EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Before Ohio State could move on to next weekend’s showdown with Michigan, the Buckeyes had to deal with a different nemesis.
As usual, Michigan State gave Urban Meyer’s team all it could handle.
Mike Weber ran for 111 yards and a touchdown, and No. 2 Ohio State held off Michigan State 17-16 on Saturday after the upset-minded Spartans missed a 2-point conversion with 4:41 remaining.
"Tough day at the office right there," Meyer said. "We’ll take the win against a team that we know very well and on the road in November. We’re 10-1 and getting ready for rivalry week."
Ohio State (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten, No. 2 CFP) can now focus on Michigan, but only after withstanding a spirited challenge from a Michigan State team that derailed the Buckeyes’ national title bids in two of the previous three seasons. The Spartans (3-8, 1-7) were down 17-10 when LJ Scott scored on a 1-yard run with 4:41 to play. Michigan State went for the lead, but Tyler O’Connor’s pass on the 2-point conversion attempt was intercepted in the end zone.
"All week long I’d said that, hey, if we get close at the end of the game, we’re going for 2, and we’re going to take an aggressive approach and play to win the football game rather than to tie," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "They had us covered up on that particular play, so good job by them."
The Spartans got the ball back one more time, at their own 20 with 2:04 remaining. Tyquan Lewis sacked O’Connor on the first play, and then Gareon Conley intercepted him on the second.
Scott ran for 160 yards and also scored on a 64-yard catch-and-run in the first minute of the game, but the Ohio State defense didn’t allow much more after that. J.T. Barrett threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel in the first quarter, and the game was tied at 10 at halftime.
Weber’s 4-yard TD run in the third gave the Buckeyes the lead for good.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes had to claw their way to this win, but it was still a sweet one against the team that has given them more trouble than any in recent seasons. Michigan State beat Ohio State in the 2013 Big Ten title game and again late in the regular season last year. Ohio State’s stellar pass defense was the difference. O’Connor and Damion Terry were a combined 8 of 21 with two interceptions for the Spartans.
Michigan State: Dantonio’s team threw everything it had at Ohio State, executing a successful fake punt in the fourth quarter and later going for 2 when an extra point would have tied it. The Spartans fell just short in the end, unable to establish any consistent offensive threats aside from Scott.
The 2-point conversion may be second-guessed in the days to come, but O’Connor said the team was on board with it.
"We don’t play for second place, obviously," O’Connor said. "Everybody was all in on going for it."
Ohio State: The Buckeyes trailed only top-ranked Alabama coming into this weekend, but the bigger concern for them is their playoff position. Even if Ohio State beats Michigan, it could lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with Penn State for the division title.
Michigan State managed only 127 yards passing, over half of it on one play. Ohio State wasn’t very productive through the air either. Barrett went 10 of 22 for 86 yards on a windy day that included sporadic snow flurries. The Spartans, who had only seven sacks coming into the game, had three against Ohio State.
Weber became the third Ohio State freshman to reach 1,000 yards rushing. Robert Smith (1990) and Maurice Clarett (2002) were the other two.
"It means a lot," he said. "It was a goal that I had set at the beginning of the year. My offensive line executed and made it happen."
Scott had 236 total yards, including a highlight-reel play in the third quarter when he hurdled an Ohio State defender near the sideline.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes have lost only once in their last 12 meetings with Michigan. Ohio State will be at home next weekend, where it has not lost to Michigan since 2000.
Michigan State: The Spartans play at Penn State next weekend, meaning they could have another chance to play spoiler in the Big Ten title race.