5 Answers: Michigan State at Ohio State

This week we look at the impact of the Ohio State defensive line, the Buckeyes' secondary, youthful mistakes and special teams, among other things in our recap of the Buckeyes' 10-7 loss to Michigan State on Saturday.

1. Can the Buckeye defensive line take over the game?

Overall, the Ohio State front seven got the better of its battle with the Michigan State offensive line, but the Buckeyes' impact was not enough simply because of the deficiencies elsewhere.

They controlled the Spartan running game, allowing only 71 yards on 31 attempts (a 2.3-yard average), but quarterback Kirk Cousins had just enough time to be dangerous. He was able to get outside and wait for B.J. Cunningham to create some space on MSU's lone touchdown, and the Buckeyes finished the day with no sacks.

"It ultimately comes down to outplaying the other team's defense," head coach Luke Fickell said. "I think that's what we've got to look at. We didn't outplay their defense. We're not going to pat ourselves. We win and lose as a team."


2. Will the Ohio State offense continue to be opportunistic?

This was a resounding negative, although field position was a near 180 from the win last week against Colorado. The Buckeyes' average starting position against Michigan State was the Ohio State 26-yard line.

The offense had two chances to build off a defensive stop in the first half but wasted both.

After a turnover on downs gave Ohio State the ball at its own 37, the Buckeyes advanced into Michigan State territory for the first time on a 33-yard pass from Braxton Miller to Chris Fields. That effort was short-lived, however, as Miller was intercepted by Darqueze Dennard two plays later.

With 50 seconds left in the second quarter, the Buckeyes had a chance to move into range for a field goal after a Kirk Cousins fumble and a 13-yard run by Carlos Hyde, but they chose to let the clock run out after Miller was sacked at the MSU 45.


3. Could a youthful mistake turn the game?

With so many breakdowns, it is tough to pinpoint any mistakes that significantly hurt the Buckeyes more than others, but Miller's interception probably comes the closest.

Dennard had to make a fairly spectacular play to take the ball away from Buckeye wide receiver Devin Smith, but a slightly underthrown pass made that possible.


4. Can the Ohio State secondary hold up?

Cornerback Travis Howard did not have a good day. He was repeatedly victimized by Cunningham, who played like the star he is by piling up nine catches for 154 yards.

Cunningham eluded Howard on the touchdown reception and got behind him for 52-yard play later in the game on what looked like zone coverage. Cunningham also took advantage of soft coverage in several instances, playing pitch and catch with Cousins to move the chains.

"That was a broken play," Cousins said of the touchdown. "He wasn't supposed to be anywhere near where he caught it. He was supposed to be basically standing on the sidelines and he caught it underneath the field goal post. That was improvising and it shows why he's a great player."

One time Howard did break on a short pattern and get his hands on it the pass breakup was unsatisfying as he looked to have a chance to catch it and return it for a game-tying score.

The other corner, Roby, had a better day. He intercepted Cousins in the fourth quarter and tipped a pass in the air that ended up caught by Ohio State safety C.J. Barnett in the end zone to snuff out another Spartan scoring chance.


5. Which team will get better results from its special teams?

Michigan State punter Mike Sadler had to improve to get his first punt of the day off after the ball went through his hands, but he managed to recover and turn in a respectable boot of 37 yards. The kick actually traveled more like 60 yards when accounting for his retreat to recover the ball.

Sadler averaged 40.8 yards per punt and pinned the Buckeyes inside their 20 on three occasions. Ben Buchanan nearly matched him by averaging 40.6 yards on his 10 punts, but he only had a pair inside the 20.

Michigan State's Dan Conroy missed a 51-yard field goal in the third quarter but came back to hit a 50-yarder in the fourth that ended up accounting for the winning points.

Jordan Hall gave the Buckeyes a bit of a spark with a 15-yard punt return in the fourth quarter that helped set up their only touchdown drive.


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