Sunday, December 8, 2013

SPARTANS PUT BUCKEYES' TITLE HOPES TO REST IN NAPTOWN

Michigan State wins the Big Ten championship and will play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1988. (AP)
INDIANAPOLIS — Ohio State had national title aspirations going into Saturday night's Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis, needing just one win to punch their tickets to Pasadena.

No. 10 Michigan State had other plans.

Powered behind the nation's best defense, the Spartans held the second-ranked Buckeyes to season lows in points and yardage, while MSU quarterback Connor Cook dismantled the Ohio State secondary en route to a 34-24 upset victory, inside a packed Lucas Oil Stadium.

It was the first loss for the Buckeyes (12-1, 8-1 Big Ten) in the past 25 games, as well as the first defeat under the tutelage of head coach Urban Meyer. The loss also prevents the Buckeyes from playing in Pasadena for either the BCS Championship or the Rose Bowl.

Michigan State (12-1, 9-0), however, will be playing in their first tournament of roses in a quarter century.

Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio said the win is a monumental boost for the program.

"It’s hard to put it into words," Dantonio said following the win. "The Rose Bowl is something that we’ve dreamed about and talked about since day one.  It means so much not only to me but to all the players that have been in this program.

"This is a program win."

In the other locker room, the mood was a bit more somber.

"I’m just at a loss for words," OSU junior all-American linebacker Ryan Shazier said after the defeat. "I haven’t lost in a while and it kind of hurts. We worked so hard and it just slipped out of our hands. We’ve just got to keep working and try to get ready for the next game."

Michigan State held the Buckeyes offense (2nd in nation scoring) to half of their season output, surrendering just 24 points and less than 375 yards in the win.

Although the dynamic backfield duo of quarterback Braxton Miller and tailback Carlos hyde managed to gash the Spartans on the ground for 260 yards and two touchdowns (both by Miller), the Buckeyes were unable to get anything working in the air, finishing with just 101 yards and one score.

Miller finished the game with a dismal completion percentage of 38.1.

OSU senior center Corey Linsley gave credit to the Spartans' aggressive approach for why the Buckeyes' passing game faltered Saturday night, especially early on when MSU jumped ahead 17-0 just minutes into the second quarter.

"I’m usually looking for all those internal blitzes they run. I just screwed up," Linsley said. "The first quarter was my worst quarter probably ever. I wasn’t looking for any of the blitzes. I mean I was but I wasn’t picking them up. 

"Those blitzes definitely disrupted us."

While most eyes coming in were on Miller and the Buckeyes high-scoring attack, it was the Spartans' offense — led by Cook — that stole the show.

Cook racked up 304 yards and three touchdowns against the Buckeyes on Saturday night, including scoring strikes of 72 and 33 yards early in the second quarter to put the Spartans ahead 17-0.

The Buckeyes went on a deadly offensive after falling behind by 17, scoring 24 unanswered points on the Spartans, led by the feet of Miller and Hyde.

"Yeah I definitely felt like we took over control," Hyde said of the Buckeye scoring barrage in the second and third quarters. "We came out and started clicking on offense, and started scoring points. We came out pretty good in the second half. We started going back to our basic plays, running the ball, power plays and a few tight zone plays."

It appeared that the Buckeyes had weathered the Spartan storm, putting themselves back into the BCS title game.

But then the Dantonio-led Spartans stepped up the intensity — in all phases of their attack.

While Cook and the Michigan State offense were able to recapture the lead early in the fourth quarter — on a 9-yard touchdown pass to Josiah Price — it was the Spartans' top-ranked defense that once again became the catalyst for victory.

With the Buckeyes driving late in the game, they faced a fourth-and-2 at the MSU 39. The speedy and elusive Miller took the snap and went off the right tackle, only to be met by a wave of green that stopped the Buckeye star dead in his tracks, forcing a turnover on downs.

Moments later, Spartans tailback Jeremy Langford — who rushed for 128 yards in the win — put the nail in the Ohio State coffin, scoring on a run from 26 yards out with just 2:16 to play in the game.

Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, that fourth down play will haunt them for a long time to come.

"Coulda woulda shoulda," Linsley said of that play. "That was the game."

Now the Buckeyes will have to regroup and move on from their dreams of a national title trip to southern California.

"I mean our character is going to show," Linsley said. "Personally I think we’re going to do alright. Our only option left is to have a lot of fun working our butts off to win whatever game we get. It will show our true character. 

"We can sit there and blame this, and blame that and whatever, but the only way you’re going to get any production out of yourself is if you look at what you did wrong and correct it."