No. 10 Ohio State moved to 9-1 with a less-than-convincing 26-6 win over No. 18 Michigan State on Saturday.
Michigan State pulled to within 7-6 after a third-quarter field goal. Things got weird from there. Faced with a punt from its own end zone with 42 seconds left, Michigan State and coach Mark Dantonio apparently chose to take an intentional safety. The snap went well over punter William Pryzstup’s head and he didn’t appear too concerned about it.
Intentional safeties late in games aren’t uncommon by a team that’s leading. Rarely do you see them done by teams that are trailing. And very rarely do you see them in the third quarter.
The Spartans apparently wanted to prevent a punt block for a touchdown by Ohio State and force the Buckeyes to start further back than they would if the punt got off cleanly. The strategy worked out OK in the short term. The ensuing kickoff went out of bounds and Ohio State had to start at the 50. But Michigan State forced a punt.
After starting at its own 2, things went downhill in a hurry. Ohio State scored a touchdown for a 16-6 lead after a shotgun snap hit a receiver in motion. Michigan State had another terrible fumble on its next possession, leading to an Ohio State field goal, and punted and threw an interception on the following two possessions.
Ohio State’s star? The punt team
OSU’s special teams got off to an inauspicious start when Drue Chrisman shanked a punt so far out of bounds that it landed in the stands and traveled just four yards.
Things went really well from there. Chrisman punted eight other times for 336 yards and pinned six of those punts inside the 20 thanks to great work from his coverage team. Michigan State’s lack of offensive explosion was constantly exacerbated by poor field position.
Ohio State struggles to run the ball again
Ohio State struggled to run the ball in the first half. Things picked up a bit in the second half, but not by much. Yeah, sacks are added in, but Ohio State finished with 43 carries for 123 yards. That’s an average of less than three yards a carry. Again. The Buckeyes’ inability to have a constant ground game is a big reason why OSU is the lowest-ranked Power Five team with one loss in the College Football Playoff rankings.
That status probably isn’t going to change on Tuesday either. While Ohio State thoroughly deserved the win, Michigan State did everything it could in the second half to give it to Ohio State with the two unforced fumbles.
But hey, the Buckeyes are going to stay in the top 10 and are still in the thick of the Big Ten East race. That’s not nothing. A convincing win over Michigan doesn’t look likely, but the possibility of that and a Big Ten East title will keep the Buckeyes’ playoff hopes flickering for at least another week.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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