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Spartan Football Essentials: Buckeyes Blastoff

Ohio State Flexes a Deeper and More Athletic Roster, Blows Past MSU in a Hurry

Offense

If anyone out there wasn’t sure, today confirmed that it all starts up front in the Big Ten East. There is no beating Ohio State, let alone in Columbus, without competing well up front on both sides of the ball. As quickly as it got away from the MSU Defense, MSU’s Offense couldn’t get it going either. Credit the Buckeyes for stacking their momentum early, but note the Spartan Offense could not assert their will. That comes from the trenches. There are reasons so few have beaten Ohio State in Columbus, most of them lie at the point of attack.

Reasonable Spartan fans hoped MSU could score with Ohio State long enough to have a shot to steal one late. That was never possible because the Spartans could not handle the Buckeye buzz saw in the 1st Half. It reminded some fans of MSU’s 42-3 Halftime lead against Notre Dame in 1998, Mel Tucker’s second year as a Graduate Assistant. This was the best 1st Half Ohio State has played under Ryan Day, and among their best in decades.

Payton Thorne did not look overwhelmed by the situation or squeezed by the pressure of playing in the most intense environment in the Big Ten. That’s part of the “it” factor that already has Thorne in position to accomplishing big things at MSU. What he faced today is part of being an opposing Quarterback playing in Columbus with a championship up for grabs. Thorne has set the Offense up for big things in the future but he can only do so much without continued progress up front.

The main lesson the Spartan Offense should take from today is how far they must come up front. The progress of the Offensive Line has been the biggest key to their big jump in 2021, but today serves as a reminder of just how far Spartan Football fell behind up front in the final Dantonio years, and how big a gap they must close to compete with the best programs in the country.

Defense

On even their best day, this was going to be massive challenge for this unit. Ohio State features the best Wide Receiver position group in the country, and had yet to play their best sixty-minutes of football in 2021. They did today as C.J. Stroud came out smoking, going 11 for 12 with two Touchdowns in the 1st Quarter, including the 77-yarder to Noah Ruggles to put OSU up 14-0. By then the Spartan Defense was well into their heels and quickly overwhelmed by the Buckeyes athletes.

Ohio State’s first six-possessions looked as good as the biggest video game mismatch you could dial up this weekend. It was far more about what the Buckeyes did than what MSU couldn’t do. This was a historically good day for Ohio State. Once in a long while (but hopefully not often) you run into an opponent on their best day of the year. Today was better than that for the Bucks.

OSU’s Offense looked better in the 1st Half than they ever have under Ryan Day. 500 yards, 29 for 31 passing, 26 plays for a 1st Down, and 49-points. It wasn’t one thing that kept going wrong for the Spartan Defense, it was just one of those days when nothing was going to work. Nothing was stopping Ohio State in that 1st Half. The Buckeyes found their top gear and keeping the pedal down for the duration.

This is one of those games where you watch the tape once, take the lessons, and move on in a hurry. That shouldn’t be too hard for the Spartan Defense, but they could use some luck and health before next week. As much as the Buckeyes fed off their Senior Day home crowd today, the Spartan Defense is going to need home support next week. As bad as it went for this Defense today, they all count one, and this one will quickly be left behind in Columbus for good.

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Special Teams

There’s little any specialist can do when a game snowballs on you they way it fell on the Spartans today. Matt Coghlin looked less than 100% on a 46-yard Field Goal try that missed right. That one hardly would’ve made a difference but MSU needs him healthy next week. Special Teams could play a big role as MSU chases their 10th win.

Intangibles

It’s hard enough to come into Columbus with control of the Big Ten East on the line, but nearly impossible when you’re down a handful of starters. The Spartans roster is a couple of years away from being able to survive that kind of thinning. That’s not something Mel Tucker could’ve more about before this game kicked off. That status was cemented during the final Dantonio years and stood out in bold for all to see today.

Ohio State handled the transition from Urban Meyer to Ryan Day better than any major program has in decades. It was not only smooth, the Buckeyes somehow built momentum out of a dicey situation as Day took charge. The opposite happened at Michigan State, which ended up on full display for the country to see as the Buckeyes ran all over a far thinner MSU roster. The air is quite thin at the top of the sport, but that’s OSU lives and where Spartan Football keeps chopping to be.

Remarkably, Tucker and staff found a way to reboot Spartan Football quick enough to face the Buckeyes with championship control on the line today. That should be celebrated in years to come, but not too soon because this team still has so much to play for.

This game both exposed the gap Tucker has to close and celebrated how far he’s taken Spartan Football in such a short time. MSU already has a good jump on closing that gap, they arrived to this point today safely ahead of schedule, and they will get another shot at measuring up to Ohio State (relatively early) next fall when the Buckeyes come to East Lansing on September 24, 2022. The lights will shine bright on that one too.

Extra Points

For the fifth time in nine years the Spartans and Buckeyes played for control of a championship in the Big Ten. What an accomplishment for Mel Tucker and program to have the Spartans back in that spot in so fast. In reality, as much as many Spartan fans like to talk about Michigan or Notre Dame, Ohio State is the benchmark in the Big Ten. If you want to win the Big Ten or compete for anything bigger, you have to beat the Buckeyes. There is no shortcut, there is no work around.

MSU’s massive defeat reminds the Spartan Nation of the task ahead and the daily challenge of competing with Ohio State every year. No one in the Big Ten has done that as well as the Spartans in the past decade and no program is positioned to do it as well through the bulk of the 2020s. The Buckeyes will be back in East Lansing in ten-months, no doubt loaded and built for another championship run. By then Spartan Football should be better, deeper, and healthier.

In the present, the Spartans return home for Senior Day and a shot at their seventh 10-win season in the last twelve years. That is no small feat, and would provide a huge feather in Mel Tucker’s early-years-cap at MSU. It should also keep the Spartans in the mix for a New Year’s Day Bowl bid. That’s plenty on their plate to keep the 2021 Spartans chopping to the finish.