COLUMBUS — While revenge is often considered a motivational tool for a team that suffered an unexpected loss, it’s hardly infallible.
This came to mind with Ohio State going to Michigan State tonight to play the team that derailed its national championship hopes last season by beating the Buckeyes 34-24 in the Big Ten football championship game.
The winner of tonight’s game will have the inside track on winning the Big Ten’s East Division and on getting a return trip to the Big Ten championship game. The winner also will remain in contention for the new College Football Playoff.
While one or two Buckeyes might have used the word “revenge,” it has not been spoken that often.
They’ve talked about having something taken away last year. They’ve talked about how much last year’s loss hurt. But for the most part, not many have spoken of revenge.
You don’t have to look any farther than the last time Michigan State delivered a devastating blow to an Ohio State team to see that revenge might be overrated as a motivator.
In 1998, when Ohio State was ranked No. 1 and looking darn near invincible, it let a 15-point lead get away in the second half of a 28-24 loss to Michigan State.
The next year when the Buckeyes went to Michigan State with 10 returning starters from 1998 there was quite a bit of talk about revenge.
But OSU didn’t have anything to talk about after it was over. Michigan State won 23-7, Ohio State gained only 79 yards total offense and had only one first down after its first possession of the game.
The smart move is to hold off on the revenge talk until after you hopefully win the game. And that apparently is the path OSU has chosen.
So, how does Ohio State come out of East Lansing with a win tonight?
First, it has to stop a Michigan State offense which has almost all of its “skill” players back from a year ago and is a year older and probably more diverse than it was last season.
Quarterback Connor Cook (1,868 yards, 17 TDs, 5 interceptions) and running back Jeremy Langford (841 yards, 10 TDs) were both in their first year as starters last season. And the Spartans have four of their top five receivers in 2013 back.
Cook makes a few mistakes but he doesn’t make a lot of them. In 21 career starts, he has thrown more than one interception in a game only once, when he was picked off twice in a 46-27 loss to Oregon this season.
Secondly, redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett and the rest of the OSU offense have to move the football consistently against a Michigan State defense that prides itself on toughness and shutting down opponents.
MSU wants to get quarterbacks — especially young ones like Barrett — in third down and long situations.
That strategy worked in the Big Ten title game. The Buckeyes got 142 yards rushing from Braxton Miller and 118 from Carlos Hyde. But Miller was only 8 of 21 passing for 101 yards against a Michigan State defense that pressured him relentlessly and locked down OSU’s receivers..
Also, the Buckeyes were atrocious on third down conversions, going 1 for 10 in that situation and 0 for 2 on fourth downs.
Finally, this year’s team has to keep Michigan State from seizing the momentum, which it did twice in the Big Ten championship when it scored 17 unanswered points to start the game, then came back with 17 unanswered points again after OSU had taken a 24-17 lead.
This is only the fourth time Ohio State has been an underdog in Urban Meyer’s three seasons. Interestingly, they won the other three times.
You also might recall Florida was a 7-point underdog to Ohio State when they played for the national championship at the end of the 2006 season. Go with the upset.
The prediction: Ohio State 24, Michigan State 21.