INDIANAPOLIS — The Michigan State Spartans would like to extend a hearty thank you to Ohio State for helping them win the Big Ten championship.
Not just because the Spartans beat them on the Lucas Oil Stadium field 34-24, but because of all the contributions the Ohio natives made for them Saturday.
Those contributions wouldn’t have been possible had the Buckeyes recruited players like quarterback Connor Cook, senior linebacker Denicos Allen, free safety Kurtis Drummond, defensive end Marcus Rush, senior right guard Dan France and even placekicker Michael Geiger.
Cook, who wasn’t even named the starter at the beginning of the season, was 24-of-40 for a career-best 304 yards and three touchdowns.
Earlier in the week, Cook had talked about how he wasn’t even on Ohio State’s radar since they had set their sights on Braxton Miller, the losing quarterback in Saturday’s game.
Cook compared the feeling to the one MSU’s Michigan natives had when they beat Michigan.
“Coach D (Mark Dantonio) always says you can walk the streets,” Cook explained in the jubilant post-game locker room. “You beat Michigan, you walk the streets if you’re from Michigan. You go back home, you can walk the streets and be proud, stick your chest out. We beat Michigan, we beat you because pretty much the majority of the state is Michigan.
“Being from Ohio, obviously I wasn’t an Ohio State fan growing up, but just being able to beat them, because everyone back home — everyone — is an Ohio State fan. In Michigan, you have Michigan, Michigan State. It’s kind of divided a little bit, majority Michigan. In Ohio, that’s all we have.
“So being able to beat Ohio State, being able to beat the No. 2 team in the nation, being able to beat them and go to the Rose Bowl, when I go home, I can walk the streets.”
Allen is free to walk the streets of Hamilton, Ohio, after his fourth-quarter play, a game-saving one.
The Spartans were clinging to a 27-24 lead and had just punted the ball.
The defense stepped up and held them Buckeyes on 3rd and 3, holding Miller to one yard.
The Buckeyes decided to go for it on 4th and 2, which made perfect sense as Miller and running back Carlos Hyde had run on the Spartans like no other team had this season.
But Allen stopped Miller one yard short of the first down.
“It was great play-calling by the coaches, first off, and great execution,” Allen said on the field after the game. “It was an edge blitz and I had contain. Knowing the abilities that Braxton has, I know he can cut it up at any moment and get an easy one yard.
“I kind of juked on the back, faked like I was going inside and kind of slid out and he was right there. It was a great decision. I just went on my instincts and it paid off well.”
Allen grinned, holding his red rose as he was asked if it was the biggest play of his career.
“Definitely biggest play of my life,” Allen said. “It’s great to know you’re a part of such a great win, you made such a critical play. I’m glad I’ve got the teammates I do, I’m glad I came to Michigan State, I’m glad Ohio State didn’t offer me.”
Shilique Calhoun, a sophomore from New Jersey, could tell that this game meant a lot to Allen and the other Ohioans.
“That’s a little fuel to the fire,” Calhoun said. “You could see the passion within him and a couple of the other Ohio guys who didn’t get recruited by them. They wanted to play and prove they had the capability of being able to play at Ohio State. If you didn’t want to recruit them, that’s fine, but they were going to give it their all today and show them why you should have. I commend them on that because they didn’t let up.
“Denicos didn’t let up, he came out for a play and was furious because he wanted to be on the field. ‘I need to make the play! I need to be out there! I want to help my team!’ Once I saw that, I understood I had to do whatever I could to make plays or to stop Braxton.”
Drummond was another one out to stop Miller and Hyde.
Drummond was tied for third on the team with five tackles and had a critical pass break-up late in the game.
“It’s great,” Drummond said. “We talked all week about how us Ohio guys, it’s like the Michigan guys versus Michigan. Back home, everybody’s an Ohio State fan, that’s all you hear is ‘Go Bucks.’ Their perfect season, and for us to just go out like that with our teammates, it’s a great feeling to be able to send the seniors out like that.”
Geiger had two long field goals, a 40-yarder for the first points of the game, and a 44-yard field goal late in the third when Ohio State had the lead.
Then there’s Dantonio, who spent time as both a graduate assistant at Ohio State and as defensive coordinator from 2001-03.
So Michigan State fans can thank Ohio State once again for helping their coach become the leader he is today.
“I really can’t put it into words,” Dantonio said. “I’m just so happy for our football team. We’re 12-1. That’s goal No. 2 down. The ultimate goal for me is being 13-1. We’ll look to win our bowl game.
“It’s important we finish what we started, and that will end with the bowl game.”
And all of this is possible because of Ohio State.