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Film Room: Ohio State

The Spartans needed to play nearly perfect to beat the Buckeyes, and even then it was going to be tough.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Well that wasn’t a very fun Saturday night in Columbus, certainly not what MSU fans were hoping for. Despite doing some good things, the Buckeyes were just too much, and the Spartans made some critical mistakes that they could just not afford to make. Let’s check it out.

When the Levee Breaks

The MSU defense showed up early, forcing three straight three-and-outs and then a punt after the first OSU first down on the fourth series. Unfortunately, at some point you knew the big plays were going to come.

OSU is in the pistol here with three wideouts all to the top of the formation. Up to this point the Bucks had been pretty run heavy on the play calling, and Dobbins had just busted a 13 yarder on the previous play. That leads to all of the linebackers freezing on the play action fake hand-off.

But what really breaks this play open is the mistake on the outside by David Dowell. It’s not something you see from him often as an experienced safety in this defense, but here he gets caught.

When Fields rolls out the outside linebacker steps up to protect against the QB run, but Dowell also jumps up and the receiver goes right past him and is wide open.

It gets worse when Victor catches Gervin flat footed on the pursuit and blows past him to the end zone. Josiah Scott comes all the way across the field to try and save the play, and nearly causes an advantageous fumble, but he’s just a little late.

If you go back to the first clip you can see Scott at the bottom of the and see how far he rant to try and save this, great job not giving up on the play.

Here was the back breaker late in the first half. MSU had gotten it back to within a touchdown late in the first half and has OSU in third and short with a chance to get off the field quickly, Unfortunately this isn’t the three-and-out you want.

Dobbins is about to get the handoff on the read option. That causes the end on the near side to worry about Fields keeping it and takes him out of the play for any backside pursuit. But you think that MSU should be able to fill the gap with one of the linebackers and bottle up the play enough to live to fight another day.

But, the OSU offensive line does a tremendous job and as you can see in this still, completely neutralizes the second line of defense for Michigan State. Dobbins has a clear lane to the first down with an opening behind it.

You can see Panasiuk (green) is frozen worried about Fields, so even though he is unblocked, he’s out of the play because of the option.

It now falls to the safety (red) to come up and make the play on Dobbins.

Unfortunately, as you can see here, he takes a bad initial route as he misreads where the running lane is, or possibly bites on the option keeper. Either way by the time he realizes and tries to recover, Dobbins is past him, because he is really fast.

From there it is basically over. Josiah Scott closes down on him but whiffs on a desperation tackle (or strip) attempt and its back to a two touchdown game.

Ohio State is just too good to contain completely, and these two big plays were killers for the MSU defense. What it really shows is how even one mistake against a team with game breaking play makers can be costly no matter how well you have played up to that point.

First Pick

Justin Fields had yet to throw and interception in his collegiate career, until Saturday night.

This goes to show you that no matter how good you are, throwing off your back foot gets you into trouble. The key to this play is the pressure up the middle right in Fields face. It forces him to drop back, throw off his back foot, and try and make sure he gets it up over the defender closing in. As a result, he sails it over the intended receiver.

Josiah Scott reads the pass, comes off his man, and makes the pick on the overthrown ball. When he catches the ball he is immediately thinking big return, and gets some nice blocking and gets it back out near mid-field.


Right after Ohio State broke through for the first touchdown mentioned above, the Spartan offense came down the field and answered with a TD drive of their own. It turned out to be the only one of the game, but it was big at the time.

Here is the touchdown. Once again we see MSU using some interesting formations in the red zone. Here we have two tight ends and Lewerke under center with Collins the single deep back.

They bring Cody White in motion across the formation at the snap. White then continues across to sit down in the flat. Both tight ends run routes, while Collins stays in after play action to help in pass protection.

The jet motion causes the safety on the near side to slide down to take White. That opens up the inside route for Stewart as the corner is playing well to the outside to start the play and gets semi-screened by the safety crashing down on White.

Lewerke helps out by looking left initially, before coming back to Stewart. That keeps the other safety in the middle long enough for the throw to get through to Stewart.

Lewerke delivers a bullet to Stewart in the perfect spot and he hangs on for the touchdown while the OSU defender rips his helmet off.

While ultimately the offense made too many mistakes on the night, they played well for stretches. But once they got behind and were forced to throw a ton it really played into OSU’s hands.

In the end, the fumbles, the drops, and the penalties spelled doom for MSU. They needed to play a clean and nearly perfect game, and that just didn’t happen. If they can clean up some of these mistakes, I think it is a much closer game, although probably still one that Ohio State wins.

Another tough test awaits them in Madison next week so let’s hope they can clean it up in a hurry.