EAST LANSING, Mich. -- The hurdles were everywhere, and they nearly tripped up Ohio State.
A late-season road game in the Big Ten. Terrible weather conditions to disrupt a normally explosive offense. A nemesis that has twice knocked off Urban Meyer and has kept the Buckeyes from playing for the national championship. The potential temptation to look ahead to The Game versus archrival Michigan with huge national-title implications.
The Buckeyes barely dodged all those hurdles and narrowly survived in their 17-16 victory Saturday -- which took stopping a two-point conversion try late in the fourth quarter -- even if they clearly didn’t have their best against motivated Michigan State. But the result was the only thing that really mattered after the selection committee sent a clear signal early in the week that winning out would likely be enough to earn No. 2 Ohio State a spot in the four-team tournament.
Ohio State was obviously not perfect on Saturday. The offense appeared far too reliant on quarterback J.T. Barrett’s legs as he carried 24 times and had more rushing attempts than running backs Curtis Samuel and Mike Weber combined, which often made the playcalling predictable. The snow flurries and wind would probably have made passing difficult for any quarterback, but this wasn’t the first time Barrett had accuracy issues when the weather wasn’t in his favor, and there’s certainly no guarantee of help from Mother Nature next Saturday in the Horseshoe against Michigan.
And, of course, the Spartans deserve credit for putting together another solid game plan and once more sticking a thorn in Meyer’s side. Michigan State pulled out all the stops to try to wreck Ohio State’s season for a third time in four years, from wild misdirection plays on offense to fake punts and a gutsy gamble to try to win the game with a two-point try late in the fourth quarter.
But Barrett never backed down from the heavy workload and moved the chains just often enough to avoid the possession problems that plagued Ohio State in an upset loss to Michigan State last year. Eventually, Samuel’s dynamic ability as both a rusher and receiver took hold, while Weber wore down Michigan State with his bruising rushing style and gave the Buckeyes the lead for good with a 52-yard burst and a tough 4-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. And Ohio State’s defense continued to prove it’s one of the most elite units in the country, which was all that was really needed to avoid another late stumble against the Spartans.
Now the Buckeyes are finally at the regular-season finish line, with a shot at the national title and their rival waiting.