EAST LANSING - Coming off of back-to-back wins, No.18 Michigan State looked to continue its ‘November push’ on Saturday afternoon as the Spartans played host to No. 10 Ohio State at Spartan Stadium with the hopes of avenging last year’s 48-3 loss in Columbus.
Despite another stellar defensive performance, the Spartans were unable to come away with their second upset of a top 10 team this year, as a poor effort from the offense and poor coaching decisions were too much for the Spartans to overcome as Ohio State pulled away in the second half for a 26-6 win.
Saturday’s game saw the Spartans make two changes at quarterback, first pulling Brian Lewerke, who was ineffective for much of the first half, late in the second quarter in favor of backup Rocky Lombardi. Then, after Lombardi led Michigan State’s only scoring drives of the day, Lewerke was reinserted at quarterback for the remainder of the game.
Coming out of halftime trailing 7-3, Michigan State (6-4 overall; 4-3 Big Ten) appeared to have grabbed its first lead of the game when they again turned to their bag of tricks as wide receiver Cody White took ball from Lombardi and found a wide open in the end zone for what would have been a 27-yard touchdown. But the score was called back on a penalty for an illegal man downfield.
The Spartans eventually settled for Matt Coghlin’s second field goal of the day to cut the Ohio State lead 7-6 with 5:35 left in the third quarter.
Ohio State (9-1 overall; 6-1 Big Ten) dominated the field position battle throughout Saturday afternoon as Ohio State punter Drue Chrisman repeatedly pinned the Spartans deep in their own end with five of his punts being down inside the Michigan State 5-yard line.
Chrisman then pinned Michigan State back at their own 1-yard line late in the third quarter and after the Spartan offense went 3-and-out, the Michigan State coaching staff made a questionable decision to take a safety instead of punting the ball away. With the Spartans lined up to punt, the ball was snapped far out of the reach of freshman punter Will Przystup and through the back of the end zone, extending Ohio State’s lead to 9-6.
On Michigan State’s next offensive possession, the Spartans were again starting inside their own 5-yard line and on the first play, Ohio State recovered a fumble in the end zone, widening the Buckeyes’ lead to 16-6 with 14:03 left in the fourth quarter.
The Spartan offense would cough the ball up again on the next possession as Lombardi’s option pitch to La’Darius Jefferson couldn’t be handled, giving Ohio State the ball back deep in Michigan State territory.
But after the Spartan defense again came up with an impressive stand, recovering an Ohio State fumble to keep the Buckeye lead at 10, head coach Mark Dantonio and the coaching staff made the questionable decision to go back to Lewerke, who had not taken a snap since the second quarter.
The decision was one that didn’t add up considering Dantonio’s reputation of going with the ‘hot hand’ and Lombardi, not Lewerke guided Michigan State on their two scoring drives of the game.
Considering the offense has looked out of sync dating with Lewerke at quarterback in recent weeks, Spartan Nation wrote earlier this week that starting Lombardi would give the Spartans their best chance to win on Saturday afternoon.
Lewerke finished with 128 yards passing on 11-of-28 passing. Lombardi completed 7 of his 20 pass attempts for 92 yards and also rushed for 49 yards on three carries.
After an interception by Lewerke, Ohio State put the game out of reach as Mike Weber scored on a 2-yard run to make it 26-6 with just over one minute left to play.
Weber, a Detroit native, rushed for 104 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown to lead Ohio State, while quarterback Dwayne Haskins finished with 227 yards on 24-of-39 passing.
With the Michigan State offense failing to get going throughout the first half, the Ohio State offense took advantage of a worn down Spartan defense late in the second quarter.
The Buckeyes would us an 11-play, 55-yard drive to drive deep into Michigan State territory and take a 7-0 lead as Paris Campbell Jr. took a touch pass from Haskins and ran into the end zone off the right side for a 1-yard score with 1:29 left to play.
After the offense struggled mightily with Lewerke under center, Dantonio turned to backup quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who Dantonio called his team’s “Ace reliever” earlier this week to try and jumpstart the offense on the final drive of the first half.
Lombardi’s first throw of the game went for a 27-yard gain to White as the redshirt freshman moved the offense into Buckeye territory with ease, eventually setting up a 44-yard field goal from Matt Coghlin, cutting the Ohio State lead to 7-3 at halftime.
Michigan State will try to get back on track next week when the Spartans travel to Nebraska next Saturday.
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