Ohio State survives but isn’t sharp in tuneup for Michigan matchup

Mike Carter/Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last week or so, the possible Big Ten playoff scenarios have been a hot topic in the college football community.

Should an 11-1 Ohio State team get into the playoff over Penn State if the Nittany Lions win the Big Ten title? Should the Buckeyes get in if it’s Wisconsin who wins the conference championship? Could the Big Ten get two teams into the playoff?

They’re all fair questions, but the most straight-forward Big Ten playoff scenario has rarely been discussed: What if Michigan wins out, beating Ohio State and Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game? After losing to Iowa last week, it seems like everyone has forgotten about Jim Harbaugh’s club. It also feels like a large number of fans have already conceded that the Buckeyes will beat Michigan next week in Columbus.

Well to quote Lee Corso, “not so fast, my friends.” Because to those who already handed a win over Michigan to Ohio State, Saturday proved that the Buckeyes are far from a complete team themselves. The Buckeyes beat Michigan State in a narrow 17-16 win in which the Spartans could have won the game, but failed on a two-point conversion with just under five minutes to go. Even then, the Buckeyes needed an interception late to seal the win.

Looking at Saturday's game in the big picture, the best way to describe Ohio State-Michigan State is “weird.” The game looked and felt exactly the way you’d expect a mid-November Big Ten matchup to. It was cold. And snowy. And the weather conditions didn’t allow either team to get into much of an offensive rhythm. It also probably didn’t help Ohio State that these are the same Michigan State Spartans who have given them fits over the last few years.

But for those who were looking for a statement victory from the Buckeyes heading into next week, Saturday was not the day. Again, the weather was bad. But a team which averaged 46.5 per game was held to a third of that. A group which puts up 511 yards per game, barely hit 300. Ohio State was actually outgained by Michigan State on the afternoon, 334 to 310. That’s the same Michigan State offense which entered Saturday ranked 67th in the same category.

And as bad as those numbers sound on paper, they were even worse to see in person. Ohio State’s passing game was basically non-existent. Maybe J.T. Barrett doesn’t have a big enough arm to throw in such lousy weather conditions, or maybe the Buckeyes staff simply didn’t trust him. Overall, Barrett – a supposed Heisman candidate – ran the ball more times (23) than he passed it (22), tallying just 86 yards through the air. At times Ohio State’s play-callers looked more like they were trying not to lose the game rather than to win it. And the Buckeyes are supposed to be the team that best matches up with Alabama in college football?

If Ohio State looked bad against Michigan State, what is going to happen next week when they face Michigan? The Wolverines entered this week ranked No. 1 nationally in both total defense and scoring defense, giving up a measly 244 yards and 11 points respectively. They also sport college football’s No. 1 ranked pass defense, allowing just 131 yards through the air. If Ohio State couldn’t put up numbers against Michigan State on Saturday, why should we believe they’ll have better luck next week?

Yes, the Buckeyes will likely play better in their biggest game of the season. And sure, they were probably looking just a little bit ahead against Michigan State this week.

But for everyone who was ready to hand Ohio State the win next Saturday, think again. It will be a much tougher game than anyone imagined just a few days ago.