While Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud effectively booked his ticket to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony with a six-touchdown performance, Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III’s candidacy was dealt a significant blow on Saturday afternoon.
The junior came into the game with a nation-leading 1,473 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns, but the Buckeyes held him to a season-low 25 yards on six carries. He also caught one pass for four yards before exiting the game in the third quarter with a right ankle injury and the Spartans trailing 49-0.
“In practice, we talked amongst the defense and just decided to have a different mindset about this week,” senior defensive end Tyreke Smith said after the game. “We didn’t want to be one of those teams that he did what he wanted against, so we just had that mindset that we were going to shut him down the whole week.
“We were playing the scout team like we were playing Kenneth, so we just took that mindset into the game and it paid off for us.”
Ohio State’s offense also minimized Walker’s impact, as the Buckeyes marched right down the field and scored a touchdown on the opening drive of the game. Michigan State apparently felt it needed to throw the ball to keep up, thus ignoring its best player on offense in the process.
“Both sides of the ball, they feed off each other,” Smith said. “When they come out scoring, getting points on the board early, and we’re coming out with three-and-outs, that’s just good chemistry coming together.
“It’s like a snowball effect. We just keep bouncing our energy off each other, and the more it happens, the more we get better. We’re just getting comfortable as the season’s gone on, and you’re starting to see that we’re gelling together.”
Given Walker’s lack of production, it should come as no surprise the Spartans finished the game with a season low in points and total yards (224). They also missed a 46-yard field goal in the first quarter and then coughed up a fumble on their next drive, which helped the Buckeyes turn a 14-0 game into a four-score lead in the blink of an eye.
“I think (the defense) took it as a challenge to stop the run,” head coach Ryan Day said. “We’re going to have another challenge coming up with week (in Michigan’s Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins), but we certainly had a lot of respect for Walker coming into the game and wanted to do a good job stopping the run and make them play really one-dimensional, and I thought we did that.”
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