Ohio State could have mentally checked out on Saturday.
Instead, the Buckeyes bounced back from their worst loss of the season – a 55-24 loss to Iowa that might have eliminated them from the national championship race – with one of their most dominant and impressive performances of the season, winning 48-3 against a Michigan State team that was actually ranked ahead of them in the College Football Playoff rankings entering Saturday’s contest.
In a game reminiscent to Ohio State’s 2015 win against Michigan, when the Buckeyes won 42-13 one week after a loss to Michigan State knocked them out of that year’s national championship race, Ohio State responded to a devastating defeat by playing as well as it had played all season – in all three phases of the game – and earned a statement win.
"It was just a dominant, nine-strong performance in all phases," said Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard.
Offensively, the Buckeyes did what many had been calling for them to do all season – commit to the power-running game – and achieved spectacular results, rushing for 335 yards and four touchdowns on 42 carries against a defense that had allowed only 87 rushing yards per game entering the season. The Buckeyes scored all 48 of their points – the most points Michigan State has allowed all season – before the end of the third quarter.
Defensively, just one week after allowing the highest opposing point total of Urban Meyer’s coaching career, Ohio State shut the Spartans down in both the throwing game and the ground game, holding Michigan State to just 131 passing yards, 64 rushing yards and zero touchdowns. The Spartans scored their only three points of the game on the final play of the second half – after starting their drive just 43 yards away from the end zone after an interception.
Even on special teams, where the Buckeyes were plagued by kickoff issues for most of the season, Ohio State had an “outstanding” game for the second week in a row, in the words of coach Urban Meyer. All but one of Blake Haubeil’s kickoffs stayed in bounds and were either stopped inside the 27-yard line or went into the end zone for a touchback.
Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa thought Saturday’s game was indicative of how good the Buckeyes really are capable of being.
"I think we’re as good as anybody in the country, but the consistency hasn’t been there,” Bosa said. "When you see everybody click on all cylinders, and then you think about how we play the previous weeks when we lost, it’s tough to think about and it’s frustrating, but we got to keep going.
"I knew, we’re Ohio State, we’re not going to lay down ever. So I knew we were going to come out strong."
“I knew, we’re Ohio State, we’re not going to lay down ever. So I knew we were going to come out strong.”– Nick Bosa
Ohio State center Billy Price said the big difference this week was that the Buckeyes simply executed at a much higher level.
"It comes down to execution," Price said. "We had a pretty good game plan going into the game against Iowa, and just little breakdowns here and there. So that’s literally the only difference this week from last week, guys executed, went in there, didn’t think too much and just got off the ball and have some fun."
Meyer was proud of the way his entire team came together to respond to what happened last week, describing the team's focus as "pretty impressive all week."
"It's a game of momentum," Meyer said. "The brow-beatings that take place and all these things, you need these kinds of things. You need a great performance. And they had a great performance."
Saturday’s win doesn't change Ohio State’s place in the College Football Playoff picture – the Buckeyes (8-2, 6-1 Big Ten) with two losses, will remain on the outside looking in as long as the top teams in other Power 5 conferences (and Notre Dame) continue to have one loss or less. But the Buckeyes can’t change the way they played at Iowa now – they'd need a time machine, which probably won't be invented before the end of the season – so they said they had to put that game out of their minds to be ready to perform the way they did on Saturday.
"We can't go back in the past," said Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett. "We try to just move on, learn from things, learn from losses, and I think that's what we did today."
Saturday’s win does establish Ohio State as the outright leader in the Big Ten East, putting the Buckeyes on the inside track for a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game as long as they can win their final two regular-season games against Illinois and Michigan.
Hubbard said that served as crucial motivation for the Buckeyes to come out and perform at their best on Saturday.
"We had a meeting early in the week, talking about the Big Ten standings and what we need to do from here on out," Hubbard said. "It was mentioned that if we win this game, we’re two spots ahead in the Big Ten East, and that was our focus. We need to win this game and all our laser lights were on what we needed to do to win this game.
"There was no talk of anything but we need to win this game, there was literally nothing else but that, and that’s all that mattered to us," Hubbard added. "We want to leave here with a Big Ten championship, and we can’t control what happens after that, but we’re going to play our best to put ourselves in a position."