Former Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry pointed out an interesting fact online earlier this week that you might have forgotten.
Two games into the 2014 season, Ohio State had lost three of the last four games it had played. It finished the 2013 season with losses to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game and to Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
Then, after beating Navy in the 2014 opener, it lost by two touchdowns at home to a Virginia Tech team that was not highly regarded at that time or any other time that season.
There was no talk about a national championship. There was no rallying cry. There was just a bunch of players and coaches trying to figure out how to win a game and then another and another.
Ohio State, which is No. 10 in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings, was No. 14 at the same time in those rankings in 2014.
Draw parallels to 2014 if you wish, but do so at your own risk. In many ways this year’s Buckeyes are more reminiscent of the 2013 team that fell short of expectations than the 2014 national championship team.
Like this year’s team, the 2013 team did not have a good defense. It won by outscoring people and lost when it couldn’t. Michigan scored 41 against OSU, Clemson scored 40, Illinois got 35 points, Michigan State and California scored 34 and Northwestern got 30 points.
Like 2013, the defensive backfield is a big problem for Ohio State this year. This year, like in 2013, there have been questions about why some of the younger defensive backs haven’t been given a chance to play more. And both years, when one did finally get that chance, he played well.
In 2013, it was Vonn Bell who got his first start in the Orange Bowl, and got his first career interception. This year it was Brendon White, who had 13 tackles as an emergency replacement last week against Nebraska when Jordan Fuller was ejected for targeting.
Like 2013, this year’s defense has been hit by a big injury. This year Nick Bosa went out after three games with a groin injury and was lost for the season. In 2013, safety Christian Bryant suffered a broken ankle in the fifth game of the season and was done for the year.
Ohio State plays at Michigan State on Saturday and, like it was in 2013 and 2014, this is a defining moment in the season.
Losing the 2013 Big Ten Championship game to the Spartans defined that season. Beating No. 7 Michigan State in 2014 was the start of OSU’s climb into the College Football Playoff field.
An impressive win over a solid but not great Michigan State team could restore some of the respect Ohio State lost when it was embarrassed by Purdue. A loss would mean Ohio State is out of the playoff picture and getting to the Big Ten championship game would be extremely difficult to do.
Michigan State’s strength is on defense. It leads the country in fewest rushing yards allowed at 71.7 yards a game.
That doesn’t sound good for an Ohio State running game that has struggled most of the season. But a year ago Michigan State ranked third nationally in rushing defense at 87 yards a game and Ohio State ran for 335 yards in a 48-3 win.
Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke has not had the season MSU hoped for. He has thrown only eight touchdown passes and has been intercepted eight times. He missed the Spartans’ game against Purdue with a shoulder injury and was ineffective in a 24-3 win over Maryland last Saturday.
Michigan State’s No. 1 running back L.J. Scott has missed five games because of injuries. Its leading receiver, Felton Davis, is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. The Spartans rank 13th in the Big Ten in scoring at 23.4 points a game and third in scoring defense at 19.0 points a game.
All of that points toward MSU wanting to make this a low-scoring, defense-dominated game. That might be the last thing Ohio State wants. Whose style will prevail?
The prediction: Ohio State 24, Michigan State 17.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.