Michigan State’s defense had allowed more than 37 points just once in the past three seasons. So if senior safety Kurtis Drummond knew coming into Saturday the Spartans would score 37 against Ohio State, he would have liked their chances.
“I would have been very confident,” he said following MSU’s 49-37 loss. “Our goal every week is (to allow no more than) 17 points.
”Obviously, we didn’t do a very good job of that.”
The Spartans instead struggled, allowing big plays, not forcing a three-and-out and surrendering 49 points to Ohio State.
”They did a great job executing and we didn’t do a great job of executing,” defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. “It seemed like they were one step ahead of us.”
It was the first time Michigan State had scored at least 37 and lost since it fell to Wisconsin 42-39 in the 2011 Big Ten title game. And the way it happened was in most uncharacteristic fashion for the Spartans. After allowing just 11 plays of 40 or more yards last season, MSU allowed five on Saturday, which brought the season total to 17.
”That's something we harp on every week: Explosive plays,” Drummond said. “You need explosive plays on offense and you can't give them up on defense. We did a bad job tonight on eliminating explosive plays and that's something we'll work on.”
All rolled together, the explosive plays and the in between led to some big numbers for Ohio State as it left with some stats that few have posted against Michigan State since Mark Dantonio arrived.
The Buckeyes put up 568 total yards, the most in a regular season game since Dantonio’s first year in 2007 when Northwestern posted 611 yards, while the 49 points matched Alabama in the 2011 Capitol One Bowl and Penn State in 2008 as the most allowed in the same timeframe.
For the most part Saturday, the Buckeyes moved the ball with relative ease against a defense that last season held Ohio State to 24 points. This time, Ohio State averaged 8.5 yards per play – the most since the Buckeyes had 9.5 against MSU in 2005 (9.4).
”The bottom line was we didn’t stop them – we couldn’t stop them,” Dantonio said.
The attack was fueled by redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, who had 300 yards and three touchdowns on 16 of 26 passing with 86 yards rushing and two touchdowns. It was his accuracy that torched the Spartans’ secondary, though, and it had Narduzzi joking that he did not even throw an incompletion.
"J.T. Barrett was on fire,” he said. “That guy made about every pass he could.”
The Spartans did not get much pressure on Barrett, having just two sacks and two quarterback hurries.
”We did pressure them, we just didn’t make plays and they got the ball out quick,” Narduzzi said. “The quarterback did a good job of recognizing it.”
He was complemented by running back Ezekiel Elliott, who had 154 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Devin Smith also had a big game, with six receptions for 129 yards and a 43-yard touchdown in the third quarter – one of the five plays for 40-plus yards.
”The whole defense gave up big plays,” sophomore cornerback Darian Hicks said. “Whether it was not wrapping up, not playing good coverage, not playing the right coverage. Things like that happen.”
But they have not happened lately around Michigan State, as the offense put the team in position to win, but the defense could not come up with a stop.
”We have to give our offense a chance,” Narduzzi said. “We should win when we score 37 points.”