A first-quarter lull didn't keep Ohio State from beating a top-25 opponent by more than three touchdowns.
Michigan State held the Buckeyes to three points in the first quarter before a second-quarter 24-point output. By halftime, Ohio State led by 17 points, and it extended its lead in the fourth quarter, eventually winning, 34-10.
We now take a closer look at 11 plays or sequences of plays from the Buckeyes' sixth win that teach us more about the team entering the second half of the regular season.
1st quarter – 14:28 and 14:20: Justin Fields threw an incomplete pass, and then he got sacked for an 18-yard loss.
- Ohio State ended the first quarter with 16 yards, zero rushing yards and three points. Many of its early issues stemmed from the offensive line.
- Right tackle Joshua Alabi got beat with an inside swim move on 2nd-and-8, but Fields managed to escape the initial pressure. He reset his feet but missed an open Luke Farrell down the field for what would have been a 25-yard catch.
- The following play, Alabi once again got beat inside, and this time Fields couldn't escape the pass-rushers. Rather than throwing the ball away, Fields dropped back even farther and used a spin move to no avail. Dangerously, he was only gripping the ball with one hand as he got sacked.
- Fields has a tendency to hold onto ball longer on third downs as he tries to keep plays alive with his legs.
- After the first two offensive series, Greg Studrawa subbed Branden Bowen in for Alabi at right tackle. Though Bowen said after the game that he had the worst performance of his life, he managed to steady that side of the line for the most part.
1st quarter – 2:35 and 2:30: Justin Fields threw an incomplete pass to Binjimen Victor, and then Fields ran for four yards.
- Not much went right for Ohio State's offense in the first quarter. Even when Fields finally got quality protection and Victor got a couple yards of separation, the pass resulted in an incompletion.
- This has been the narrative of Victor's entire career. He can pull off the spectacular, but he's still not the most consistent option at wide receiver. Victor made up for his drop the following quarter, but the Buckeyes really could've used this play to get rolling.
- The following play, the offensive line issues cropped up once again. This time, Bowen and Wyatt Davis allowed the outside linebacker to stunt in between them. Fields didn't have much room and couldn't pick up the necessary 12 yards for a first down.
2nd quarter – 13:17 and 12:55: Justin Fields threw a 10-yard pass to K.J. Hill, and then J.K. Dobbins rushed for a 13-yard gain.
- On third down, who does Fields target? Hill. He's a weapon in those types of situations.
- Fields got rushed by five Spartans, but the offensive line held up. This is when the tide began to turn.
- The next play, Dobbins had his first run for more than six yards.
- Watch Thayer Munford and Jonah Jackson open up the hole for Dobbins to run through. Josh Myers tossed a linebacker to the ground, and Austin Mack got in front of the safety to keep him out of the play.
- Dobbins showed off both his shake and his power on this run. He side-stepped and stiff-armed the first defender to try to tackle him and bowled over the next as he went down.
- The stats – 116 rushes, 826 yards, 6 touchdowns – back up that Dobbins is running at peak performance. Michigan State has a strong front seven, but he still managed 172 rushing yards with a 7.2 yards-per-carry average.
2nd quarter – 11:53: Justin Fields completed a 60-yard touchdown pass to Binjimen Victor.
- This touchdown came immediately after the Hill catch and Dobbins run. It was the third play in a three-play sequence that opened up the game for Ohio State's offense.
- Ryan Day said on 97.1 The Fan on Monday that the Buckeyes had been working on this play for the past three weeks before pulling it out on Saturday.
- Day: “The idea of that play is to really sell the fact that Justin’s pulling the ball in some sort of riding the side play. Cuts it away, almost to the opposite hash, to really set the bait on it and get that Sam linebacker to bite. I thought Ben did a really good job of selling it and then had the patience, but it’s hard when you’re in a game to count thousand-one, thousand-two and then release, as the game’s going on.”
- Defenses have to respect Fields' legs, so both the linebacker and cornerback come up to defend the quarterback, allowing Victor to get open.
- Victor's change of direction for Michigan State's safety out of position, leading to the touchdown.
- Ohio State ranks 73rd in the country with three passing plays for at least 40 yards this season. These types of plays aren't particularly common from this year's Buckeyes, but Victor is somebody who can make them happen.
2nd quarter – 8:46 and 8:18: Justin Fields rushed for what would have been a 20-yard gain that was called back due to a holding penalty on Garrett Wilson, and then Luke Farrell caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Fields.
- The first play got negated by a holding penalty, but it's worth revisiting.
- Wyatt Davis and Jonah Jackson both knocked Michigan State players over, creating a hole. Dobbins was late getting to the linebacker because he momentarily got stuck behind Davis and Jackson, but Fields showcased impressive patience to wait for the running back to make contact before accelerating.
- If Ohio State wanted to run Fields more, it could do so successfully. However, as Day said after the win, there's a balance between having him run and not calling those types of plays in order to preserve his health.
- The following play, Fields had an abundance of time to go through his progressions before finding Farrell in the middle of the field who scored.
- Farrell after the game: “I saw the end zone. I was like, 'I'm not going down.' I don't know if you remember. I had a short route in the Rose Bowl. I went down at like the 1-foot yard line. I was like, 'That's not happening.'”
2nd quarter – 2:35: J.K. Dobbins rushed for a 67-yard touchdown.
- Josh Myers and Jake Hausmann made key blocks to spring Dobbins. Myers especially thrives at the second level and knocked Joe Bachie out of Dobbins' way.
- Due to the danger of Fields taking off, the safety takes a few steps to the right as the quarterback followed through with his fake. Those steps were the difference between Dobbins getting tackled for a gain of 10 yards and him ending up in the end zone after 67 yards.
- Dobbins read the hole perfectly and exploded through the second level. This was the second-longest run of his career and the longest of the season.
3rd quarter – 8:14: Justin Fields threw an interception that Josiah Scott returned for 34 yards.
- On the 136th pass of the season, Fields finally threw an interception. Day took the blame after the game.
- Day: “The conversation was I told him it was my fault. The look was not the one we wanted in that look. And then I told him, I'm not always going to be right; you gotta make me right. And when the look isn't right, you got to throw the ball in the stands and live to see another down. That was my fault. It was not his fault.”
- Like Day said, Fields could have thrown the ball into the stands. He also overthrew K.J. Hill a bit, but that was because he was trying to get the ball over the dropping linebacker's head.
- Fields threw the ball without his feet set due to pressure up the middle. Jeremy Ruckert couldn't stonewall the defensive end.
3rd quarter – 7:33: Malik Harrison makes a tackle for a two-yard loss.
- Ohio State's defense once again played well against the run, holding Michigan State to 2.5 yards per carry.
- Landers, a week after his best game of the season, played well again on Saturday. On this play, he out-leveraged the right guard and threw him to the side. He and Malik Harrison combined for the tackle for loss.
- Also, watch as Chase Young occupies three defenders and still forces the ball-carrier back inside. He simply requires more attention than anybody else.
3rd quarter – 0:35: Baron Browning sacked Brian Lewerke for a loss of nine yards.
- An interesting defensive lineup on 3rd-and-14. Chase Young and Tyreke Smith lined up at defensive end, and Zach Harrison was the nose tackle. Ohio State blitzed a pair of outside linebackers and had Harrison drop into coverage.
- With the right side of the line needing to worry about Young, the right tackle couldn't swing his hips or drop step fast enough to deal with the speed of Browning.
- Any package that has Browning as a pass-rusher is intriguing. As seen on this sack, he's fast off the edge and at 6-foot-3 and 248 pounds isn't at a size disadvantage.
4th quarter – 7:45: Master Teague rushes for a 13-yard gain.
- Ultimately, this play had no effect on the outcome of the game. But it illustrated what Teague offers in the backfield.
- Teague isn't as shifty as Dobbins, but he's both fast and powerful while searching for ways to get upfield. He doesn't waste any time dancing in the backfield.
- On this run, Jonah Jackson got blown backward into Teague's path, but the running back kept his distance with a stiff arm and turned what could have been a loss into a first down.
- Branden Bowen and Wyatt Davis made the key blocks on this carry.
- Tony Alford after the game: “I need to get him in more in the first half. I need to do things like that. But at the same time, J.K.'s playing pretty well, so I was letting him get reps. But I do, I need to get Master more earlier.”
4th quarter – 6:36 and 6:27: Justin Fields got sacked and lost a fumble, and then Jordan Fuller intercepted a pass and returned it for an interception that got called back due to a penalty.
- Fields didn't see anybody open initially, and then Teague and Ruckert couldn't handle the defensive end. The recipe for a sack and lost fumble.
- Young maintained his sack streak with a half-sack on Saturday, and had Lewerke not gotten rid of the ball so quickly, Young would have picked up another. Lewerke sure wishes he had just succumbed to the sack, though.
- Instead, because he felt Young closing in, he forced a ball over the middle of the field, and Browning tipped it up for Fuller who returned it all the way for a touchdown.
- Of course, the six points didn't actually count due to a flag on Browning during the return.
Other Observations from Saturday's Game:
- Shaun Wade keeps ascending on NFL draft boards, and he only helped his case versus the Spartans. On two instances, he fought through blocks by offensive linemen to make tackles in space. One came on a screen to a running back and the other on pass to the flats in which Michigan State had a numbers advantage. Wade single-handedly shut both plays down.
- It's been written about and talked about a bunch, but it's worth noting again that Ohio State has some of the most physical tackling cornerbacks in the country. Damon Arnette delivered a devastating shot on Saturday.
- Ohio State's ability to turn opponents over will come in handy when it faces better opponents. It currently has the No. 10 turnover margin in the country.
- The Spartans completed a few passes behind Ohio State's linebackers and in front of the secondary. Those are some of the types of plays that this defense naturally gives up.
- Wyatt Davis threw a block that got SEC Network's Cole Cubelic's attention. Cubelic said Davis "might be the best OG in college football the first 6 weeks of the season." Davis has played well, but that might be a stretch. He might not even be the best guard on his own team. Jonah Jackson might dispute that claim.
- That said, Jackson continued his issue with holding penalties on Saturday. He's a punishing blocker but sometimes gets overly grabby with his hands.
- K.J. Hill caught seven passes for 57 yards, including more than a couple bubble screens. He's the team's top target near the line of scrimmage.
- Chris Olave and Austin Mack had one combined catch but came close to a few spectacular connections with Fields. They haven't had heavy usage but have a flair for the dramatic.
- Bowen's worst play came when he barely got his hands on a defensive end who hit him with a spin move and sacked Fields. Ohio State got bailed out with a facemask penalty. In the following plays, Wyatt Davis completely whiffed on a block and Victor had his aforementioned drop. That was an ugly first quarter for the offense.
- Brendon White took some snaps at the Bullet throughout the game. He lined up more as a strong safety than as a strongside linebacker at times. The first time the Buckeyes showed it, early in the second quarter, they ran a 3-3-5 with White as the fifth defensive back.
- Josh Proctor also got snaps as the second safety. Ohio State seems like it's trying to figure out how it can get him involved in the defense.
- Lewerke's 20-yard touchdown pass came on a well-designed offensive play. Fuller rolled up to cover the motioning receiver, opening up the deep seam. Okudah didn't have help on the inside, leaving an opening for the touchdown.