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Michigan State has a knack for ruining potentially great Ohio State seasons: 1974, 1998, 2013. But an Orange Bowl spot is a nice consolation prize.
In the BCS/polls
Ohio State dropped to No. 7 in the final version of the final Bowl Championship Series ratings. The Buckeyes ended up No. 6 in the USA Today coaches poll and No. 7 in the Associated Press media poll. Now they are poised to take on BCS No. 12 Clemson in the Orange Bowl. It’s just the second trip for the Buckeyes to that game; they defeated Colorado after the 1976 season.
Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde and Ohio State’s running game. Miller was stopped a yard short on fourth-and-2 on the most crucial play of Saturday night’s game and the season, but, overall, he (142 yards), Hyde (118) and the offensive line helped the Buckeyes rush for 273 yards against the nation’s No. 1 defense against the run. The big question was, why didn’t Hyde get more than 18 carries? As for Miller, there is a good chance he will get invited to New York this week as a fast-rising finalist in the Heisman Trophy race, expected to be won hands down by Florida State’s Jameis Winston.
What’s not hot?
The passing game. Short of those maddening hitch routes, the 36-yard throw to wide-open tight end Jeff Heuerman, and the 20-yard touchdown throw to Corey Brown, there would have been no OSU passing game. Miller was a mere 8 of 21, and several of those misses were the result of tight coverage by an underrated MSU secondary. But where were the quick throws to Heuerman or the slant routes to inside receivers taking advantage of voids caused by the running threats of Miller and Hyde?
What went right?
The run defense, almost all game. It focused on MSU’s Jeremy Langford and almost kept intact its reputation for not giving up 100 yards or more to a back this season. However, he topped that plateau in his last couple of carries, including a 26-yarder for the clinching touchdown, which put him at 128. In the end, the run defense couldn’t make the stop that would get the offense back on the field for a last shot.
Back to the drawing board
Ohio State cannot defend the pass consistently. Despite the extraordinary efforts of defensive end Joey Bosa and frequent quarterback flushing by the defensive front, MSU’s Connor Cook (304 yards, three touchdowns) still was able to get the ball to his receivers, who often were wide open. Devin Gardner did the same the week before, and Nathan Scheelhaase a couple weeks before that. One has to figure that Winston would have enjoyed eyeing such a target-rich environment. When Urban Meyer said it needs to change, and weeks later it doesn’t, well, it should be an interesting next couple of months.
Bradley Roby had to leave briefly with what appeared to be a knee bruise, and Tommy Schutt needed a tape job for a twisted ankle. Both returned to the game, but in the fourth-quarter series that cornerback Roby missed, the Spartans drove to a touchdown.
Neither team could complain of exhaustion after almost interminable stoppages for television timeouts. Televised by Fox, it was a like an NFL game because often there were commercial breaks after a score and after the ensuing kickoff. The game went on way too long.
Clemson, the ipso facto runner-up in the Atlantic Coast Conference because its only loss was a thrashing it took from Florida State and Winston. The Tigers, led by quarterback Tajh Boyd, were riding high after a season-opening victory over Georgia but come in on a down note: a regular season-ending loss to instate rival South Carolina. Meanwhile, the most recent meeting of OSU and Clemson was the last game for OSU coach Woody Hayes, and we all know what happened that night.
This month’s challenge
It will be to replenish the mojo. The Buckeyes were riding the longest winning streak in the country at 24 games until they jumped the track in the fourth quarter against Michigan State. Now they will have a last shot to let it all hang out against another team long on offense and sort of spotty on defense. Miller vs. Boyd has a chance to be one of the more entertaining postseason games.