Ohio State’s dominant run through its first five games left questions about how the team would respond when faced with adversity for the first time.
Those questions were answered — well, sort of — as the Buckeyes grounded out a 34-10 win against the Michigan State Spartans in Ohio Stadium on Saturday night that might be best described as workmanlike.
Running back J.K. Dobbins led the offensive charge for Ohio State, racking up 176 yards on 24 carries. Quarterback Justin Fields completed 17 of his 25 attempts for 206 yards and two touchdowns. He added 84 yards and a score on the ground.
Ohio State was tested right away by a Michigan State defense that was very much game in the early going. Fields was sacked on the Buckeyes’ opening drive to force a three-and-out and a punt.
Following the punt, Michigan State went to work on its first possession, but that possession lasted just two plays as Spartans receiver Cody White fumbled following a catch.
Buckeye linebacker Malik Harrison scooped up the fumble and raced to the Michigan State 27-yard line before finally being brought down.
But the inauspicious start for Ohio State continued as it was again unable to pick up a first down, sending Blake Haubeil out to try a 37-yard field goal. Haubeil’s attempt sailed wide right, and the Buckeyes were unable to cash in on the Spartan turnover.
Michigan State wasn’t done giving the ball away, however. On the ensuing drive, Spartan running back Elijah Collins was unable to secure an option pitch from quarterback Brian Lewerke as the ball bounced on the turf. Buckeye defensive lineman Davon Hamilton recovered the fumble, again setting Ohio State up deep inside Michigan State territory.
The early offensive woes continued for the Buckeyes, who were once again held without a first down, but Haubeil connected on his 39-yard field goal attempt to give Ohio State a 3-0 lead with 9:58 left in the first quarter.
Ohio State finally showed some life on offense early in the second quarter. Fields found Binjimen Victor on a 60-yard touchdown throw and catch to up the Buckeye lead to 10-0.
But as quick as the Ohio State offense could begin to roll, its defense faltered, however.
Michigan State needed just five plays to come up with a big answer to Ohio State’s scoring drive. Lewerke found Darrell Stewart on a 20-yard strike to cut the Buckeye lead to 10-7 with just under 10 minutes left in the first half.
The Spartans were unable to sustain any momentum following the score as Fields and the Buckeye offense went right back to work on the next drive. A 35-yard run by Fields moved the ball to the Michigan State 35-yard line, and four plays later, Fields found tight end Luke Farrell on a 21-yard strike to up the Ohio State lead to 17-7.
Michigan State would add a field goal on its next drive, but a Dobbins 67-yard touchdown run and a Haubeil field goal just before the half pushed Ohio State’s lead to 27-10 and effectively ended any threat of an upset.
Fields would add a 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to round out the scoring.
Ohio State finished the game with 529 yards of total offense while holding Michigan State to just 285 yards, including only 67 yards rushing.
Following the game, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said of his team’s performance, “I feel like we beat a top-25 team in a great atmosphere against a really well-coached team, a really good defense, a really good quarterback. To hold them to 285 (yards) and to have 529 (yards), that’s a good day.”
Asked about the mantra of toughness he has stressed to his team since taking over, and how that came into play, he said, “I thought to beat a team like this you have to play tough. We talked about that going into the game and I thought we did (play tough).”
Fields said the offense didn’t make that many adjustments after the first quarter. Instead, he said they just focused on better executing their plan to win.
Ohio State is now 6-0 and halfway through their regular season schedule. A bye week awaits the Buckeyes next week before they travel to Northwestern (1-4) for a Friday night game on Oct. 18. Fields said the bye week comes just in time —especially for him — after a tough, physical performance Saturday night.
“At least for me it is, because this is definitely the most banged up I’ve been after a game,” he said of the timing of the off week. “I’m definitely glad we have a bye week next week. I think we’re all just going to get in the training room, just get our bodies right, and just get ready for the next game.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.