In the week before Ohio State's clash against Michigan State, head coach Urban Meyer appeared calm and confident when speaking to reporters. He smiled often, as if he was savoring the chance to exact revenge against the Spartans, earn a critical victory and burst back onto a shifting national stage.
“This is why they’re trained, every second of everything we do in the program from offseason to summer conditioning to training camp, we’re training you for moments like this,” Meyer said, before adding, "This is why we train for moments like this — compete for championships in November.”
|#14 OHIO STATE||7||21||7||14||49|
|#8 MICHIGAN STATE||14||7||3||13||37|
When it came time to duel under the lights on a damp and cold night in East Lansing, the Buckeyes leveled Michigan State, the defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl champions, 49-37, where they amassed 568 yards against one of the nation's best defenses.
"This is one for the ages," Meyer said, "that's how much respect we had for our opponent going into it ... we played a top-10 and really played our best."
Player of the Game: J.T. Barrett
Though J.T. Barrett, the redshirt freshman quarterback, had been impressive up to the Michigan State game, he had yet to carve a defense quite like the Spartans' top-ranked unit.
And considering the way Penn State shut down him and Ohio State's offense two weeks earlier, questions remained over how much damage Barrett and the Buckeyes could inflict on Michigan State's vaunted unit, one that had stifled them in the Big Ten title game a year earlier.
Yet when all was said and done, Barrett lit up Michigan State's "No Fly Zone" pass defense for 300 yards and three touchdowns on 16-of-26 passes. He also rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns. If there was any doubt over Barrett's legitimacy as a Heisman Trophy contender, this erased it.
Critical Play of the Game: Barrett's 79-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas to tie the game at 21
It might feel like a distant memory considering how dominant Ohio State ultimately was against Michigan State, but there was a point late in the second quarter where the Spartans had a chance to go up, 28-14, on the Buckeyes with the din of the home crowd behind them.
Instead, Michigan State squandered the golden opportunity and Ohio State, who had survived this critical juncture thanks to a gutsy defensive stand, scored on its first play from scrimmage. Barrett hit Michael Thomas on a crossing route before the redshirt sophomore wide receiver galloped 79 yards downfield to tie the game at 21.
On Ohio State's next drive (and on 3rd-and-23 no less), Barrett bombed a 44-yard pass to senior wide receiver Devin Smith (who had 129 yards and a touchdown on six catches) to head into halftime up, 28-21, and with all the momentum in the world on the Buckeyes' side.
From that point on, Ohio State dominated much of the contest and went up by as much as 42-24. The Spartan's defense couldn't recover and their offense, behind Connor Cook, Jeremy Langford, and Tony Lippett, struggled to play from behind.
What It Meant
Ohio State's triumph, which gave way to a jubilant celebration on the field and in the locker room afterward, was (at the time) the biggest win of Meyer's tenure.
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And in a way, it gave Ohio State a certain dose of swagger that had been chipped away after a postseason collapse in 2013.
"There was talk that we only played well against really bad teams,” Barrett said.
“I just think we earned back our confidence, I think we just earned back the belief our players have, a belief in our program, belief in how we do things at Ohio State, how Coach Meyer runs his program and we just got our confidence back that we can win a big game," said Ed Warinner, the offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator. It was just the beginning; there would be more to come.
The Buckeyes entered Spartan Stadium as underdogs. They left as conquerors and bona fide national championship contenders.
“No one believed in us," said sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
"We came into this game with a chip on our shoulder," he continued. "We think we're ready for the big stage."