It was quite a roller coaster ride for the Ohio State defense. A normally consistent unit performed a classic case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde on Saturday afternoon at the Horseshoe.
However, while Michigan State quarterback Drew Stanton was teetering and tottering, and the Buckeye defense was bending and even breaking, Ohio State was still sacking Stanton more often than a small bag of groceries in a 35-24 win against Michigan State.
For the last three games against San Diego State, Iowa and Penn State, the defense had allowed no more than 190 yards in a game. Although the Spartans gained 456 yards against the Buckeyes and got in the end zone on three occasions, Ohio State dropped Stanton for a loss on 12 different plays.
That's 12 sacks. Twelve.
"It's a big thing," defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock said. "Throughout the year we haven't got many but 12 sacks shows how hard we were playing and how well the coverage was sometimes in the secondary."
Sometimes it takes over half a season or more for some defenses to register that many sacks, but Ohio State had 12 in one single game and recorded 15 tackles for a loss.
Oh sure, they had help. Michigan State was often shooting themselves in the foot with penalties or stupid mistakes. With a chance to extend their 10-point lead into 13 at the half, they were late getting a man off the field and on the same play and had a field goal blocked by Ohio State's Nate Salley which was scooped up and raced 72 yards for a touchdown by Ashton Youboty.
But despite Stanton throwing for 344 yards and a touchdown, early and often Ohio State got pressure and sacked him, doing just enough to keep him from throwing for daylight even more. Four of those sacks came from Bobby Carpenter while David Patterson had a coming out party with three of his own.
"He's always been a great player," Pitcock said of Patterson, "and I think he just needed more time on the field to see what he could do."
Ohio State was able to overcome fatigue, being on the field for 40:59 and 87 plays compared to just 19:01 and 41 plays for Ohio State's offense.
Much like Patterson, senior linebacker A.J. Hawk overcame exhaustion, emotion and a lot of big plays by the Spartans to help make some key fourth quarter stops.
Hawk led Ohio State with 19 tackles including 10 solo tackles.
"We were on the field a lot because we let them drive the ball," Hawk said. "At times we were a little tired, yeah, I think at times everyone's defense gets a little beat."
But while they were often on their heels, another of the excellent Ohio State linebackers said it was important to stand up in the clutch.
"We just kind of dug deep and got the job done I guess," Carpenter noted. "We were exhausted in the first half. They had all the momentum. Everyone was completely gassed. They came out in the second half and drove the ball and scored and after that we just kind of said, 'We can't let them score any more.'"
The blocked field goal that took Ohio State into the locker room at half time only down three points was a huge lift for a tired defense.
"We felt lucky to be that close as poorly as we played in all facets of the game," Carpenter added. "We were really blessed to be down only three."
But it's not like Ohio State was getting beat badly but someone obscure. Stanton is likely to win the first team All-Big Ten selection at quarterback.
Ohio State safety Donte Whitner isn't surprised. He put Stanton in some pretty good company.
"I would say he's the best quarterback we have faced so far," Whitner said of Stanton.
And for reference, he didn't forget about Texas' Vincent Young.
"Well, Vince had better athletic ability but I would say that Drew Stanton, in my opinion, was the best quarterback we have played so far," Whitner added. "He's great at making reads, he gets the ball to his receivers, and he throws an accurate ball."
In addition to 344 yards passing, Stanton added 62 yards on 24 carries on the ground. Michigan State's leading rusher on the day was freshman tailback Javon Ringer who rushed for 77 yards.
Whitner also highlighted a strong group of individual performances on the afternoon recording 11 tackles, including three for a loss of 20 yards.
Carpenter also added 11 tackles for Ohio State, as fellow linebacker Anthony Schlegel assisted with a total of 10 tackles.
Seven different Ohio State players recorded a sack on Saturday, including five different guys with one sack each.