Urban Meyer has Ohio State back where it belongs after win over Michigan State

EAST LANSING, Mich. – All week, his players said, Urban Meyer had walked around reminding them. Not so much of what Michigan State did to Ohio State eleven months ago, when an upset in the Big Ten title game ended the Buckeyes' national dreams and left Meyer picking at a cold, postgame pizza, the picture of forlorn.

That was part of it but that wasn't the important part. Revenge is too easy, too fleeting, too reliant on what someone else did to you, rather than what you do for yourself.

This was about what Ohio State is, what it stands for, why they all came together in Columbus in the first place – players and coaches – all drawn to a tradition of not just excellence, but relevance.

Urban Meyer didn't come out of retirement and head to the Midwest to play second fiddle to anyone. All those players that bought into his system, either the ones he inherited or the ones he recruited, didn't either. The entire relentless exercise is about winning championships, winning big games, winning in ways so that no one can ignore you.

Given the chance to be underdogs, the chance to claim everyone was picking against him, Meyer preached the opposite. There was no woe is us.

We're Ohio State, he told them. This is Ohio State, he challenged them. "I'll never feel like an underdog here," offensive lineman Taylor Decker said.

Ohio State 49, Michigan State 37.

Order restored, Buckeyes risen, Ohio State back to being Ohio State.

"This is one for the ages," Meyer said.

Meyer is now 21-0 during the Big Ten regular season, yet nearly three full seasons into his tenure in Columbus he still lacked a signature win, which says plenty about the caliber of most of those league opponents.

Michigan State represented legitimacy, a top opponent, with a vicious defense, on the road, at night, in a frenzied stadium. Beat the Spartans, by far the most credible opponent on the schedule, and Ohio State could at last act like it had done something.

Buckeyes QB J.T. Barrett (16) runs away from Spartans LB Ed Davis. (USA TODAY Sports)
Buckeyes QB J.T. Barrett (16) runs away from Spartans LB Ed Davis. (USA TODAY Sports)

Meyer knew he could keep hanging 50 on Maryland and Rutgers and Illinois, but no one cared and no one caring hurt more than anything. Being outside the SEC spotlight is one thing, being relegated to also-ran status behind Michigan State was another.

"I know that he really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really wanted to win this game," safety Tyvis Powell said.

This was a show of force for the Buckeyes in every imaginable way. There was an offensive line that was determined to beat down the Spartans' vaunted defense – 268 yards rushing later, that was accomplished.

There was a young quarterback in J.T. Barrett, who not only would show the confidence to air it out deep, but the bull-strength to lower a shoulder, blast over defenders and set the tone.

"We knew he was a dude," running back Ezekiel Elliott said of his QB, who threw for 300 and three TDs and rushed for 108 and two more scores.

"J.T.," Meyer marveled, "boy is he playing well."

There was a general pride in taking the fight to MSU, which prides itself on, if nothing else, being tougher, meaner, hungrier than its opponent.

Not Saturday night, Meyer kept challenging his guys. Not to us. You could fill this place with 75,000-plus, fired up by a day of staying warm via whiskey. You could send the wind and even a few snowflakes, and it wasn't going to matter. Ohio State was not going to be pushed around.

Spartans RB Jeremy Langford (33) has the ball knocked away CB Damon Webb. (USA TODAY Sports)
Spartans RB Jeremy Langford (33) has the ball knocked away CB Damon Webb. (USA TODAY Sports)

This was personal. This was pride. This was what the entire operation is supposed to be about, playing big on the biggest stage possible.

Ohio State is 8-1 overall, 5-0 in the Big Ten. It'll no doubt climb from its No. 14 ranking in the playoff committee poll. How high is the question.

The schedule isn't particularly impressive. There was a two-touchdown loss at home to a middling Virginia Tech club back in September. Only a decent Minnesota team and the Big Ten title game, perhaps with Nebraska, are still out there to impress anyone.

There's work to be done, although Meyer could only shrug at the playoff talk.

"Oh, I don't know enough," Meyer said. "I like my team … if I have to go fight for this team for what they've done …"

He'll fight for his team. He'll argue for his team. He'll lobby for his team. He'll point out how young it was in September, how inexperienced Barnett was at the time and how great the Buckeyes are playing now. He'll go to the wall for his guys because Saturday they went to the wall for him.

He's been through this before, arguing about a chance to play for it all. He won two national titles at Florida. He knows the game. He also knows sometimes the small things, the internal things, are what matter most.

So Meyer just didn't seem ready to care. This game was never about the playoffs – past or future.

This was about the ethos of Ohio State football, about being the program he and the players believe they are. The bullies. The brutes. The team to beat. The one that's still talking about championships into November and December.

"A lot went into this," Meyer said.

First and last, this was about the Buckeyes, Urban Meyer's Buckeyes. The Spartans just found themselves in the way.

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