The No. 14 Ohio State Buckeyes hit the road for the first time this year and came away with a 17-16 victory over the No. 20 Michigan State Spartans Saturday afternoon.
This Big Ten opener was a defensive slugfest, but Braxton Miller was too much for the Spartans to handle. The Buckeyes improve to 5-0 with the victory and Michigan State falls to 3-2 after their earlier loss to Notre Dame this season.
Here are 10 things we learned from Ohio State's one-point victory over the Spartans.
1. This Ohio State team is kind of clutch.
For the third consecutive week, Ohio State found themselves in a one-possession game late in the fourth quarter. For the third consecutive week, Ohio State made plays to claim a victory.
Leading by just one point, the Buckeyes made a huge defensive stand late in the fourth quarter. When the Spartans punted to Ohio State, there was over four minutes on the clock and the Buckeyes were pinned inside their own 20.
Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde made sure Michigan State never got the ball back, notching three first downs without throwing a single pass to kill the clock.
2. Braxton Miller is a tough dude.
You could tell early on that Michigan State wanted to punish Braxton Miller every time he left the pocket.
Miller took huge hits all afternoon, and was even knocked out of the game on two occasions, but the sophomore quarterback kept coming back for his team. After jamming his knee on the tall grass in East Lansing, Braxton came back and finished off the Spartans.
3. Braxton Miller has come a long way.
The last time these two teams met, Miller was completely shut down by the Spartans. He completed just five of 10 passes for 56 yards with no touchdowns and one interception while losing 27 yards on nine carries.
On Saturday, Miller completed 69.6 percent of his passes and threw for 179 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also piled up 136 yards rushing on 23 carries. Miller's 315 total yards was the most given up to an opposing player by Michigan State's sixth-ranked defense so far this year.
It's safe to say Braxton has improved dramatically over the last year.
4. Ohio State's ground game is the real deal.
It was strength against strength in East Lansing with Ohio State's rushing attack facing off against Michigan State's run defense.
The Buckeyes came into the week averaging 229 yards per game on the ground while Michigan State was holding teams to just 69 yards rushing on average.
Ohio State won the day, though, rushing for an impressive 204 yards on 44 carries (4.6 average). Most of that work came from Braxton, but Hyde was impressive coming back from his MCL sprain.
5. The Buckeyes were up to the challenge of stopping Le'Veon Bell.
After some terrible defensive performances in recent weeks, the Buckeyes responded in a big way against Michigan State.
Ohio State held star running back Le'Veon Bell to just 45 rushing yards on 17 carries. That was 107 yards shy of what Bell—the nation's third-leading rusher—was averaging through Michigan State's first four games.
Limiting Bell was clearly a goal of Ohio State's coaching staff, and the defense achieved that goal in a big way.
6. Tackling is still important.
The Buckeyes improved drastically on defense in a lot of areas this week, but Ohio State's pesky tackling issue reared its ugly head at the worst time Saturday.
Leading 10-6, the Buckeyes were trying to stifle a promising Michigan State drive late in the third quarter. Dantonio called a screen play that should've been stopped after just nine yards, but the Buckeyes blew seven opportunities to tackle Keith Mumphrey and he bulldozed his way into the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown catch.
7. Devin Smith is on the verge of superstardom.
Mr. Big Play for the Ohio State wide receiver corps made the biggest play of the game for the Buckeyes right after Michigan State took a 13-10 lead.
Trailing for the first time, Miller connected with Devin Smith for a huge 63-yard touchdown catch to reclaim the lead. Smith outran Michigan State's best cornerback, All-American candidate Johnny Adams, when the ball was in the air and Miller put the pass right on the money.
Through five weeks, Smith has been Ohio State's best receiver.
8. Urban Meyer has not been holding his playbook back.
A lot of folks figured Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was holding back on play-calling to save some plays for the better opponents on their schedule.
Against Michigan State, the Buckeyes didn't do a whole lot that they haven't already shown this year.
The Buckeyes just executed the base plays in Urban Meyer's playbook. There weren't any shovel-option plays or tricky jet sweeps—just raw execution of the basic spread principles.
We might have to wait a year or two to see Urban Meyer's full playbook, mainly because of the complexities of this transition and the lack of playmakers Ohio State has on offense right now.
9. Jake Stoneburner needs to step up.
After starting the year hot, catching three touchdown passes through three games, Stoneburner has gone missing the last two weeks.
Stoneburner hasn't made a single catch in either of Ohio State's last two games. While part of that is Braxton's fault, some responsibility falls on the senior's shoulders. You can't make the argument that the offense isn't designed to utilize a player like him anymore, so a disappearing act this complete should not present itself.
10. Ohio State is the top team in the Big Ten.
The Buckeyes' victory over Michigan State sealed Ohio State's place at the top of the conference.
The conversation started and ended between these two teams, and Ohio State's victory on the road over the Spartans was a huge statement by the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes have a tough game next week when they host Nebraska, but after Week 5, Ohio State is king of the Big Ten.
Follow David on Twitter @davidreg412.
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