COMMENTARY | Heading into the Big Ten championship game as a six-point favorite, the Ohio State Buckeyes walked away with a 34-24 loss at the hands of the #10 Michigan State Spartans.
Riding a 24-game winning streak and a possible BCS national championship berth into the matchup, many, including myself, were already looking ahead to a Ohio State-Florida State national title game.
So what, exactly, happened to the Buckeyes?
It's actually quite simple -- Michigan State was the better team.
Boasting one of the best defenses in the country, it seemed a sure-bet that Ohio State would be able to create pressure on sophomore Spartan quarterback Connor Cook and force mistakes. Though the Buckeyes were able to force Cook into one interception, the Spartans never had much difficulty in airing it out. Cook ended the day with 304 yards and three touchdowns on 24-40 passing.
Not only was Cook throwing all over the Buckeyes' defense, but running back Jeremy Langford had a very productive day as well. Langford carried the ball 24 times for 128 yards and the walk-off touchdown in the fourth quarter, essentially sealing the game for the Spartans by giving them a 10-point lead.
The biggest problem for Ohio State was that only one of Michigan State's scores came from within the red zone. With touchdown passes of 72, 33, and 9 yards, and a rushing touchdown of 26 yards, it is evident that the Buckeyes struggled with the passing game in any capacity. Cook's three touchdowns all came to different receivers, proving that there wasn't any one singular weak secondary player for the Buckeyes.
There were, however, bright spots for the Buckeyes. Braxton Miller again looked phenomenal, posting 142 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, while also throwing for 101 yards and a touchdown. Running back Carlos Hyde contributed with 118 yards on the ground, and safety C.J. Barnett had one interception.
Down 17-0 in the first half, it appeared that Ohio State had been caught looking ahead to the BCS and overlooking the Spartans. However, the Buckeyes scored 17 consecutive points to tie the game and went ahead 24-17 on a 6-yard Braxton Miller touchdown run. Michigan State then went on a 17-point run of its own to seal the game.
Were the Buckeyes caught looking ahead? Perhaps. However, head coach Urban Meyer is not one to allow his team to look further than the week ahead. Were they ill-prepared? Not likely, as Meyer is one of the premiere game-planners in the country.
Again, it's simple -- Michigan State was just the better team. Connor Cook had the game of a lifetime against what was a very good pass defense prior to the game. The Michigan State defense came up with stops when needed, holding Ohio State to only one conversion on 10 third-down attempts, and 0-for-2 on fourth down. Mark Dantonio simply out-coached Urban Meyer and the Ohio State coaching staff. Michigan State proved it was the best team in the Big Ten.
As for the Buckeyes? They now look forward to their January 3 matchup with the Clemson Tigers in the Discover Orange Bowl, played in Miami, Florida. The Tigers are coming off of a 10-2 season that saw losses to only the #1 Florida State Seminoles and the #10 South Carolina Gamecocks. Senior quarterback Tajh Boyd and junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins highlight the talented Clemson team, which averaged 40.2 points per game.
If the Ohio State Buckeyes want to have any chance of redeeming themselves in the Orange Bowl, the secondary is going to have to take their performance against Michigan State's Connor Cook and completely forget about it. Give up that kind of cushion to Clemson's Boyd, and it's going to be a long night.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics were courtesy of ESPN.com.
Joe Tacosik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a Yahoo Sports contributor. You can read Joe's writings here, on BleacherReport.com and his freelance writing at JoeTacosik.com
You can also follow Joe on Twitter (@JoeBobTaco).
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