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EAST LANSING, Mich. - For the fourth consecutive week, the Ohio State football team survived a close call with a victory in hand. But rather than disappointment, it was excitement that permeated from the Buckeyes' locker room following their 17-16 win over No. 20 Michigan State on Saturday.
It took a four quarter effort agains a top-10 nationally ranked defense, but OSU still escaped East Lansing with the first road win, conference win, and victory against a ranked opponent of the Urban Meyer Era.
Trailing by three points with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller found wide receiver Devin Smith for a 63-yard touchdown pass. The score, which put the Buckeyes up 17-13 following an extra point attempt, proved to be the difference in Saturday's Big Ten battle.
"We hook up all the time," Miller said of his relationship on the field with Smith. "That's one of my favorite receivers, so I'm always going to look for him."
Smith- who has now scored the game-winning touchdown in two of the Buckeyes' five games this season- has all but solidified himself as one of the top go-to players in Meyer's first OSU offense.
"I'm just going out here and making big plays for this football team," Smith said. "Helping my brothers out on this football team. We're a tight group and and we learn from each other and we're going to fight 'till the end."
Numbers don't lie
Entering the game as the nation's third leading rusher and fresh off of a 253-yard performance against Eastern Michigan, Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell was limited to 45 yards rushing the ball- his lowest total of the season. After the game, Meyer credited the efforts of his defensive line and linebackers in holding the All-American candidate well below his season average of 152 yards per game.
"As a defense and as a D-line, we just played our values and played physical," defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said. "We just dominated the run game."
After entering Saturday's matchup ranked last in the Big Ten, OSU linebacker Etienne Sabino said that the Buckeyes' performance on defense against the Spartans was just a sign of what the unit is capable of."
"We have a lot of confidence in this defense. I have a lot of confidence in this defense," Sabino said. "Le'Veon Bell's a great running back, but we're a great defense. I think we showed that today."
A year after one of his worst performances of the season in the Buckeyes' 10-7 loss to MSU in 2011, Miller shined on Saturday, throwing for 179 yards and rushing for 136 more. Regardless of what we put up in the box score, there was only one statistic that the sophomore quarterback cared about after the game."
"It's a fun game, a good team win," Miller said. "We fought through it. We just gotta get back at it tomorrow."
On the defensive side of the ball, Sabino may have played the best game of his career, recording eight tackles, one pass breakup, and one sack. The sack- which came in the fourth quarter with the Spartans facing a crucial third down- may have been the play of the game defensively for the Buckeyes.
"We were in man coverage and I had the (running) back and he blocked, so I go," Sabino said. "It's a big play."
Cause for concern
Despite his stellar performance, Miller turned the ball over three times on Saturday, fumbling twice and throwing one interception. Although he was responsible for all three of the Buckeyes' giveaways, Miller has happy with how his teammates handled the adversity.
"Things happen like that," Miller said. "You fight through it and good things come out towards the end."
Perhaps more concerning than the turnovers moving forward was the fact that OSU's dual-threat quarterback twice left the game due to apparent injuries- the second of which came on his second fumble, when Miller's knee awkwardly planted into the field. After returning for the remainder of the game, however, Miller was confident that he'll his health won't be anything to worry about moving forward.
"I feel pretty good," Miller said. "It was aching at the time but I'm gonna get it situated. It's gonna be good."
After showing visible disappointment in each of his first four postgame press conferences as Ohio State's head coach, Meyer was as close to all smiles as he gets on Saturday, clearly basking in the glory of his first Big Ten victory.
"This was a war, and this was two sledgehammers going at each other," Meyer said. "I know the Big Ten has taken some heat, I thought that was a great game, great atmosphere, a bunch of great players on the field that'll be playing at the next level and that was good for college football and good for the Big Ten."
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