Ohio State handled Michigan State on Saturday night, but not before the Spartans got their licks in.
There were lots of big plays and key moments that deserved a closer look, so we did just that.
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Here’s what we learned in a second viewing of the game:
1. It’s good to have options.
The zone read and its cousins are not as ubiquitous as they once were in college football, but that does not mean defenses can just forget about them. Justin Fields and Brian Lewerke both reminded us of how effective the quarterback run game can be without overtaking the game plan.
Everyone on the planet has been waiting for Fields to run more, and he obliged Saturday night, hurting the Spartans on scrambles, keeps and designed runs. (He even made something out of nothing when he kept despite a defender having him directly in his sights, so give him a Braxton Miller merit badge.)
We saw the QB power with Fields in the second quarter as he took a shotgun snap and went off tackle. He got a block from J.K. Dobbins, who threw himself at a linebacker and then Fields was patient enough to let the hole develop and then accelerated through it.
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Ohio State lost contain on Lewerke keepers twice and allowed big gains, something that they’ll need to be aware of in the future (perhaps most noteworthy at Michigan, where on the bright side they don’t have to worry about committing extra people to stop the run since the Wolverines’ offensive line is still not very good).
2. Josiah Scott did a little bit of everything.
Michigan State’s junior cornerback from Fairfield High School had an interception and showed some wiggle on the return. He also was effective as a blitzer, tackled well and beat an offensive lineman to stop a screen pass that otherwise likely would have been a big play.
When all was said and done, Scott led MSU with 12 tackles, including nine solos.
Fields and Day explained the interception after the game (MSU was in a coverage that play wasn’t really designed for), but it was still an odd-looking play. Fields took his time going through his reads then just seemed to sort of chuck it. I guess he felt like it was a safe throw because he didn’t think the cornerback would be there.
3. The Binjimen Victor TD pass was more impressive live.
The playfake showed up better from above than on TV.
It looked more like just bad defense on television as it was harder to tell Fields sold the run pretty well so there was no mystery in why the defense reacted to him. Regardless, it appeared that Ohio State’s trips formation to the field had Michigan State outflanked anyway.
And even beyond that, you have to give Victor credit for making a nice move to get free of the safety and Scott’s hustle to nearly deny him the touchdown coming from the other side of the field.
4. Michigan State’s touchdown was good scheme and execution.
Darrell Stewart got open against Jeffrey Okudah, who was in a tough spot because pre-snap motion took away his deep safety help.
This is a good example of why Jeff Hafley explained in a clinic in the spring he likes to play one high safety all the time – to simplify things for the cornerbacks, who can eliminate some potential routes if they know they have deep middle help.
It was also a nice throw and catch. Lewerke wasn’t perfect, but he made some big-time throws.
5. Fields paid the price for being patient early in the game but stayed the course and was rewarded.
There’s a fine line between waiting for someone to come open and holding the ball too long, but the sophomore’s insistence on keeping plays alive paid off when he found Luke Farrell after waiting him out for the second touchdown of the night.
6. The Dobbins touchdown run was a great combination of execution and talent.
The interior linemen all got important blocks with Josh Myers' sealing off Bachie the biggest, but Dobbins really showed some burst getting through the hole and to the second level right now. He beat the safety to a spot then ran to daylight.
Very impressive run and a killer play for MSU. Scott was the one who could have brought him down but tried to punch the ball loose and ended up coming up empty.
7. Michigan State’s defense is legit.
I did not have to watch the game again to know this, but reviewing it helps define just how many different defenders are good players.
The front seven is really tough. Kenny Willekes was relatively quiet after the first few plays, but Raequan Williams, Antjuan Simmons, Joe Bchie and Xavier Henderson all flashed at various times.
I figured they would make Ohio State earn what it got, and that was how it played out.
8. Ohio State’s depth: Also not a rumor.
If you want to know how the season is going, midway through the third quarter with Michigan State not quite out of it the Spartans had a key third down play in which they had to deal with a reserve Ohio State DE (Tyreke Smith) beat their right tackle to pressure Lewerke into a short throw that didn’t go anywhere because the tight end who caught it was bullied to the ground by a reserve safety (Josh Proctor).
Then to get the ball out from under the shadow of their own goal line, the Buckeyes handed the ball to Master Teague, the backup running back, twice and he got a first down in two carries.
A couple of times Ohio State showed off 5-2 double eagle or “bear” front with Baron Browning and Malik Harrison as outside linebackers/rush ends. Browning got a sack on it in the third quarter. Chase Young, Tyreke Smith and Zach Harrison (at nose guard) is not a line opponents are going to be happy to have to deal with. (Young at 3-technique tends to get extra attention, as you can imagine.)
Earlier in the drive Young beat his guy to force a sack for Jashon Cornell and Tuf Borland, so it’s safe to say he had a great impact than his four tackles (one for loss, .5 sack) would indicate.