COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—Craig Krenzel was more worried about losing the game than his starting job.
Krenzel threw three touchdown passes and Lydell Ross ran for 125 yards to lead No. 7 Ohio State to a 33-23 victory over No. 14 Michigan State on Saturday.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said on Tuesday that he hoped to get backup Scott McMullen into the game early because of the way McMullen had played last week. It was McMullen’s 5-yard pass to Michael Jenkins with 1:35 left that gave the Buckeyes a 21-20 win at Penn State while Krenzel watched from the sidelines with a mild concussion.
“I wasn’t motivated by being replaced; I was motivated by offensively we haven’t done as well as we should have all year long,” Krenzel said. “Coming down the stretch of this season we’re going to need to put some points on the board to help our defense.”
Ohio State moved into a tie for the top spot in the conference heading into season-ending games against No. 16 Purdue and No. 8 Michigan.
The Buckeyes (9-1, 5-1 Big Ten) turned the game around on Tyler Everett’s second-quarter interception and 66-yard return.
Jeff Smoker passed for 351 yards for the Spartans (7-3, 4-2), but 265 yards came in the opening half. Smoker was 35-of-55 for two touchdowns with two interceptions. The 55 attempts were one more than John Leister’s 1980 school mark and Smoker’s 35 completions were three more than the MSU mark he shared with Leister.
“They were coming hard,” Smoker said of Ohio State’s front line. “It’s one of the best defenses in the country. It’s definitely the best defense we’ve seen all year.”
Ben Hartsock, Santonio Holmes and Ryan Hamby caught touchdown passes from Krenzel.
“It was a textbook Krenzel performance,” Hartsock said. “He was checking at the line, firing the ball in there and he took some risks today. He wasn’t worried about losing his starting position. He was only concerned with beating Michigan State.”
Krenzel, 22-2 as a starter, completed 12 of 23 passes for 213 yards with one interception and added 33 yards rushing on 14 attempts. He entered the game with only six TD passes this season, two in the last four games.
“This time of year in the Big Ten, wins are tough to come by,” Krenzel said. “I’m just happy we walked away from this game with a win against a great team. We’ve got two more great football teams coming up.”
The Buckeyes won their 15th consecutive home game before a crowd of 105,194, the second largest ever at Ohio Stadium.
Ohio State took the second-half kickoff and needed just eight plays to cover 80 yards, with Krenzel hitting tight end Hamby on a 2-yard play-action pass for a 24-10 lead.
On the kickoff, however, the Spartans’ DeAndra Cobb sped up the middle and then cut to the right sideline untouched for a 93-yard touchdown return—his third TD return of the season. It was the first kickoff return for a score against Ohio State since Michigan State’s Larry Jackson also went 93 yards against the Buckeyes in 1984.
“I was just trying to get the momentum changed,” Cobb said. “We needed it. That was the only thing that was running through my mind.”
Ohio State’s defense all but slammed the door shut the rest of the way, limiting the Spartans to Smoker’s 19-yard scoring pass to Aaron Alexander with 3:21 remaining.
Mike Nugent kicked field goals of 44, 24, 42 and 18 for the Buckeyes, the latter three stretching the lead to 33-17 before the Spartans’ final score.
Michigan State led 7-3 and was moving downfield early in the second period. On second down at the Ohio State 18, Smoker was pressured, underthrowing the ball down the left sideline. Everett picked off the pass at the 6 and streaked past the Buckeyes bench while teammates and coaches cheered him on and waved towels. He brought the ball back 66 yards to the Michigan State 28.
The momentum had abruptly changed.
“That was big. Was it crucial? It really would have given us a boost,” Michigan State coach John L. Smith said. “Anytime you make a mistake, it’s vital—especially against a team like that.”
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel added, “Turnovers are the key to everything. When there’s a 70-yard flop on a turnover like that, that’s huge.”
Ohio State picked up one yard on the next two plays but then benefited from an offsides and a dead-ball personal-foul penalty to get a first down at the 11.
Michigan State—the most penalized team in the Big Ten—had 12 penalties for 89 yards, many killing drives or extending Ohio State possessions.
Krenzel then tossed a 17-yard strike to Hartsock for a 10-7 lead.
Michigan State punted on its next possession and Ohio State wasted no time in making it 17-7 on Krenzel’s 37-yard TD pass to Holmes.
Michigan State had its fewest rushes ever—17 for 5 net yards—against the nation’s second stingiest defense against the run.
“We knew coming into the game we had to get after Smoker,” defensive end Will Smith said. “Any time we can make a team one-dimensional—just throwing the ball—it’s in favor of the defense.”