EAST LANSING, Mich (WLNS) – Between COVID-19 and injuries No. 4 Ohio State marched out on to the field at Spartan Stadium without 23 of its players, but you never would have known.
The Buckeyes didn’t miss a beat and a lot of it had to do with their junior signal-caller Justin Fields. Fields was not only magnificent through the air, but he made some plays with his fancy feet, and in doing so he denied Michigan State the opportunity to knock off its third top-10 opponent this season.
“When you’re playing against good players there’s no magic trick,” said Spartan senior linebacker Antjuan Simmons who finished with 12 tackles in MSU’s 52-12 loss. “There’s no secret coverage. There’s no extra stuff you can do. You can only do your job and make plays. If he comes to you, you’ve got to make that play.”
Easier said than done. Fields came into Saturday’s game, in East Lansing, with an 80 percent completion rate. The best in all of FBS football and he certainly padded his stat line when it came time for him to take his cleats off. He was 17-of-24 for two touchdowns, while rushing 13 times for 104 yards and a pair of scores.
“When you give up huge chunks of plays, huge chunks of yards on basic run plays you know they’re going to have 300 yards rushing,” said Michigan State’s coach Mel Tucker. “For us, we weren’t able to get any chunks in the run game other than when our quarterback was running around.”
The quarterback Tucker is referring to isn’t junior Rocky Lombardi, who’s started in all six of the Spartans’ games this season, including Saturday’s versus the Buckeyes. It’s Payton Thorne. For a third time this year Tucker has called upon the freshman to come off the bench and lead the offense and he was able to move the ball down the field, rushing for 42 yards and score. The Spartans only touchdown on the game to cut the Buckeyes’ lead 35-7.
“I felt like we were pretty prepared coming into this game, we just didn’t execute out there and that’s what it comes down to,” said Thorne. “That starts with me at the quarterback and everyone else. You know football’s the ultimate team game and it takes everyone to execute.”
“You know I’ve been in a lot of big games and big games come down to execution,” said Tucker. “Having the discipline to do your job on a consistent basis against good players. Having to be intensely poised and be able to execute down in and down out. We need to work towards being able to do that.”
Being able to beat two top-10 teams in Tucker’s first year as Michigan State’s head coach is certainly a feather the Spartans can put in their cap, but the ultimate one would have come today with a win over Ohio State.
With the 52-12 loss the Spartans fall to 2-4 on the season and will now head to Happy Valley to face Penn State in the final game of this year’s shortened 8-game Big Ten conference only schedule.