Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller (5) avoids a tackle attempt by Michigan State safety Isaiah Lewis (9).
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Forget for a moment the thought of Ohio State's Urban Meyer upending the Big Ten with an infinity-horsepower spread offense.
When the fire burned hottest in the No. 14 Buckeyes' conference-opening 17-16 victory at Michigan State on Saturday, his team threw back the clock .
Ohio State (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) remained perfect and secured the first signature win of the Meyer era by ultimately beating the No. 20 Spartans (3-2, 0-1) at their own old-school game, stiff-arming the hosts with a previously derided defense and a black-and-blue offense.
On a back-and-forth afternoon where the highlights will focus on the fascinating spectrum criss-crossed by quarterback Braxton Miller — pirouetting runs, three turnovers, a 63-yard winning touchdown pass to Devin Smith — it ultimately came down to a battle of wills as the Buckeyes guarded a one-point lead.
After the Buckeyes stopped Michigan State, they got the ball back at their own 15-yard line with 4 minutes, 10 seconds remaining. The Spartans had two timeouts, the top-ranked defense in the conference, and a stadium filled with 76,705 rising in full throat behind them.
On the sideline, Meyer told the Buckeyes — and, most forcefully, his offensive line — there would be no flash. They were attempting to drain the clock. OSU would run it straight at the Spartans, and may the better team win.
"Coach Meyer challenged us," said left tackle Jack Mewhort, a St. John's Jesuit graduate, "and we accepted."
Carlos Hyde, the Buckeyes' 232-pound junior running back, began the drive with a seven-yard run up the middle, then clinched the game five plays later with a third-and-4 charge for five yards with 2:06 remaining. All told, OSU ran straight through Michigan State for three first downs on their final drive.
"Just like the old days when Woody used to coach," Mewhort said. "That's what coach Meyer is about. People classify him as just a spread guy, but he really loves to run between the tackles."
Meyer called the game "two sledge-hammers going at each other," with OSU on this day the heavier one. The Buckeyes rushed for 204 yards.
"A great team win," he said. "We found out something about our team today."
While Meyer said he would gladly take hanging 70 on an opponent, this was the type of win that left him leaping to high-five a fan as he ran joyously through the tunnel into the locker room.
"I know the Big Ten has taken some heat, but that was a great game," Meyer said. "It was a great atmosphere with a bunch of great players on the field. We played at the next level, and that was good for college football and good for the Big Ten."
For OSU, the effort recast expectations of a team coming off a six-win season and back-to-back underwhelming showings against nonconference opponents. Now, with what was billed before the season as the Buckeyes' stiffest test out of the way, players said no level of regular-season success seems out of reach.
"We knew going into the game that this was going to be one of the best teams we face all year in the conference, and we had to win it," center Corey Linsley said. "If we win this, it starts to snowball in the right direction. If we don't, it starts to snowball in the wrong direction."
The afternoon appeared to snowball Ohio State's way from the start, though the plot would be rewritten time and again.
A year after their 10-7 loss set offensive football back to the days where game plans were scrawled on cave walls, the Buckeyes opened with an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
It was not without drama — Miller was briefly sidelined after hurtling headfirst into an equipment trunk on the OSU sideline as the result of a penalized late hit by MSU safety Isaiah Lewis — but neither was the day.
Miller induced double-takes and head-scratching in equal measure. He threw an interception into double coverage and lost a fumble in Spartans territory in the second quarter and lost another fumble with OSU ahead 17-13 in the fourth quarter.
But in the end, the mistakes did not matter. Ohio State held tailback Le'Veon Bell — the nation's third-leading rusher — to 45 yards on 17 carries and the Spartans to 303 yards overall while Miller delivered when it mattered most.
After MSU went ahead 13-10 on a 29-yard touchdown catch by Keith Mumphrey in the third quarter — a quick pass turned a down-the-sideline rumble as the receiver lawn-mowed and bounced off of at least five OSU defenders before diving into the end zone — Miller answered four plays later with a 63-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline to Devin Smith.
OSU and its throwback ending made the sure the lead held.
"It's a revamped program," Linsley said. "If you get kicked enough times you are going to respond eventually. That was us today. I am proud of our guys."