The 2015 Buckeyes face the same question the 2014 Buckeyes faced heading into the Michigan State game: Can they beat a ranked team?
Ohio State played Michigan State on Nov. 8 last season. To that point, its best victory had been against Penn State (31-24 in double overtime on Oct. 25). It’s a similar story this season. The Buckeyes play Michigan State at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Ohio Stadium, and their best victory so far was against Penn State (38-10 on Oct. 17).
Last year, the Buckeyes answered the question in a big way, winning 49-37 in East Lansing, Mich. J.T. Barrett threw three touchdown passes and ran for two more. Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
“That was our best game offensively, by far,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Monday. “We threw for over 300. We ran against not a good defense, a great defense. We’re not there right now. We’ve got to get there fast when you start playing teams like this and a talented team like this.”
Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) started watching the film of the 2014 game Sunday in preparation for the rematch with the Spartans (9-1, 5-1).
“We were playing at a very high level on the offensive line,” Ohio State right gard Pat Elflein said. “It was a turning point when the offense really started clicking on all cylinders. We have to get back to that level this week, and it all starts in practice. We have to have a strong Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and that’ll set us up for a good performance on Saturday.”
The Buckeyes would clinch a share of the Big Ten East Division title with a victory and could win the title outright by beating Michigan (8-2, 5-1) a week later.
The Buckeyes dominated this series from 2000-08, winning seven straight games. The Spartans won 10-7 in Columbus in 2011. Ohio State answered with a 17-16 victory in East Lansing in 2012. The Spartans then handed Urban Meyer his first Ohio State loss — and so far only one of three in four seasons — in the 2013 Big Ten Championship game — 34-24 in Indianapolis.
That set the stage for the 2014 game. The victory put Ohio State back in contention for the playoffs after the loss in the second game to Virginia Tech.
“We definitely had something to prove,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said after the game. “People were questioning our ability to come out and play on the big stage. Just coming into this game, no one believed in us.”
This game probably has even more hype. The Buckeyes have won 23 straight games. They still haven’t lost in regular-season Big Ten play in the Urban Meyer era. That streak stands at 30 games.
The ease of Ohio State’s schedule in the first 10 games adds to the anticipation. Three of Ohio State’s opponents have winning records. Two stand at .500. Five have losing records.
“Being here for four years I’ve played in a lot of big games,” said Ohio State left tackle Taylor Decker, a Vandalia Butler graduate. “It’s always been the same. You just don’t really pay attention to (the hype). You just keep it all within the team, and the coaches do a really good job of that. Plus we haven’t even played our best yet. We obviously have to play better. So we have to focus on that and not what other people are talking about.”