EAST LANSING, Michigan — Five questions worth asking in the aftermath of Ohio State’s 49-37 win at Michigan State on Saturday night …
1. How did Ohio State do it?
By overcoming a bit of a rough start and unleashing a powerful offense for which Michigan State’s highly ranked and highly touted defense had no answer. The Buckeyes secondary played really well over the last three quarters, but it was the offense that broke Michigan State’s will and put the game out of reach. The Buckeyes ran for 268 yards at 6.5 per carry and J.T. Barrett threw for 300 and three touchdowns. The Buckeyes converted 10 of 14 third downs and their only fourth down.
2. What does this win mean for the rest of Ohio State’s season?
First, it puts Ohio State in the driver’s seat to win the Big Ten East Division and play in the conference title game in Indianapolis. It keeps the Buckeyes’ hopes to make the first College Football Playoff alive, too. Ohio State was No. 14 in the playoff rankings last week — those rankings before the weekend’s games meant little, by the way — and four teams ranked in the top 10 (No. 3, No. 7, No. 10 and No. 8 MSU) lost. There’s a long way to go and the biggest games are still coming, but Ohio State is going to be in the top 10 this week, yet still outside of the top four. Stay tuned.
3. Just how much does that September loss to Virginia Tech mean in the big picture?
A lot, obviously, because if Ohio State was undefeated it would be a playoff lock. But that was a long time ago in Week Two, and it’s pretty clear to the playoff committee and everyone else that Ohio State is a completely different team right now. Virginia Tech (4-5) stinks, as it turns out, but of greater concern to a potentially 12-1 Ohio State team is that a good number of teams they beat or still have to face (Kent State, Rutgers, Illinois, Maryland, Indiana and Michigan) stink, too. The ideal scenario for Ohio State is to be 11-1, then meet and beat an 11-1 Nebraska team in the Big Ten Championship Game. There still would be a waiting game, but it looks like the Buckeyes are very much headed in the right direction and now that Urban Meyer has a signature win, he won’t be shy talking about it.
4. How good can this offense be?
Good enough to put offensive coordinator Tom Herman on a lot of short lists for head coaching vacancies at the end of the season, that’s for sure. This team lost its senior quarterback on a few weeks’ notice after losing four offensive linemen and a really good, really powerful running back. Now, there’s a freshman quarterback who doesn’t play like a freshman at all, and the offense is playing faster and getting more players involved than before. There are freshmen and sophomores across the depth chart — at Michigan State, Ezekiel Elliott looked like a star runner. Barrett can run, too. There are a lot of points still to be scored as this team chases a Big Ten title and possibly more.
5. By the way, who’s the quarterback next year?
Great question. Valid question, too, but one without an answer. Barrett is making it tougher and tougher to believe that anyone inside the program would actually take the ball out of his hands. Meyer hasn’t won 84 percent of his games over a 13-year head coaching career by accident, and Barrett and this offense are getting better every week. Braxton Miller is dynamic, and he’s a proven producer, but this Ohio State offense is operating at its own speed. Miller will have options; he’ll have a tough decision eventually — and so too will Meyer. But if Barrett keeps rolling and the Buckeyes keep winning, it’s hard to see Barrett returning to the sideline.