The No. 10 Ohio State Buckeyes kept their playoff hopes alive by pulling away from No. 18 Michigan State to earn a 26-6 victory at Spartan Stadium on Saturday.
Coming off an ugly win at home against Nebraska last week, Ohio State appeared to be reeling heading into this game. Head coach Urban Meyer got his team back on track with its biggest win of the season.
Taking on a stout Michigan State defense, Haskins finished with 227 passing yards and one touchdown. Mike Weber had 104 yards and one score on 22 carries. It was the first time he's surpassed the 100-yard mark since the season opener against Oregon State.
Haskins' Historic Season Proves OSU Should Abandon Weak Running Game
Even though Meyer and the Buckeyes coaching staff have preached the need for a balanced offensive attack, it doesn't fit what has made this team successful.
On a day when offense was hard to come by for both teams, Ohio State threw 39 passes and ran the ball 45 times. The defending Big Ten champions entered with 375 passing attempts and 355 carries.
Per Stephen Means of Cleveland.com, Ohio State's agenda to establish the running game in last week's win against Nebraska worked with 254 yards and three touchdowns. It was also one of Haskins' worst games of the season with a 56.3 completion percentage, two touchdowns and an interception.
There is an argument the Buckeyes were too reliant on the pass when they lost to Purdue—Haskins threw 73 passes, 29 more than in any other game this season—but it also ignores a defense that gave up 539 yards on 72 plays.
Haskins is in the midst of the best season by any quarterback in the history of Ohio State football. He started the day needing 278 passing yards to break Joe Germaine's record of 3,330 set in 1998 and four touchdowns to break J.T. Barrett's record of 35 set last year.
There are still plenty of areas that Haskins can improve, especially when it comes to moving outside the pocket:
The running back tandem of Weber and J.K. Dobbins continued to struggle after brief success last week. Dobbins has averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry in a game only once since Sept. 29, including Saturday's win over Michigan State.
Weber has been more successful overall with 5.8 yards per attempt coming into Saturday, but this was the first time he received more than 13 carries in a game since Sept. 15 against TCU.
For a still-developing quarterback, Haskins has been Ohio State's best offensive player. He's the one Meyer should start giving the ball to in order to maximize his team's potential as it chases a playoff berth.
Strong Defensive Showing Boosts Dark-Horse Buckeyes' Playoff Chances
One significant difference for Ohio State this season compared to previous years has been on defense.
The Buckeyes were allowing 23.8 points per game coming into Spartan Stadium, tied for 45th in the nation. This is the first season they haven't been among the top 15 in scoring defense since 2014.
They could have used any number of excuses. Defensive end Nick Bosa was injured against TCU on Sept. 15 and decided not to return in order to prepare for the NFL. Five of the seven players they lost to the 2018 NFL draft were defenders, including cornerback Denzel Ward and defensive ends Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard.
To Ohio State's credit, the unit notched its best performance of the season against Michigan State, surrendering just six points and 274 yards. The defense even scored a touchdown on this fumble recovery by Dre'Mont Jones:
This was a huge step in the right direction for Ohio State after it gave up at least 396 yards in six of its previous seven games and 80 combined points to Purdue and Nebraska.
Despite facing an uphill climb to make the playoff, needing to jump at least six spots before the final rankings are released Dec. 2, Ohio State has a path to get there with a Nov. 24 contest against No. 4 Michigan lurking and a potential Big Ten Championship Game appearance.
The Buckeyes defense proved against the Spartans it's capable of dominating. If it can carry this performance forward, the team's playoff profile will get a boost in the regular season's final stretch.
Mark Dantonio Must Prioritize QB in Next Year's Recruiting Class
Michigan State has all the ingredients to be a dominant program, with one notable exception: a quarterback.
Brian Lewerke has more interceptions (nine) than touchdown passes (eight). He hasn't thrown a scoring pass since the fourth quarter of an Oct. 13 win against Penn State and was just 11-of-28 for 128 yards with one interception Saturday.
Head coach Mark Dantonio finally had to bench Lewerke in the first half, replacing him with redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi.
Things didn't get any better, as Lombardi went 7-of-20 for 92 yards. He did manage 49 rushing yards on three carries, but the offense remained stagnant. Lewerke was brought back into the game after Jones' touchdown put Ohio State up 16-6 in the fourth quarter.
The Spartans began this week ranked third in the Big Ten in scoring defense (19.0 points per game allowed) and total defense (325.1 yards), and their run defense was the best in the conference (71.7 yards).
While it's still early in the recruiting season, Michigan State's quarterback problems could carry over to 2019. The school has 18 commitments, though not one is a quarterback, per 247Sports.
Theo Day and Javez Alexander play quarterback and were part of the Spartans' 2018 freshman class, but they weren't regarded as star-level prospects. Day was ranked as the No. 17 pro-style quarterback, per 247Sports.
Dantonio has built Michigan State into a formidable Big Ten program during his 12 years as head coach, but not being able to find a competent quarterback since Connor Cook left after 2015 has limited the team's upside.
Ohio State will play its last true road game of the season at Maryland on Nov. 17. Michigan State will also be playing away from home with a game at Nebraska on Nov. 17.