OSU Defense Doomed By Inconsistency

In surrendering 14 fourth-quarter points, the Ohio State defense let the lead and momentum slip away, ultimately costing the Buckeyes a perfect season and a berth in the BCS Championship. The late-game miscues arose for the second game in a row, one week after the Silver Bullets allowed three fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 42-41 win at Michigan.

Ohio State's perfect season hung in the balance. After surrendering 17 consecutive points to open the game, the Buckeye defense appeared to have turned a corner. Three scores in the first four drives for the Spartans had been followed by three punts and an interception over the next four possessions. During that span, Ohio State scored 24 unanswered points to take the lead.

The defensive success, it turns out, was an illusion.

"The best thing was our defense really played well for about three or four series there," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said. "We were able to take the lead. Then we lost it."

Michigan State responded with back-to-back scoring drives – first a 44-yard field goal, then a 9-yard touchdown pass by sophomore quarterback Connor Cook – to retake the lead. After OSU forced a punt the next time out, the Spartans iced the game on a 26-yard touchdown romp from Jeremy Langford with just 2:16 remaining. The next time the Spartans held the ball, they were in the victory formation.

The sequence of events would have been shocking, had it not unfolded almost the exact same way just one week ago. After yielding touchdowns to Michigan on each of its first three possessions, the Ohio State defense managed to stop the Wolverines on six consecutive drives. In the fourth quarter, however, the Silver Bullets all but lost a 14-point lead by allowing touchdowns on Michigan's final three drives.

In those moments, Ohio State always seemed to have someone failing to make a play. Senior safeties Corey "Pitt" Brown and C.J. Barnett both yielded wide-open touchdowns, and missed tackles were commonplace in both stretches of hapless defense.

"Football's the greatest team sport known to man, because it takes 11 guys," Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. "You have 10 out there and they're gonna find that one guy. That's why it's such a special sport. And that's what we've all gotta make sure we do a better job of is making sure we all stick together through these adverse situations."

It didn't help the cause that first-team All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby, widely regarded as one of OSU's best defenders, missed the drive in which MSU took the lead due to a knee injury. Michigan State attacked replacement Armani Reeves from the outset, and Cook completed four passes, including the touchdown pass to Josiah Price.

"Any time you take a great player out... I don't know," Meyer said. "Armani goes in there and plays. He didn't screw it up or anything. Obviously, take a great player off the field, that's an issue."

For Ohio State, it was but one of many issues that plagued the defense. For the second time in as many weeks, an incomplete unit played an incomplete game. This time, it faced an opponent that proved able to take advantage.

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