Ohio State overcame losing four fumbles and a standout performance by MSU quarterback Drew Stanton by using a familiar formula; turn routine plays in big ones by taking advantage of shoddy MSU tackling and their poor special teams.
The Spartans looked like they were going to turn this one into a laugher when they key play of the game occured.
Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. fumbled Brandon Fields punt and MSU's Diego Oquendo recovered deep in Buckeyes territory at the 26-yard line. But when the drive stalled and Ohio State tackled MSU quarterback Drew Stanton with the clock runnning down, that's when the Spartans coaching staff turned in a Keystone Cops type performance.
Someone on the MSU coaching staff ran out the kicking unit, even as Stanton was attempting to down the football to set up a fourth down field goal attempt. With :07 left in the half, Stanton appeared to have the situation under control.
"When the guys lined up, I heard someone yell, `Field goal' and it wasn't me," said Michigan State John L. Smith. "So that comes down to me."
With the kicking team running on and the offense attempting to run off, neither group was completely successful. In the ensuing chaos, safety Nate Salley blocked John Goss' attempt which was recovered by corner Ashton Youboty. He returned it 78-yards for a touchdown, crushing MSU's hard-fought momentum.
"Drew Stanton played like a warrior, the team played like warriors, the coaching staff didn't," said Smith, who didn't try to hide his frustration with the miscue.
Instead of being down at least 17-7, the Buckeyes ran off the field at halftime down just three and with all the momentum.
The Buckeyes took their first lead of the game when quarterback Troy Smith hit receiver Ted Ginn Jr. on a routine slant play that ended up in the Spartans end zone 57-yards later. It was Smith's second long TD pass of three he would throw on the day. MSU's shodding tackling on the play was an indication of things to come.
Stanton managed to march the Spartans right back, engineering an 11-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 5:28 to retake the lead 24-21, culminating with Jason Teague's 6-yard run.
When OSU's Smith fumbled deep in his own territory it appeared Michigan State would salt the game away. Instead the Buckeyese defense stiffened and embattled kicker John Goss missed a 36-yarder that was again partially blocked by Ohio State.
With MSU corner Jaren Hayes playing 15-yards off of Holmes, Smith went to him for an easy pitch and catch, but Hayes missed the tackle and rambled 46-yards into the endzone to put the Buckeyes up for good at 28-24. With just 3:00 left, MSU couldn't protect Stanton as Ohio State pinned back their ears and came hard at the MSU signal caller.
Stanton was sacked (Bobby Carpenter four sacks, David Patterson three sacks) 12 times for 52 yards by a fiesty Ohio State defense led by linebacker A.J. Hawk with 19 tackles. On a 3rd-and-17 situation, defensive end Marcus Green sacked Stanton, who appeared to fumble but was ruled down on the play.
Stanton said injuries in the MSU offensive line changed Ohio State's approach to the game.
"I think they pressured a little bit more in the second half, but we knew they would try to pressure us. We had some young guys in there and that's quite a stage to enter, going into the `Horseshoe,'" Stanton said.
Brandon Fields punted out of his end zone to Holmes who returned it all the way to the MSU 19-yard line. Fields, attempting to make a touchdown saving tackle, stripped Holmes of the football but Ohio State recovered. Three plays later Smith pounded it in from 1-yard out to give Ohio State the final margin of victory.
John L. Smith is now in the position of trying to prevent his team from going into free fall. Smith still has never beaten Ohio State since arriving at Michigan State from Louisville.
He rightfully blamed his coaching staff for the loss and acknowledged the continued breakdowns on special teams and with the defense are his responsibility.
"My guys played their hearts out today<" said Smith. "The loss is placed on the coaches for this game and I take full responsibility."
With an offensively potent Northwestern team coming to Spartan Stadium for homecoming, MSU must circle the wagons and take care of business if they want to become bowl eligible, something that a few weeks ago was a foregone conclusion.