A Win By Any Other Name
By Brandon Castel
EAST LANSING, Mich. — A win, by the slimmest of margins, never tasted so sweet.
With one 63-yard touchdown pass from Braxton Miller to Devin Smith, Ohio State’s go-to guy in the clutch, the Buckeyes pulled out a 17-16 victory over No. 20 Michigan State Saturday.
It was the first Big Ten victory for OSU head coach Urban Meyer, and the first big win for this program since Miller connected with Smith on a 40-yard bomb to beat Wisconsin last October.
“(It was) a great team win and we learned something about ourselves today,” Meyer said after with an enormous smile on his face.
“I thought it was a great, great atmosphere, bunch of great players on the field, future NFL players. We played at the next level and that was good for college football and good for the Big Ten.”
With the victory, Meyer joined Carroll Widdoes (1944) and his mentor Earle Bruce (1979) as the only coaches in school history to start their careers with five-straight victories.
It didn’t come easy.
The Buckeyes (5-0) had to conquer one of the most fearsome defensive units in the Big Ten, if not the country, while finding a way to bottle up a 250-pound tailback who came in averaging over 150 yards per game on the ground.
They did both Saturday – holding Columbus-native Le’Veon Bell to 45 yards on 17 carries while getting just enough from Miller, who battled three turnovers and a number of injuries, to pull out a tough-fought victory on the road.
“Gutsy effort by our quarterback,” Meyer said.
“He had some miscues but just the toughness. He’s banged up and just kept coming back, kept coming back, and then Philly Brown, I think did a great job.”
Despite facing one of the fastest, most physical defenses he will see all season, Miller carried the ball 23 times for 136 yards. He also completed 16 of his 23 passes for 179 yards, including 12 completions to Brown and the one long touchdown to Smith down the right sideline.
“Devin Smith is becoming a great player right in front of our eyes,” Meyer said of the sophomore from Massillon.
“It was a blitz-a-thon. We had some hits we didn’t hit earlier, but when the ball starts getting moved against them, they blitz. They have good corners. That No. 5 (Ohio native Johnny Adams) is a good corner, and I was just kind of watching, and I said that was the right time. And what a great throw and catch.”
Miller put the ball on the money and Smith ran by Adams for the long touchdown to give the Buckeyes a 17-13 lead late in the third quarter. Ohio State would not score again, but the Spartans (3-2) could not generate any type of a running game against Ohio State defensive front.
The Buckeyes outgained Michigan State 204-34 on the ground, but the three turnovers by Miller (one interception and two fumbles) kept the Spartans in the game. His second fumble came early in the fourth quarter on a play that looked like Miller had suffered a potentially serious injury to his left knee.
“My heart almost stopped,” Meyer said after watching his star quarterback leave the field on a play where he gave the ball back to the opponent.
“I saw his knee jam right in front of me, but I just love Braxton. Braxton’s my guy, I’ve got a great relationship with him. He’s family now.”
Miller’s fumble was actually scooped up by MSU safety Kurtis Drummond, who started racing down the sideline towards the end zone. The play was whistled dead after it looked like Miller might have been down, but it was ruled a fumble on review.
Dan Conroy would connect on a 48-yard field goal to pull Michigan State within a point, at 17-16, but Miller returned on the next drive. With Carlos Hyde back in the lineup – Jordan Hall left the game with a knee injury – the Buckeyes were able to salt away the victory on the ground behind a dominant fourth-quarter performance by the offensive line.
“Offensive linemen don’t show up on the stat sheet, so when you can do something like that, everyone knows it was on the O-line and we responded,” left tackle Jack Mewhort said.
“We won the game. It is just a really good feeling.”
The biggest play of the quarter may have been a 3rd-and-4 at the MSU 49-yard line during Ohio State’s final drive. Before the play, Meyer put his hand in Hyde’s chest and told his junior tailback to “go win us the damn gave.”
Hyde responded by slicing through the middle of the Spartans defense for 5-yard run to put the game away for good. Afterwards, Meyer was jumping around for joy on the field at Spartan Stadium.
“That was a great game,” said Meyer, who hugged his quarterback before scooping up fullback Zach Boren in celebration.
“This ranks as one of the great ones I’ve been a part of. I’m very lucky to have been around some great players, some great teams…this ranks as one of the top wins. This is fantastic.”
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