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Published: 12/8/2013

SPORTS COMMENTARY

Michigan St. blowing up perceptions

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

INDIANAPOLIS — This comment is always credited to Nick Saban, although whether he actually said it is a coin flip.

But when he left Michigan State to become head coach at LSU at the dawn of the 2000s, supposedly he claimed one reason for his decision was that in the state of Michigan, despite all best efforts, the Spartans would always be No. 2.

Then there was the University of Michigan running back who rubbed it in even more by referring to the Spartans as “little brother.” It was hard to argue at the time.

But times have changed under coach Mark Dantonio. Five wins in the last six meetings took care of the UM “mystique,” and on Saturday night MSU took care of the rest of the Big Ten.

The Spartans stung undefeated Ohio State 34-24 for the conference championship and blew up the Buckeyes’ hopes of playing for a national title.

After 12 straight wins and dreaming of a return to BCS prominence, OSU will probably end up in the Orange Bowl when assignments are announced later today. That wasn’t the preferred destination, nor was this the preferred ending, and a large throng of Buckeye fans — more than 40,000 of the 66,002 in attendance at Lucas Oil Stadium — were left to file out quietly.

“If you’re asking me to measure the level of hurt, I don’t know if I can do that,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said. “What makes the loss harder is I wanted these guys to experience something special.”

The Spartans, in winning their eighth Big Ten crown, will advance to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1988.

Dantonio, whose team has double-digit win totals for the fourth time in five years, saw his Spartans win a school-record 12th game while Meyer lost for the first time in 25 decisions as OSU’s coach.

In a faceoff between the team with the nation’s longest winning streak and the second-best rushing attack (OSU) and the one with the best defense (MSU), it certainly didn’t come easily for the high-octane Buckeyes.

Ohio State fell behind 17-0 and didn’t look good doing it. The Bucks were sloppy, mistake prone, and MSU quarterback Connor Cook made them pay for about every miscue. He threw for 182 yards and two touchdowns during that early spurt.

But the Buckeyes crept within 17-10 just seconds before the half and tied it on the first possession of the second half as Carlos Hyde and quarterback Braxton Miller started chewing up chunks of ground yardage.

OSU wasted one short-field opportunity, but made the most of the next one after a Bradley Roby punt return got the Bucks started as the MSU 44. Five running plays later, OSU was in the end zone as Miller saw a hole in the Spartans’ alignment, quick-snapped, and took off to the left for the Bucks’ first lead at 24-17.

But MSU fought back to go ahead 27-24 before the Buckeyes had one final good chance.

With less than six minutes to play, Meyer went for it on fourth-and-2 from the MSU 39. He’ll long be second-guessed for the play call.

With one of the best offensive lines in the country, the Buckeyes opted to run Miller to the right with Hyde and tight end Jeff Heuerman as the lead blockers. It didn’t work, and it wasn’t long before MSU was tacking another touchdown on the scoreboard.

It was a taut, thrilling contest. MSU scored 17 straight points, then OSU got the next 24, and then the Spartans capped it with another 17 straight.

It looked like the Buckeyes had a bit of Michigan hangover at the start coming off a dramatic win over their rivals just a week earlier. At the end, it was Michigan State causing all the headaches.

Ohio State will surely still be heading for a BCS game, but not the one the Buckeyes were hoping. That dream season is over.

OSU had hoped to shed a nightmare that started with scandal and subsequent coaching changes, then the most losses in a season since 1897, then a 12-0 campaign made toothless by a postseason ban.

A Big Ten crown and a national title game defined the dream.

Michigan State, though, had one of its own.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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