Senior Day wasn't supposed to go like this.
With Ohio State facing its first legit opponent of the season and looking to send out the seniors and numerous juniors headed to the NFL with one last home victory, the Buckeyes couldn't get anything going offensively and failed to make key stops late allowing Michigan State to pull off a 17-14 stunner in Ohio Stadium.
The loss all but assuredly halted Ohio State's bid to repeat as national champs, stopped a 23-game winning streak and further magnified the struggles of an offense that through 11 games has yet to click on all cylinders.
As painful as it is the Buckeyes must figure out a way to circle the wagons and turn their attention to The Game which now sits just seven sunrises away.
Before the focus shifts to Jim Harbaugh's outfit here are Five Things from a dreary, teary night in the Shoe.
PLAYING NOT TO LOSE ENDS IN LOSS
Remember when Urban Meyer tried to score 50 points every team by speeding up the tempo and throwing haymakers at opposing defenses? I do, but not this year.
Instead, with a three-headed monster of Ed Warinner, Tim Beck and Meyer calling the plays for an offense featuring bouts of indecision around staffing the quarterback position, a line that has yet to match last year's effectiveness and spotty wide receiver play all complemented by the best running back in America, the playcalling became painfully conservative.
Beyond the passive playcalling the offense's overall strategy and identity became cloudy and it all came to a head versus an aggressive Spartan defense.
Front and center in the calamity was Ezekiel Elliott receiving just 12 touches which served as his lowest touch total of the season (13 vs. Va. Tech). Amazingly, eight of his touches came on Ohio State's first touchdown drive. From there, he'd earn just one touch over the next three possessions before halftime and recorded just two over the game's final 30 minutes with Ohio State's season on the line.
Effectively, the trio of playcallers eliminated Zeke's opportunity to be a factor in the game though it's fair to note that when Elliott did tote the rock there was no room to run as evidenced by his 2.8 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, J.T. Barrett was called on 15 times in the run game (2.9 per carry) and in the passing game – as we've seen all season – he was basically given two options; throw it laterally or (sparingly) throw it deep. Of course throwing it deep proved difficult with so little time to throw. Barrett just missed Braxton Miller on a bomb and would've likely connected if he had just a hair longer to throw.
I am still puzzled with the lack of any intermediate passing attack in this team's arsenal. Through 11 games it feels like the only time this offense employs slants or crosses or mid-range out routes is when it's 3rd and 10 and the routes are designed to get seven yards.
MISTAKES WEREN'T LIMITED TO THOSE WEARING HEADSETS
While the questionable offensive game plan was the most frustrating aspect of the game it can't be overlooked that some of Ohio State's most talented players turned in disappointing performances.
The team's biggest pro prospect, Joey Bosa, looked out of sync for much of the night (4 stops, 0 TFL, 0 sack) and one of his three offsides penalties, shortening a 4th and 8 to 4th and 3 which Sparty converted and scored the game-tying touchdown (14-14) five plays later, was particularly deflating.
Mike Thomas, a man destined for NFL fortune himself, had a drop and finished with two catches for eight yards. Fellow receiver Jalin Marshall had a couple drops.
There were whispers of Eli Apple also claiming he's going pro as part of the postgame drama. He's certainly an NFL talent but the timing seemed odd, if true, considering Aaron Burbridge won every one on one matchup with Apple on the way to four catches for 62 yards, or 70% of Sparty's total pass yards.
The great Cameron Johnston put three punts inside the 20 but shanked another just five yards giving Michigan State the ball at the OSU 23 though Sparty failed to capitalize.
Barrett, a year after torching the Spartans, looked timid and completed just 56% of his throws.
The offensive line lost the battle up front early and often with the game plan seemingly petrified of the Chase Farris / Shilique Calhoun matchup and even the team's best lineman, Taylor Decker, wasn't at his best especially as the designed rollouts forced him to block on the run.
Josh Perry got beat by a fullback on a wheel route for at touchdown. Vonn Bell had just three tackles.
This is not to single anyone out or insinuate any player was more worried about the NFL (as I've seen suggested on twitter etc) – the players fought hard for 60 minutes – it's just to provide perspective that the outcome wasn't solely on the coaches.
DROP THE MIC
So much for the effectiveness of the media "cooling off period".
By now we've all seen and heard Elliott's critical comments of the playcalling as part of his postgame presser culminating in the announcement that he won't be returning to Ohio State.
I get it, Elliott is an emotional guy who was frustrated by what he felt was his own coaching staff eliminating him from having a legit shot to save Ohio State's season. There's certainly a lot of truth in that argument. That said, Elliott's rant showed very poor judgment and form.
Elliott is one of the main leaders on this team and to publicly call out Urban Meyer and the offensive staff was disappointing to say the least. Proclaiming he won't be returning to Ohio State next year as if this game had anything to do with that decision was just icing on the turd cake. Anyone applauding his diatribe doesn't understand what it means to be a leader and/or struggles with emotional intelligence.
I love Ezekiel Elliott. He seems like a great kid who got caught up in his frustration with how the day unfolded which was further fueled by the emotional significance of knowing all season this would be his final game in the Shoe. He'll be fine. Ohio State will be fine. But I hope that's a moment in time he wishes he could take back once the smoke clears.
HAT TIP TO DANTONIO
Mark Dantonio is a boss.
Coming in as 13-point underdogs, playing without Connor Cook and losing the turnover battle 2-0, Dantonio's squad was the far more prepared team not to mention being physically and mentally tougher than Ohio State.
The win dropped Urban Meyer to 2-2 against Dantonio's Michigan State program during his OSU tenure. Against all other coaches, Meyer is 46-2 during that same span.
At 10-1, Dantonio has his team right back in the thick of the college football playoff hunt despite a rash of injuries. He lost stud LB Ed Davis before the season started, two starters in the secondary, a host of offensive linemen have missed major time and now he just beat Ohio State without Connor Cook.
We can all focus our attention on what Ohio State did to lose the game but don't forget to give Dantonio some credit for what Michigan State, under the direction of Dantonio, did to win it.
SHAKE IT UP
The season is far from over but last night served as the greatest example yet that Ohio State needs to shake up the offensive staff's roles in the offseason. Maybe that's through turnover, maybe it's through shuffling responsibility but the status quo won't suffice.
The playcalling has been suspect since Tom Herman left for Houston and Meyer hired Tim Beck and promoted Ed Warinner creating a three-pronged approach to offensive game planning.
The current setup has taken some of Warinner's time away from coaching the offensive line and it seems logical to correlate that fact with the lack of consistency and improvement from a group that was the strength of last year's championship run.
Chase Farris plays hard but hasn't gotten any better at pass pro over the course of 11 games. Billy Price's growth feels a bit stunted. Jacoby Boren has more penalties and shaky snaps through 11 games than he did through 15 last year. Meanwhile, Pat Elflein has been awesome and Taylor Decker has been solid though not spectacular.
Next year, it's conceivable only Price will be back with best case seeing Elflein join him. That means if Warinner doesn't take a head coaching job somewhere his efforts will need to be solely focused on shaping an overhauled line instead of dabbling in 33% of the playcalling and game planning efforts.
Beck has taken over some of the playcalling duties while moonlighting as the quarterbacks coach and it's telling that the offense looks rudderless at times as both quarterbacks have shown zero improvement – if not regression – in comparison to last year. Specific to yesterday, to not even attempt to attack Sparty's depleted secondary was flat out criminal. How much of that decision was Beck and how much was Meyer isn't totally clear but either way it's on Meyer as the head coach.
While Meyer evaluates how he employs Beck and Warinner in the offseason I hope he also to take a long look at himself when it comes to answering why OSU's best skill players have been marginalized by its own staff in both losses to Michigan State since his arrival while the overall offensive approach has become so passive this season.