Fourth Down Call Was OSU's Last Stand

In many ways, the entire Ohio State-Michigan State Big Ten title game could be summed up by one play -- the missed fourth-down try with less than six minutes to go that ended the Buckeyes' last big scoring threat. The teams matched strength vs. strength, and the Spartans came out ahead.

In a game of momentum swings Saturday, Ryan Shazier likely thought he had made the biggest one yet with just under eight minutes to play.

The Ohio State linebacker used sheer force to get his way to Michigan State punter Mike Sadler, getting his hand on a punt that sailed only 19 yards.

"I was just doing my job," he said. "Coach told us to go and hit the bears (protection blockers). I thought it was pretty weak. I tried to block and get us as much momentum as possible."

With Ohio State taking over the ball after Sadler's short punt at Michigan State's 47-yard line, the stage was set for the Buckeyes to put together a scoring drive that could overturn a 27-24 deficit and keep not just a school-record winning streak but the team's national title hopes alive in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Four plays later, though, momentum was back in green and white. On fourth down, quarterback Braxton Miller was stopped short of the line to gain with 5:41 to play, and less four minutes later, the Spartans iced the game and the Big Ten title when Jeremy Langford split the defense for a 26-yard TD run.

The call on fourth down might haunt the Buckeyes brain trust -- head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman for a while. With the Buckeyes suddenly finding yards to come by, they let Miller keep the ball on the fourth-and-2 only to see him stopped short of the first down.

And afterward, the buck stopped with Meyer, who often grabs the wheel in such situations.

"Yeah, it was my call," the head coach said after tasting defeat for the first time as OSU's boss. "I wanted to put the ball in the hands of our best player, Braxton. We usually run that play a lot. We ran it to the boundary. I knew they'd pressure us. Thought he might be able to come out the other end of it.

"It was a chance to go try to win the game."

Miller ran for 4 yards on a veer option play on first down, then Carlos Hyde bulled for 3 more on an inside give to set up third-and-3. On that play, Ohio State went back to one of its bread-and-butter plays, a quarterback power run behind pulling tight end Jeff Heuerman and guard Andrew Norwell, but Miller was tripped by Micajah Reynolds to set up the fourth down at the 39.

Ohio State called timeout to discuss what it would do, and the result was that it would keep the ball in its quarterback's hands.

Before the snap, Heuerman motioned to the right side of the formation, and Miller ran behind the tight end on a sweep to the edge. But MSU linebacker Denicos Allen slid off of the block attempt of Heuerman, one of the better blocking tight ends the Buckeyes have had in recent years, and corralled Miller a yard short of the first-down marker.

"We had actually practiced that play against that blitz, and they executed better than we did," Herman said. "You're in that gray area on fourth and whatever, 1 1/2 or 2, to throw it or run it, and (Miller) was obviously running with some serious authority. If you run your quarterback, you gain an extra hat. We didn't execute."

On the other side, Michigan State felt it knew what was coming as well. It was a play of strength vs. strength, and the Spartans came out ahead.

"Big play by Denicos," MSU head coach Mark Dantonio said. "We knew that on fourth down they were going to put it in Braxton Miller's hands and give him a run-pass option or sweep right or left with him. That's what they did.

"Obviously we got some penetration. Guys made the play around it. Made the stop. Not easy to do. Braxton Miller is an outstanding player. They have an outstanding football team."

That begged the question whether OSU should have given the ball to Hyde, but the running back was fine with the play call.

"I thought it was a great call," Hyde said. "I felt like we had ‘em but a guy came off his block. He made a great play right there."

Ohio State finished the game with 273 rushing yards, including 142 from the legs of Miller. One more at a key time could have changed the game, but instead, it was Michigan State that made the biggest play of the game.

"It was a good call, the right call, especially against what we expected, against the blitz," Herman said. "The kid made a good play. He made himself hard to block and blew it up before it got started."

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