It was 1998 all over again at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Saturday night when No. 10 Michigan State upset second-ranked Ohio State and earned a 34-24 victory in the Big Ten Championship Game. Much like 15 years ago at Ohio Stadium, the upstart Spartans knocked off an OSU squad that came into the game with national title aspirations.
The Buckeyes entered the night needing one more win to likely clinch a spot in the BCS Championship Game in Pasadena. They didn't get it.
Ohio native Connor Cook threw for a career-high 304 yards and led Michigan State to its first outright conference championship and Rose Bowl berth since 1987. The Spartans punched their ticket by landing the final punches in a back-and-forth affair. Michigan State dominated early and raced out to a 17-0 lead, only to have the Buckeyes retake the momentum by halftime and take a 24-17 lead early in the third quarter.
After that, Michigan State's top-ranked defense silenced the Buckeyes. Cook and the Spartans dominated the fourth quarter, scoring a pair of touchdowns – including a game-sealing 26-yard touchdown run by Jeremy Langford with 2:16 remaining. When the game was on the line in the final quarter, Michigan State outgained OSU 169-25.
The loss ended Ohio State's 24-game winning streak and gave Urban Meyer his first loss as Buckeye head coach.
"It's going to haunt all of us for a little while, but that's part of the game," Meyer said.
Michigan State had Ohio State on the ropes in the first half before the Buckeyes went into the break with momentum.
Ohio State won the toss and deferred until the second half, allowing Michigan State to open the game on offense. The Spartans took advantage of a pair of third-down defensive pass interference penalties by Doran Grant and Ryan Shazier, respectively, to go on a 14-play, 47-yard drive that lasted 6:29 and ended with a 40-yard field goal by Michael Geiger.
That 3-0 MSU advantage is how the first quarter would end. Ohio State was forced to punt on its first two offensive possessions and ended the first frame with 28 yards of offense and two first downs.
The Spartans struck quickly in the second quarter. Wide receiver Keith Mumphery got behind Ohio State's defense and beat the Buckeyes to the end zone for a 72-yard touchdown pass from Connor Cook a mere 10 seconds in the second quarter. The scoring drive lasted two plays, went 68 yards and lasted 14 seconds.
Michigan State's defense forced another punt and then Cook and company reached the end zone again. Cook completed three passes on a five-play, 66-yard drive – including a 33-yard touchdown pass to Tony Lippett. Cook found a one-on-one battle between Lippett and OSU safety C.J. Barnett down the right sideline, and the MSU wide receiver won the battle and hauled in the scoring strike.
From there, the Buckeyes responded. Taking over at the OSU 16, Braxton Miller engineered Ohio State's first scoring drive – with the junior quarterback playing the starring role. Miller scrambled for a 48-yard gain on a second-and-8 play from the 18, and two plays later, Miller found Corey "Philly" Brown for a 20-yard touchdown pass over the middle. After Drew Basil booted the extra point, the Buckeyes had narrowed their deficit to 17-7 with 6:26 left before halftime.
The score seemed to boost Ohio State's defense. The Buckeyes limited MSU to 16 yards the rest of the quarter over two drives, and Ohio State cut the deficit to 17-10 by the break on a late scoring drive. The march was highlighted by a 36-yard pass from Miller to tight end Jeff Heuerman that advanced the ball to the MSU 11 in the final seconds. The completion allowed Basil to come on the field – after Miller killed the clock with four seconds remaining – and boot a 28-yard field goal as time expired.
The Buckeyes kept the momentum going when the second half kicked off. The ground game paced a half-opening, game-tying touchdown drive. Of the seven plays on the 75-yard TD drive, all but one were rushes – the last coming on a 8-yard touchdown run by Miller with 12:21. Basil's PAT tied the game and sent the scarlet-clad fans in the crowd into a frenzy.
Ohio State went ground game-heavy again in taking the lead later in the third quarter. After forcing the Spartans to punt for their own end zone, the Buckeyes took over at the MSU 44 and quickly reached the end zone. Carlos Hyde started the drive with a 10 yard run, Miller added a 7-yard burst and then Jordan Hall advanced the ball to the MSU 14 on a 13-yard carry. Hyde advanced the ball to the MSU 6 on an 8-yard gain, setting up a 6-yard touchdown run by Miller.
With 5:36 left in the third quarter, Ohio State had not only erased its 17-0 deficit but had taken a seven-point lead.
The Spartans did not go away, however, as MSU took the ensuing kickoff and drove for a 44-yard field goal by Geiger the cut the OSU lead to 24-20 with 2:29 left in the third quarter. The drive went nine players over 3:07 and featured a crucial fourth-down conversion on a keeper by Cook.
The fourth quarter was all Sparty. MSU took the lead for good with 11:41 remaining on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Cook to Josiah Price. The score concluded an eight-play, 90 yard drive that saw Cook - the game's MVP - complete four passes for 76 yards.
Ohio State could not answer. Michigan State later iced the victory with Langford's TD. The Buckeyes managed only one first down in the fourth quarter and had its final drive end on downs.
When Miller's fourth down pass intended for Heuerman fell incomplete, Ohio State's national title hopes came to an end.