COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Michigan State kicker Michael Geiger's 41-yard field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired Saturday, it gave Ohio State its first defeat of the 2015 season.
By the time postgame interviews had concluded, a lot more than a single game seemed to be lost for the Buckeyes.
Embarking on a rant not commonly seen in the college ranks, star running back Ezekiel Elliott tore into the Ohio State coaching staff, questioning the play-calling in the Buckeyes' 17-14 loss to the Spartans. On the cusp of Heisman Trophy contention heading into the final two weeks of the regular season, Elliott totaled just 12 carries for 33 yards and a touchdown, snapping what had been a 15-game streak of 100-yard games.
"I'm disappointed in the play-calling," an emotional Elliott said. "I feel like we just weren't put in the right opportunity to win this game. We weren't put in the right situations to win this game."
Asked to clarify who he was speaking about, Elliott responded, "I'm talking about the play-calling. So whoever calls the plays," a duty that is shared between head coach Urban Meyer, offensive coordinator Ed Warinner and co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tim Beck.
A true junior, Elliott ended his interview session by declaring for the 2016 NFL draft, stating "there's no way I'm coming back next year." The projected first-round pick's cutting comments came just moments after backup quarterback and redshirt junior Cardale Jones posted a tweet indicating Saturday would also be his final home game played in Ohio Stadium.
Add in star defensive end Joey Bosa saying earlier this week the only thing that could bring him back to Ohio State in 2016 would be the chance to play with his younger brother, an incoming 5-star prospect—and even then, it would be a long shot—and you have three Buckeye underclassmen who have essentially declared for the NFL draft before OSU's regular season has ended.
The actions aren't surprising—many expected a mass exodus of pro-ready talent from Ohio State when the 2015 season came to an end. However, the timing has been the focal point, as it's coincided with the Buckeyes' first loss in 23 games.
Given the concerning signs that have been apparent in Columbus, the only real shock might be that Ohio State's winning streak lasted that long.
After a relatively young roster spent the offseason being celebrated for its run through the first-ever College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes entered the season with no shortage of expectations, as the only team to ever be named a unanimous preseason No. 1 in the AP Top 25. Ohio State possessed a favorable, albeit backloaded, schedule and returned a combined 15 starters from last year's national title team.
But after a season-opening prime-time win over Virginia Tech, something seemed to be off with this Buckeyes team. It was still winning, sometimes relying on talent alone, even though its quarterback situation became muddled as Jones—who turned down the opportunity to enter last spring's draft and be a potential second- or third-round pick—was moved to the bench in favor of J.T. Barrett.
Elliott still got his touches, and his 100-yard streak continued, but it was hard not to notice an apparent effort to force the ball into quarterback-turned-wideout Braxton Miller's hands. That may have been what Elliott was alluding to when he criticized his coaches' play-calling for being too "cute."
"It's kind of something we've seen all season, honestly," he said. "We'll have some momentum, we'll call some plays that work and then we'll try to get away from it and try to get cute and run some other stuff."
Despite any criticisms of the Buckeyes' play-calling—and they existed earlier in the year too—Ohio State arrived at Saturday's game undefeated and controlling its own fate when it came to the Big Ten Championship Game and beyond.
In a post-practice interview session Wednesday, which Elliott started by announcing to reporters that they would only be getting five minutes with him, the reigning College Football Playoff MVP put those goals first when asked about what appeared to be increasing momentum in his Heisman Trophy hopes.
"I think about Big Ten championships," he said.
His actions Saturday told another story.
His criticism may not have been wrong—Meyer admitted he, too, was unsatisfied with his team's play selection—but rare is it that a player steps to the plate and takes his coaching staff to task. The same goes for declaring for the draft in the emphatic fashion in which Elliott did, with the Buckeyes' regular-season finale with Michigan still looming.
Elliott, who applied for five personal trademarks over the offseason, will be the story—his rant went viral as the words left his lips—but he's not alone on the Ohio State roster when it comes to looking ahead to the draft. Aside from Jones and Bosa, underclassmen Michael Thomas, Vonn Bell, Darron Lee, Eli Apple and Pat Elflein are all thought of as NFL prospects, as are seniors Taylor Decker, Joshua Perry, Adolphus Washington and Miller.
Some have handled it better than others, and at least until Saturday, most have been politically correct publicly. Elliott's criticisms, however, gave a peek into a locker room focused on more than just team goals; it's one that appears to have been infected by what legendary NBA coach Pat Riley once termed "The Disease of More" when it comes to young teams experiencing success so soon.
Having defended two national titles before, Meyer may have seen this coming. In the hours after the Buckeyes' playoff championship win last season, he called "complacency" Ohio State's greatest upcoming enemy.
As of Saturday, that enemy appears to have won, not completely killing, but striking a major blow to any hopes the Buckeyes had of defending their crown.
They were expected to just because they had a roster full of NFL talent.
As it turns out, that also might be what prevents them from doing so.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.