’s pecking order.
After Saturday, it was clear (and it has been for 5 years): It’s still Ohio State, and then everyone else.
Maybe next year, Spartans.