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Spartan Football Playback: Michigan State vs. Ohio State (2015)

Without MSU’s starting quarterback, a tactical Spartans team snatched the Big Ten East throne in Columbus.

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Opponent: Ohio State Buckeyes

Date: Nov. 21, 2015

Location: Ohio Stadium - Columbus, Ohio

Final Score: 17-14, Michigan State

All-time Matchup Record: Ohio State leads 34-15

If someone had told you before the season that Michigan State and its Heisman Trophy-favorite running back Kenneth Walker III would head into Columbus with a Big Ten East title on the line against Ohio State, would you be happy? Sometimes, we need to remember how expectations should shape our satisfactions. In August, a lot of fans and pundits weren’t even sure if this Michigan State team would be bowl eligible. Now in November, the Spartans have exceeded all expectations and the team controls it own destiny with two games left to play.

The Spartans will certainly have their hands full with a surging Ohio State team that’s been waiting to make a statement since its early season loss to Oregon; it also won't be the first time the Spartans went into “The Horseshoe” as underdogs, despite being a top-10 team.

The Buckeyes have had some uncharacteristic issues this season, but quarterback C.J. Stroud is coming off his best performance yet last weekend versus Purdue and will have a full repertoire of weapons around him. OSU seems to be playing its best football right now, which is scary for MSU and the rest of the Big Ten.

For Michigan State to prevail, it likely has to turn this game into a shootout. Walker will need to (at least) hit his season averages and Payton Thorne would have to play his best game yet, especially with Jalen Nailor’s status unclear. It’s unlikely the worst pass defense in the country will be able to contain Stroud, but freshman running back Treveyon Henderson presents plenty of other issues as well.

Needless to say, a victory will require Michigan State to play its best game this season, and the Spartans will probably need some luck as well — but history tells us it’s not an impossible feat. In 2015, a Michigan State team without its starting quarterback in Connor Cook pulled off one of the school’s most memorable victories en route to the Spartans’ first College Football Playoff berth.

Game Recap

The 2015 matchup between Michigan State and Ohio State was mostly dominated by defense. Ohio State managed just 132 yards against the Spartans and lost to a Big Ten team in the regular season for the first time in Urban Meyer’s tenure as the Buckeyes’ head coach.

As previously mentioned, MSU was missing one of its best players in quarterback Connor Cook, due to an injury he suffered in the previous game. The Spartans relied mostly on their rushing attack to move the ball and were forced to use backup quarterbacks Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry under center, who combined for just 16 pass attempts.

A masterful game plan prepared by Mark Dantonio and the MSU coaching staff ended up being overshadowed by Meyer’s decision to limit Ezekiel Elliot’s touches in the second half of the game. Besides turning the ball over twice, the Spartans truly outplayed Ohio State in almost every facet of the game:

First downs: MSU - 17, OSU - 5

Passing yards: MSU - 91, OSU - 46

Rushing yards: MSU - 203, OSU - 86

Time of possession: MSU - 38:10, OSU - 21:50

Michael Geiger’s clutch field goal and proceeding windmills will always be remembered most, but the drive leading up to the kick somewhat personified the entire season for the Spartans, in that, they just always found a way to win. Two huge third-down conversions set-up the 41-yard boot from Gieger and sent the college football world into a frenzy.