Ohio State picked up more than another win over a ranked team in a competitive series Saturday.
In downing No. 24 Michigan State 26-6, the 9-1 Buckeyes also got something that has eluded them through most of a somewhat strange season: Something to feel good about.
“That was a big win,” coach Urban Meyer said. “We’re very satisfied. I agree — the other ones, people didn’t feel like they won. That was a great locker room. That’s the way it’s supposed to be and (now) get ready for the next one.”
Ohio State began the year with its usual high expectations — and their coach suspended for mismanaging the employment of a former assistant coach.
After going through the preseason without Meyer, the Buckeyes dispatched overmatched Oregon State and Rutgers before getting a high-profile (at the time) win over TCU on a neutral field in Texas.
The Buckeyes beat Tulane in Meyer’s return then won a wild game at Penn State in which they had to rally from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter.
Since then, Ohio State is 4-1. Of course a 49-20 loss at Purdue stung badly, but even the wins all came with caveats.
The defense disappointed again and the running game took another step back a week later as Ohio State beat Minnesota.
Ohio State rediscovered its running game while beating Nebraska on Nov. 3, but the 36-31 win was still too close to comfort — especially with the defense giving up another 481 yards and the offense turning the ball over three times.
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Enter Michigan State.
The Spartans dinged the Buckeye defense for a 47-yard run on Rocky Lombardi’s quarterback keeper, but their only other play of more than 20 yards was a pass from Lombardi to Cody White late in the second quarter.
Michigan State gave up on trying to run the ball almost immediately, and quarterbacks Lombardi and Brian Lewerke were both erratic, combining to throw 30 incomplete passes on 48 attempts.
So even if MSU helped, it goes down as a game that looks good on paper.
Perhaps more importantly, it felt good to the Buckeyes.
“It was electric, the atmosphere we had after the game to get a win like that,” Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins said of the scene in the locker room. “We didn’t play our best ball but the good thing is we’ve got another game to play and we keep getting better. (Michigan State) is a tough team. They always play us hard, the No. 1 rush defense in the country. They gave us a tough time, but it wasn’t supposed to be easy.”
Next up is a trip to Maryland, a 5-5 team that has lost two in a row.
That will be followed by the annual mega-clash with Michigan. If the Buckeyes and Wolverines take care of business between now and then, everything will (as usual) be on the line — the Big Ten East championship, staying alive in the national championship hunt and of course a win in college football’s ultimate rivalry.
“We’re not where we need to be,” Meyer said Saturday. “Do we have conversations about what’s coming across? No, we’re not there yet. We needed to play some really good defense, tackle well, create turnovers. We did that. We needed to continue to run the ball and to have a tailback run the ball for 100 yards against that defense is outstanding.
“We need to keep driving the nail. Just keep hitting the nail as hard as you can.”