Michigan State changes narrative of program by muscling past Ohio State
Zero was the amount of B1G regular-season losses Urban Meyer had at Ohio State.
Zero was the total number of Tyler O’Connor’s career starts.
Zero was the chance the Spartans were given when it was revealed that O’Connor — not Connor Cook — would be under center on Saturday.
Zero was how many kicks Michael Geiger made in rainy, windy conditions at Ohio Stadium in the first 59 minutes and 57 seconds.
Zero was how many seconds in which Michigan State possessed a lead against its two biggest rivals.
But all it took was one.
One gutsy effort came from a Michigan State defense that was told all week about how the Ohio State offense was going to finally explode.
One extra effort on a quarterback sneak from O’Connor extended the drive and gave the Spartans a chance to finally get over the hump.
One chance was all Geiger needed. One chance was all Michigan State needed.
And this time, the Spartans didn’t miss it.
“Biggest kick of my life and I f****** nailed it,” Geiger said on the MSU postgame radio broadcast.
Geiger drove the dagger through Ohio State’s national title hopes, and oddly enough, maybe Michigan’s. On a day that was supposed to be the Buckeyes’ coming out party, it was MSU’s.
On the biggest stage, Mark Dantonio’s group played with a bigger chip on its shoulder than he ever could’ve hoped for. His team wasn’t going to beat the Buckeyes by having more five-star recruits or having more NFL draft prospects.
Saturday was about Michigan State finally showing the grit that it lacked in its headliner games. When the Spartans collapsed in the second half against Oregon last year, it wasn’t there. When Ohio State came into their house and J.T. Barrett played the game of his life, it wasn’t there. When it lacked focus on the final drive at Nebraska this year, it wasn’t there.
Saturday, the grit was finally there.
They bottled up an All-American tailback in Ezekiel Elliott, which resulted in Urban Meyer’s worst offensive output as a head coach. The Michigan State defense was so stout that Ohio State gained a whopping TWO first downs in the second half. And when MSU needed to cash in late, Gerald Holmes twisted and plowed his way into the end zone to cap off the biggest drive of Michigan State’s season.
The fourth quarter showed the very characteristic Dantonio wanted to define his team.
You could argue the grit was there when it roared back against Baylor in the Cotton Bowl last season, or that it was there when the Spartans stunned Michigan in Ann Arbor in October.
But you could also argue that the Baylor win was just another nice win to cap a solid season, and that the Michigan victory only happened because of a fluky play.
There were no arguments about what Saturday meant for the Spartans. They finally changed the narrative that surrounded them with every 11-win season. No longer are they in a class below Ohio State. The notion that the Spartans are anybody’s little brother is laughable (Michigan and Ohio State both said that). Big brother bullied its way to a win in Columbus.
The national perception of Dantonio’s program changed on Saturday. And if it didn’t, it should have.
The college football world had written off MSU after it lost to Nebraska. The national title dream was supposed to end when Blake O’Neill dropped back to punt the ball away in Ann Arbor. It probably should’ve ended with that non-out-of-bounds touchdown in Lincoln. Surely it was over when Cook took a headset instead of a helmet on Saturday.
But now, with a chance to clinch the spot in the B1G Championship next week, the ride for MSU is far from over. And if the road to November was any indication, we’re in for a hell of a path to the finish.