Wow. Just wow.
The pundit(s) picked Ohio State to continue its undefeated run since the start of last year and possibly get into the BCS National Championship Game—but apparently somebody forgot to tell 11-1 Michigan State.
Make that 12-1 Michigan State, after the Spartans’ 34-24 see-saw win over the Buckeyes (12-1) in Saturday night’s 2013 Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. MSU is now off to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the Spartans beat USC, 20-17, in 1988.
MSU took a 17-0 lead in the first half on Saturday, saw OSU go up 24-17 in the third quarter, and then closed out the contest on another 17-0 run, punctuated by Jeremy Langford’s 26-yard scoring burst up the middle with 3:20 remaining in regulation. That run sent the Spartans west to face Stanford on New Year’s Day.
"Our guys are resilient," said Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio on the FOX postgame show. "We just kept playing, and we got it back."
The Spartans, who went 8-0 in the Big Ten and whose only blemish on the year was a 17-13 loss at Notre Dame in September, rebounded after OSU quarterback Braxton Miller scored from six yards out to put the Buckeyes up by a touchdown with 6:20 left in the third quarter.
Then it was the Green and White's turn to take the lead again—for good this time, as it turned out.
MSU quarterback Connor Cook (24-of-40, 304 yards, 3 TD) led the comeback, guiding the Spartans to a 44-yard field goal by Michael Geiger to make it a four-point game after Cook faked a pitch-out to his left and got the first down himself on a fourth-and-two situation.
Early in the fourth period, Cook drove MSU down the field (8 plays, 90 yards) and put the Spartans ahead for good on a nine-yard toss to a wide-open Josiah Price in the left corner of the end zone.
"He's resilient. Nothing really seems to faze him," said Dantonio of Cook, who earned MVP accolades. "He's done an outstanding job and is poised back there, and our guys are making great catches."
First-year starter Cook completed passes to eight different receivers, with Keith Mumphrey and Tony Lippett also catching scoring throws. On the ground, Langford rushed 24 times for 129 yards, including the clinching TD.
"We played a good team tonight," said OSU head coach Urban Meyer, who suffered his first defeat since taking over the Buckeyes last season, when they were ineligible to win the Big Ten title or go to a bowl. "It's a team game."
Ohio State’s much-vaunted rushing attack had some success against a strong Spartan defense that ranked first in the nation in total defense entering the contest. Miller led all rushers in Indianapolis with 21 attempts for 142 yards and two scores, while Carlos Hyde ran 18 times for 113 yards.
Miller, though, was just 8-of-21 through the air for 101 yards and one TD, and came up short on the Buckeyes' final drive when his 4th-and-10 attempt fell incomplete with less than two minutes left on the clock.
After the Buckeyes took a seven-point lead on a second short touchdown run by Braxton in the third quarter, it appeared that OSU may have been on its way to its 26th consecutive victory and a date in the final BCS Championship Game in Pasadena on Jan. 6. Instead, the Buckeyes recorded their first loss since a 40-34 setback to Michigan on Nov. 26, 2011.
"I felt we had some momentum," said Meyer. "You have to finish the job."
MSU did, and now it's off to Pasadena itself, for the Rose Bowl, for the first time since 1988.
"The difference between good and great is not that big sometimes," said Dantonio.