The team that lost to Nebraska two weeks ago is now a win away from a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Michigan State used a dominating defensive effort and hit a game-winning field goal as time expired to beat Ohio State, 17-14, putting the Spartans a victory away from a Big Ten East Division championship and ending the Buckeyes' quest for an undefeated season.
Playing without starting quarterback Connor Cook, Michigan State turned in a gutsy performance, using defense and a rushing attack to shut down the No. 3 team in the College Football Playoff rankings. The Spartans held the Buckeyes' offense to just 132 total yards, a jaw-dropping statistic considering the star power on that side of the ball for Ohio State. Heisman-candidate running back Ezekiel Elliott gained just 33 yards on only 12 carries, as Urban Meyer & Co. opted not to use their best player more. Meanwhile, the Spartans accumulated 203 yards on the ground.
Perhaps thanks in part to a miserable climate with rain, wind and cold temperatures wreaking havoc at Ohio Stadium, the offenses were mostly ineffective throughout the game. It was a defensive play that helped break an early scoreless tie, as the Ohio State pass rush sacked Michigan State quarterback Damion Terry and forced a fumble. The Buckeyes needed 10 plays — nine of them Elliott rushes — to go just 32 yards but eventually turned that turnover into a touchdown to go up, 7-0.
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But Michigan State's offense answered in impressive fashion, going 75 yards in nine plays, capping that drive with a Tyler O'Connor touchdown pass to full back Trevon Pendleton, who made an excellent stretch for the pylon to tie the game at 7.
Kicker Michael Geiger missed a second-quarter field-goal try that would've put the Spartans in front, and it was still a tie game at the half.
In the third quarter, Ohio State punted away, but Michigan State's Macgarrett Kings muffed the punt inside the 10-yard line, allowing the Buckeyes to recover. The next play was a J.T. Barrett touchdown toss to Jalin Marshall for a 14-7 lead.
But again, the Spartans answered on the very next drive, this time chewing up six and a half minutes while going 75 yards in 13 plays. After getting to the Ohio State 30-yard line, O'Connor picked up back-to-back first downs on option keepers, converting on fourth down and then on third down. That set up a game-tying touchdown tote for Gerald Holmes.
As the fourth quarter wore on, Michigan State punted and pinned Ohio State inside its own 10-yard line. The Buckeyes went three and out, and the Spartans got a short field, going just 25 yards after starting at the Ohio State 48-yard line and setting up a 41-yard field goal try for Geiger. The junior kicker put it through with zeroes on the clock for a walk-off win.
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The Spartans out-gained the Buckeyes, 294-132, holding a potent offense to just 46 passing yards and 86 rushing yards.
Four different ball-carriers had at least eight rushing attempts for Michigan State, with five different ball-carriers going over 20 yards on the ground. Holmes led the way with 65 yards on 14 carries, while LJ Scott had 13 carries for 58 yards. O'Connor and Terry each carried the ball eight times for 25 yards, and R.J. Shelton had a pair of carries for 21 yards.
Michigan State now has the inside track to a Big Ten East Division title and a spot in the conference championship game. A win over Penn State in the regular-season finale next weekend will send the Spartans to Indianapolis to face the Iowa Hawkeyes, who clinched the Big Ten West Division crown Saturday. At 10-1, Michigan State should also not yet be counted out of the College Football Playoff. It might not have as good a chance as an undefeated Big Ten champ would, but it will still have a mighty good chance should it win the conference title.
Ohio State is not yet dead when it comes to reaching the Big Ten title game. The Buckeyes play the Michigan Wolverines in next weekend's regular-season finale, and a Michigan State loss to Penn State would make the winner of that game the East champ. But the Buckeyes no longer control their own destiny.