COLUMBUS — Ohio State couldn’t take much time to stew about its bad loss to Iowa last week. The Buckeyes had to get their minds right to play Michigan State today because the Big Ten East title is still there for the taking.
No. 13 Michigan State (7-2, 5-1 Big Ten, CFP No. 12) visits Columbus riding high after last week’s 27-24 victory over then-No. 7 Penn State. Thanks to Ohio State’s loss, the Spartans find themselves in a first-place tie with the Buckeyes in the Big Ten East, and the winner today will have the upper hand with two conference games remaining.
“Where we’re at right now is pretty much where we wanted to be, in control of our own situation,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said this week.
With their national championship hopes likely dashed after being routed by Iowa, the Buckeyes (7-2, 5-1, CFP No. 13) are facing some of the biggest questions of the season. Will they play just as hard now that making the College Football Playoff is probably off the table? Is a Big Ten title motivation enough for a program that routinely has a national championship in its sights?
Coach Urban Meyer believes his team will show up.
“We’ve got to move forward and put our laser lights on what’s important,” he said. “That one is done. We have to get on Michigan State.”
Here are some other things to know about today’s game:
Considering the 3-9 finish last season, Michigan State is the Big Ten’s comeback team of the year. Bitten by the injury bug and relying on some new players, the Spartans dropped some close games last season, including a 17-16 rain-swept loss to Ohio State.
The Spartans’ only losses this season have been to Notre Dame and Northwestern in three overtimes.
A solid quarterback has emerged in Brian Lewerke, who threw two touchdown passes last week against Penn State.
Lewerke became the third Big Ten quarterback in the last 20 years to throw for 400 yards in back-to-back games, joining Drew Brees of Purdue (1998) and C.J. Bacher of Northwestern (2007). He has attempted 113 passes over the past two games.
“My arm is sore, for sure,” he said. “Against Northwestern, we spread it out a lot and went with empty sets a lot. Last week, just the kind of coverages that Penn State ran, good for passing lanes, and we definitely took advantage of them.”
Where is J.K.?
Ohio State coaches faced questions this week about why dynamic freshman running back J.K. Dobbins got just six carries against Iowa.
Meyer said he leaves that up to his assistants and prefers not to micromanage. Late in the game the Buckeyes had to keep passing to try to catch up, but it was a mystery why Dobbins didn’t get more carries in the first half. He’s got 914 yards rushing and five touchdowns through nine games.
“We’ve got to get him carries, we’ve got to,” offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson acknowledged. “But I don’t think you can force it, either. We can’t be stubborn about it. He’s a special player, he’s a special kid.”
Can J.T. bounce back?
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett has been an enigma this season.
He followed up a horrible game against Oklahoma in September with six straight high-scoring, stat-padding games. He played one of his best games in the 39-38 win over Penn State only to follow up with a head-scratching collapse against unranked and less-talented Iowa.
Barrett, who worked his way into the Heisman Trophy conversation with the win over Penn State, threw four interceptions against the Hawkeyes, including a pick six on the first play of the game.
Barrett said this week it was a matter of trying too hard to make something happen, then forcing the issue when the Buckeyes got behind.
So what’s next?
“Get back to the fundamentals, and then move on from last week because we’d like to get it back but we can’t, so with that we just have to grow from it, learn from it, get better,” Barrett said.