I'll work on a short recap later, but this has to go up first:
We're going to the Rose Bowl!
And now, something resembling analysis:
1) Connor Cook, Big Ten Championship MVP.
At the start of the season (and through the first two weeks of non-conference play), the QB position was anything but a strength. It was the spot we were most worried about. Adequate play there would have meant a great season. Tonight, Cook was more than adequate: 24 of 40, a season-high 304 yards passing, two beautiful early touchdowns over single coverage and a third to a wide-open Josiah Price to regain the lead in the fourth quarter. A couple of scary passes that could have been picked off and one that was, but when the Spartan offense couldn't get anything established on the ground early, Cook's arm was the difference.
2) No panic.
After a blazing start, MSU led 17-0, but eventually the two-headed monster of Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde started to break loose. By halftime the lead was down to seven, and it took the Buckeyes just under 3 minutes to tie it up in the third quarter, then C.J. Barnett intercepted Cook at midfield and it looked like trouble. The defense held up there, but after an exchange of punts Ohio State took their first lead with five consecutive rushes, and it looked like the defense might finally be out of gas.
Instead, it was the Buckeyes that broke. A Jeremy Langford run and a Cook option keeper on 4th down led to a Michael Geiger field goal to cut the deficit to 4. Then the defense stuffed Miller to force a punt, Cook hit Macgarrett Kings down the sideline for a huge gain (partially negated by an illegal block), and eventually on third down from the OSU 9, Josiah Price found himself all alone in the left side of the end zone. From there, the defense would not let another lead get away: OSU's last three drives went three-and-out, four-and-out (turnover on downs), one first down followed by a turnover on downs.
3) The No Fly Zone ruled the air again.
When Ohio State had success moving the ball, it was mostly by ground, getting a whopping 273 yards rushing (not sack-adjusted), more than quadruple MSU's average allowed, on 6.8 per carry. Pass plays, however, were where Ohio State drives went to die. After removing two spikes from the stats, Miller went 8 for 21 for just 101 yards and one score. Philly Brown was the only player with more than one catch, and Darqueze Dennard, Kurtis Drummond, and Isaiah Lewis all had key pass breakups. Get Ohio State to third down, and it was game over: 1 for 10 on third down, 0 for 2 on fourth.
4) Going for it pays off.
Twice the Spartan offense went for it on fourth down in no-man's-land; twice they succeeded, leading to both of Geiger's field goals. After the late go-ahead touchdown, Dantonio pulled out the trick play: a deep onside kick that Dennard very nearly recovered. Compared to a touchback, the loss was just 16 yards of field position; the upside in comparison was tremendous. While it didn't work, it's a very worthwhile gamble if you see something in the alignment that makes you think there's a reasonable chance, and the defense held up to prevent any real damage from being done.
5) See you in Pasadena.
Nine Big Ten wins, all by double digits. The last team to run the table in conference with every win by 10+? It happened so long ago, Michigan State wasn't in the Big Ten. While the way the BCS standings shook out might well have sent us to the Rose Bowl anyway, this team left no doubt.
Big Ten champions. They are the ones.