EAST LANSING, Mich. - Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller left the field battered and bruised on Saturday afternoon as his Buckeyes took on Michigan State but it was all worth it when he lined up in the victory formation to run the final moments of time out en route to Ohio State's 17-16 win.
"(It was) a great team win and we found out something about our team," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said. "When it is time to go make a play, they did."
Miller ran the ball 23 times for 136 yards and passed 23 times for 16 completions and a big touchdown pass to Devin Smith to give Ohio State the lead late in the third quarter. The Ohio State defense held Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell to 45 yards on the ground on 17 carries and only allowed one touchdown to go along with three field goals.
There were some tense moments for the Ohio State coaches and fans when Miller went down on his knee and fumbled the ball with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Buckeyes holding on to a tenuous four point lead. It was the second time that Miller left the game (Miller missed the last three plays of Ohio State's first offensive possession). Meyer was asked if his heart stopped when he saw his star quarterback laying on his back on the field and being tended to by the whole training staff.
"Yeah, close to stopping," Meyer said. "I saw his knee jam right in front of me and I am sure that was shown on TV too. I love Braxton, he's my guy. He is family now and when something like that happens... you spend this much time together and you see what these kids do, we're family."
The Buckeyes welcomed running back Carlos Hyde and defensive back Bradley Roby back to the lineup after each missed time with nagging injuries. Roby had a team high nine tackles and Hyde had 49 yards on 11 carries as he split touches with Miller and Jordan Hall.
"I was so excited to be able to play this weekend and it was exciting to get back out there," Hyde said after the game.
Both the Buckeye and the Spartans put points up on their opening drives as Ohio State punched it in with a Hall touchdown run and the Michigan State connected on a 34-yard field goal by Dan Conroy. The 7-3 score at that time would drag into the third quarter as both teams would come up short on key plays. Ohio State's wounds were self inflicted with three fumbles (two lost) and an interception.
"(Miller) has got to take care of the ball," Meyer said. "But we'll worry about that... we're going to enjoy the win."
The Spartans would draw within a point with a second Conroy field goal to make it 7-6 and the Buckeyes would answer with a Drew Basil 26-yard field goal.
Michigan State would have an immediate answer when Andrew Maxwell found wide receiver Keith Mumphery on a 29-yard strike and the MSU player would break several Ohio State tackles, an issue that has plagued the team for the entire season. The 76-thousand fans at Spartan Stadium came alive as Michigan State took its first lead, 13-10.
The Buckeyes had an immediate answer and it only took the Buckeyes four plays to take the lead for good. Miller was able to find Smith going one-on-one against Michigan State's best cornerback, Johnny Adams and Smith was able to make the grab and take it to the house for a 63-yard strike. It is the third time that the combo have connected for a game winning touchdown and the second time this season.
"(Smith) is one of my favorite receivers so I'm going to always throw to him," Miller said.
"(Adams) played me press, I gave him a little move at the line of scrimmage and just ran fast," Smith said of his touchdown grab. "Braxton Miller threw me a nice ball and I caught it and just took it to the end zone."
One concern that will keep the coaches busy is Ohio State's continued issues with penalties. Ohio State was only flagged for six in the game but a defensive holding call on Roby could have been the difference maker when it appeared that Ohio State had stopped the Spartans on a 4th-and-one, only to see the home team get new life.
That drive resulted in Conroy's third field goal make of the day, from 48-yards and it was once again a one point game.
Ohio State would have an empty series after that with a three-and-out and Michigan State started its last drive of the game from its own 20 with 5:39 left in the game. It was a chance for Ohio State's defense to show that it is not a shell of former Ohio State defenses and players reacted.
Michigan State picked up a first down on its first play of the drive but the defense clamped down and the drive ended for intents and purposes when linebacker Etienne Sabino got loose on a blitz and forced Maxwell to make a bad pass. The Spartans would not possess the ball again.
"We were in man coverage and I was at the back and he blocked so I went," Sabino said. "This is such a great win, special teams blocking punts (Roby), offense moving the ball, defense stopping the run. This is just a great team win."
The Ohio State combined for 204 yards on the ground but it was the final 38 yards (before the team took a knee in the victory formation) that meant the most as Ohio State was able to salt away the final 4:10 of the game and escape with a big road win to move to 5-0.
"Offensive linemen don't show up on the stat sheet," Ohio State center Corey Linsley said. "So when you can do something like that, everyone knows it was on the O-Line and we responded and we reacted. We won the game."
The play of both lines meant a lot in Ohio State's efforts and keeping Bell limited for the Spartans was a difference maker.
"That's a good back," Meyer said. "He won't be held to (low offensive output). I'm venturing to say that won't happen against to that guy. He's a good player."
Ohio State looks to stay unbeaten at home against Nebraska on Saturday night. The game kicks off at 8:00 p.m. in front of a national television audience.