Then Michigan State was set to break the pattern as it recovered a fumble on the kickoff following a Jeremy Langford touchdown run with another rushing score.
But Langford’s 11-yard score – which would have put Michigan State ahead 28-14 – was called back for holding on offensive lineman Jack Allen.
“I think a lot of momentum was lost,” Langford said. “We could have scored that and went up two touchdowns and gave our defense momentum, but it didn’t happen that way.”
The Buckeyes quickly capitalized, scoring on their next play and again on their next drive with two long pass play as part of a 28-3 run to break away from the Spartans.
”We had three minutes to go in the half, we go in 28-14 there's a different feel,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “There's a little bit more like, okay, we got them. But they get two big plays in that three minutes and so you deal with it.”
The loss dropped the Spartans to 7-2, all but ending hopes of a Big Ten East Division title, Big Ten title and College Football Playoff bid – all at the hands of the team now most likely to gain those opportunities, a year after the Spartans’ ended Ohio State’s national title aspirations.
”They came in for revenge and they got it,” defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. “We didn't step up and meet the challenge.”
It was a defeat that came at the expense of the Spartans’ defense, which last season held the Buckeyes to 24 points. This time around, the Buckeyes posted 49 points, the most since MSU allowed Alabama to score 49 in the Capitol One Bowl on Jan. 1, 2011.
”The bottom line was we didn’t stop them – we couldn’t stop them,” Dantonio said.
Many came from redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, who totaled five touchdowns – three passing, two rushing – and 386 total yards, with 300 coming through the air.
”He played big in a big game,” Narduzzi said. “He didn't throw off the mark at all and those guys were ready to make the catch. That goes to having a guy who throws the ball where it needs to be thrown. He is a heck of a quarterback.”
Cook countered with a career-high 358 yards for Michigan State, throwing two touchdowns on 25 of 45 passing.
The Spartans got on the board first Saturday, as Cook hit Keith Mumphery for a 44-yard gain and again three plays later for a 16-yard touchdown. The Buckeyes came back behind running back Ezekiel Elliott, who broke out on a 19-yard and a 47-yard run to set up a Barrett rushing touchdown on a drive that took just 1:01.
Langford found the end zone for the first time on a 33-yard run following an Ohio State fumble on a punt return, but Barrett responded with a big throw to Devin Smith on third-and-23 before finishing the drive with another rushing score.
After another Langford touchdown, the Spartans got the ball back after Jon Reschke forced a fumble from kick returner Dontre Wilson. Then things turned for MS as after it failed to score, Barrett hit wide receiver Michael Thomas on a quick slant and he broke a Darian Hicks tackle and was off to the races.
”That was a big momentum swing,” offensive lineman Travis Jackson said. “I would put that score when they tied it up 21-21 really on the offense. That’s a momentum swing. We should have put that in and went up 14. Ohio State came out and made plays and stopped us.”
Ohio State quickly scored again as Barrett and Smith connected for a 43-yard score and a 28-21 lead late in the first half.
Geiger converted on a 40-yard field goal on the first drive of the second half for MSU, but the Buckeyes responded with a 10-play drive that took up 6:14 and finished with a one-yard touchdown run by Elliott, giving the Buckeyes a 35-24 lead – the first time either team had led by two scores.
Behind Langford, Michigan State mounted another drive, but Nick Hill was met by a group of Ohio State defenders and was stuffed on fourth-and-5 at the OSU 36.
”That was a bad call on my part,” offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “That was a critical part of the game because we needed to score to put the pressure back on them.
”I thought we were going to get them with their defense with sort of a surprise, but not a very good play at all.”
Barrett and Ohio State found the end zone again, as he hit Wilson for a seven-yard touchdown and a 42-24 lead.
Michigan State got its first touchdown of the second half behind Cook, who hit Price for 20 yards on a throwback screen and hit him again for a 16-yard score on the next play to pull to 42-31.But the Buckeyes again had an answer as Elliott ran in from 17 yards out to give OSU a 49-31 lead just four plays later.
“We didn't get things going the way we wanted to, especially in the pass game,” said Cook, who lost for the first time as a starting quarterback in Big Ten play. “In the second half, we came in and put some points up, but just couldn't keep up with the Buckeyes.”
Langford got his third touchdown of the day with 5:20 left as he ran in from the OSU one-yard line. It was his 13th straight Big Ten game with more than 100 yards rushing as the Spartans totaled 536 total yards.
The Spartans now face regrouping after a loss for the second time this year, but this time with the top goals seemingly off the table – barring an improbable collapse from Ohio State. A 10-win season still remains, but for the Spartans coming off a Rose Bowl championship season, it does not carry the same weight.
“That is just the type of team and where the bar was set here at Michigan State,” senior safety Kurtis Drummond said. “We have elevated this program. We have raised the level of expectations and that’s just speaking to the level of expectations we’ve set around here.”