The Buckeyes continued to roll up gaudy offensive numbers against MSU, stayed on their red zone hot streak, and made more progress on defense.
Covering A Lot of Green Against The Green And White
Ohio State has put up at least 521 yards of offense against Michigan State in each of the last four meetings. OSU has won nine in a row and 16 of the last contests against Sparty and hasn’t lost in East Lansing since 1999.
After putting up 655 yards a year ago in a 56-7 victory, the Buckeyes rolled to 614 in this year’s contest. OSU hit for 11 plays of 20+ yards against a Spartans defense that came into the contest limping, ranking 100th nationally in total defense.
“It all starts with physicality up front, running the ball,” OSU head coach Ryan Day said.
The Buckeyes won the battle up front, and TreVeyon Henderson finished with 118 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. That ability to pick up chunk yardage on the ground led to big plays in the passing game, and those big plays were enough to stress the Spartans overmatched defense.
CJ Stroud threw six touchdown passes against Michigan State for the second year in a row and had just five incompletions. Day was impressed with how well Stroud played given the less-than-ideal conditions, and given the fact that he was responsible for a rare Pick 6 that gave the Spartans their first points.
“What can you say about someone who was throwing the ball like that, with a 20-mile-an-hour wind,” Day said. “His timing was clicking and the offensive line gave him a good pocket. He had a good thought process the entire game. Big day for C.J.”
Ohio State appears to be the rare team that can beat you multiple ways offensively.
Making Foes See Red
The Buckeyes came into the game leading the nation in red zone touchdown percentage, finding the end zone on 92 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line.
OSU went four-for-four against the Spartans, moving their clip to 93.1 percent.
“It’s just a mentality, to play physical,” Day said. “The offensive line sees it as a challenge, and to this point, we have been successful down deep.”
The Buckeyes’ proficiency this season is a marked change from a year ago when they struggled to punch it in from close range. Ohio State scored touchdowns on 38 of 54 red zone trips, just over 64 percent. It has been since 2019 that the Buckeyes have been this lethal in the red zone. That year, OSU finished fourth nationally, converting nearly 79 percent of its red zone trips into touchdowns.
“You want to show that you can win the physical battles and scoring in the red zone is a sign of that,” Day said. “You have to get creative sometimes in the red zone because the field is shortened and the defenses are tougher. We have been executing very well in the red zone.”
Especially encouraging is OSU’s ability to throw the ball in close range. Stroud had a pair of 19-yard TD tosses, as well as a two-yard strike to Gee Scott in the back of the end zone.
Still Looking For Defensive Improvement
Given the night and day performance of Ohio State’s stop unit from last year to this season, one might think that Day is happy with how the Buckeyes are playing on defense.
OSU allowed just 4.21 yards per play against Michigan State, slightly better than its 4.521 average entering the game. The Buckeyes are top 15 in that category and have shown proficiency against the run, allowing foes less than three yards per tote.
Day said that the hallmark of championship football teams is the ability to stop an opponent’s ground game.
“The way the defense played, across the board, they did a great job of stopping the run,” Day said. “Defensive line was strong, the linebackers were excellent, our guys just played strong. We played good football on the road.”
Michigan State didn’t have a single runner reach 10 yards and managed just 0.4 yards per carry for the entire game. Ohio State was aggressive and was able to shoot gaps and win the battle up front against the Spartans. Ohio State also tallied four sacks and got repeated pressure on Payton Thorne.
If there was an area of concern it was Ohio State’s inability to stop explosive passing plays. There were a number of throws from Thorne that covered 15+ yards, and even though there was often a Buckeye in the proper place the ball was not knocked down. The offense has been able to cover for any deficiencies in the secondary, but as defenses get tougher those explosive plays could become a problem.
“I keep looking at it, we’re there. We just aren’t making plays,” Day said. “We have to address it. I know we can do it. I think our defense is playing very, very well. When you talk about winning on the road, veteran guys have to play like veterans. That happened today.”
It seems a bit ridiculous to find fault with a team that may just be the most complete in all of college football. But Day is always striving for perfection, so questioning the little things is something not only reserved for the media. The coaches do it, too.
“That’s a good thing, to nitpick,” Day said. “It seems a little unfair, but we want to be the best team in the country. We have to keep building and growing. We have to address that during the bye week. What we’ve done the first six weeks means nothing going forward. These guys are still young players, the competitive stamina is the angle we’ve been taking, bringing it every week.”