Dienhart: This one won't soon be forgotten
INDIANAPOLIS — The Big Ten title game is just three years old, but Michigan State’s 34-24 win over Ohio State was a “classic” and won’t soon be forgotten.
The game had it all. A team vying for the BCS title game? Check. Another team trying to reach its first Rose Bowl in nearly three decades? Check. Ebbs and flows? Check.
The Spartans raced to a 17-0 lead. Then, the Buckeyes ripped off 24 unanswered points; then MSU answered with 17 points to cap a back-and-fourth game that will see the Spartans go to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1987 season.
“It’s hard to put it into words,” said Mark Dantonio. “The Rose Bowl is something that we’ve dreamed about and talked about since day one. It means so much not only to me but to all the players that have been in this program, Mark Hollis and his administration as well as President Lou Anna Simon and our board of trustees. They have all been so supportive. This is a program win.”
But are the 12-1 Spartans worthy of moving up to the No. 2 spot in the BCS standings and playing for the national championship? Dantonio wonders: Why not us?
“Well we’re 12-1 that’s who we are,” he said. “I know we’re going to the Rose Bowl but not sure on what day and time. That’s not for me to make that decision through. I can tell you we’re up there and we can play with anyone.”
Dantonio may have a point. But at 13-0, Florida State is locked in at No. 1 in the BCS. After that, however, Michigan State’s resume would seem to stack up with any other team’s. There is 12-1 Auburn; 11-1 Alabama; 12-1 Baylor. Are any of those teams really better than the Spartans?
Alas, MSU doesn’t figure to climb up high enough in the BCS standings. It began the weekend ranked No. 10 in the BCS. And, that figures to be too big of a hill for the Spartans to climb—even though this win over BCS No. 2 Ohio State was very impressive.
So, Auburn looks primed to move to No. 2 in the BCS and play No. 1 Florida State for the national title. The Tigers, who dumped Missouri on Saturday in the SEC title game, will aim for the SEC’s eighth national title in a row.
The Big Ten will have to wait another year to reach the summit of college football, still stuck in a sort of malaise that has inflicted the league since the Big Ten last sent a team to the BCS title game after the 2006-07 seasons, when Ohio State lost to Florida and then LSU. The conference hasn’t won a title since the Buckeyes did the honors after the 2002 season.
This loss not only put the kibosh on the Buckeyes’ BCS hopes, it also ended Ohio State’s school-record 24-game winning streak. In fact, it was the first time Urban Meyer tasted defeat as Buckeyes coach.
“It kind of sucks,” said OSU linebacker Ryan Shazier. “You go on such a long streak and not being able to finish it off. Our main goal was to win this Big Ten Championship and whatever goes on, goes on after that. We were just focusing on this game today and we really weren’t worried about a win streak.”
This is another brick in the formidable wall that Dantonio is building in East Lansing. This is the first time in school annals that MSU has 12 wins in a season. Dantonio also led MSU to 11-win seasons in 2010 and 2011 before last year’s 7-6 clunker that featured five losses by an aggregate 13 points.
Frustration in 2012? Yes. But the 2013 season has been a redemption tour of sorts, as the Spartans have won every Big Ten game by doubt-digits. That’s never happened in a Big Ten season of this length.
“I think we were underdogs in the majority of games we played this year,” said Connor Cook. “It really didn’t affect us in any way, shape or form. We just go in with the same mindset every week. We want to go 1‑0. We know the defense is going to do their job. If it’s up to us as an offense to score 28 points or more, we feel we can come away with the win.”
This game was billed as a battle between the Ohio State offense and the Michigan State defense. Each ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten in their respective category. It was a juicy storyline.
Give the victory to the Michigan State defense, which held Ohio State to 374 yards. The Buckeyes entered the game averaging 530.5 yards. And they also paced the league in scoring with a 48.2-point average. Meyer’s unit showed life in the second and third quarters, but it started slowly and was muted when the chips were down in the fourth quarter. OSU scored no points and had just 25 yards in the final 15 minutes of action.
Yes, Braxton Miller (142) and Carlos Hyde (118) each eclipsed the 100-yard rushing barrier. But Miller hit just 8-of-21 passes for 101 yards with a touchdown. And OSU was just 1-for-10 on third downs.
The Spartan defense was at its best at a key juncture in the fourth quarter. Facing fourth-and two from the MSU 38-yard line and trailing 27-24, the Buckeyes opted to go for it. They almost had to. Time was running out. Miller tried to run around right end but Denicos Allen made a great tackle to stop him one yard short. MSU took over on downs with 5:41 remaining. The Spartans subsequently scored a clinching touchdown to seal the victory.
“Yeah, it was my call,” said Meyer of the failed fourth-down call. “I wanted to put the ball in the hands of our best player, Braxton (Miller). We usually run that play a lot. We ran it to the boundary. I knew they’d pressure us. Thought he might be able to come out the other end of it. That’s why. It was a chance to go try to win the game.”
While the Michigan State defense did its part to win this game, the unsung Spartan offense did its share, too, continuing to improve and impress as the season has gone along.
The attack tallied 438 yards, as Jeremy Langford ran for over 100 yards for a school-record eighth game in a row with 128 yards on 24 totes. But MSU did most of its damage through the air. Cook hit 24-of-40 passes for 304 yards with three touchdowns and a pick. The sophomore picked a perfect time for one of his best efforts of the season.
“I’ve always had confidence in him,” said guard Blake Treadwell. “I told people before last year, while we were having Buffalo Wild Wings, I knew he had some greatness in him. The journey was a little rocky for him at first, but I knew in my heart that he was going to lead us to big things. I expect more and more big things from Connor in the future.”
Now, Michigan State turns its attention to playing Pac-12 champ Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
“We knew this was going to be a very special year,” said Treadwell. “It may not have looked like it the first couple games, but we did what we could.”
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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