September 29, 2012

Buckeyes hold Spartans' star to season-low

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

EAST LANSING, Mich. - On paper, Saturday's matchup between Ohio State and Michigan State had all of the makings of a disaster for the Buckeyes.

Heading into the game, one team possessed the nation's third-leading rusher. The other was coming fresh off of two consecutive weeks of dismal tackling. With the former being Ohio State and the latter being MSU and 244-pound running back Le'Veon Bell, even the most confident Buckeye fan was prepared to be holding his breath when No. 24 in green touched the ball on Saturday.

But there's a reason that games are played on grass and not on paper. And there's a reason that the Buckeyes' escaped East Lansing with a 17-16 victory on Saturday night.

Despite what appeared to be an obvious advantage for the Spartans, the Buckeyes managed to hold Bell to a season-low 45 yards rushing the ball on Saturday. The junior running back's rushing total against the Buckeyes was 107 yards shy of his 152 yards per game average, and 208 short of the 253 yards that he racked up against Eastern Michigan just a week ago.

After spending the days leading up to the game singing Bell's praises, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said that he'd be surprised to see another team duplicate the Buckeyes' performance against the Reynoldsburg, Ohio native.

"That's a good back," Meyer said of Bell. "I'm venturing to say that won't happen again to that guy. He's a good player."

The Buckeyes' defense has spent the past four week's taking the brunt of criticism from fans and media alike that have watched Ohio State uncharacteristically rank last in the Big Ten in total defense heading into conference play. Its performance against the Spartans and Bell on Saturday should change the perception that many may hold about this year's version of the 'Silver Bullets,' and is one of the reasons why Meyer said that Saturday's game ball belonged to his defensive line and linebackers.

"I thought our defense was good enough to play better the first four games," Meyer said. "We've got really, really good players. Do we have great players? We have a few of them. But yeah, I did have confidence in them."

Earlier in the week, Meyer said that he thought that the Buckeyes were better suited to matchup with the Spartans' traditional offensive attack than they were the teams that tried to spread the field against them in prior weeks. Meyer's prediction proved correct on Saturday, with Bell's longest run coming for eight yards.

After the game, Meyer declined to share the secrets that the Buckeyes' used to stop Bell, but the OSU players did provide some insight into what helped them slow down the Spartans' star.

With Bell's runs up the middle routinely being blown up by OSU tackle and defensive anchor Johnathan Hankins, the Buckeyes' defense forced the Michigan State rushing attack to move laterally, which is not the type of movement that 244 pounders were meant to move.

"Our defensive line did a great job today," OSU cornerback Travis Howard said. "They got a lot of pressure on the ball, they made the running back move east and west, which is a great thing. I appreciate that because it made our job easier."

OSU's effort against Bell was apparent in the stat sheet- and not just in his rushing total. The Buckeyes combined for 48 assisted tackles on Saturday, indicative of the type of effort that it took to bring down Bell, who touched the ball 25 times against the Buckeyes.

"He's a good running back, but we just didn't give him a chance," Hankins said. "We made good gang tackles and we got him down."

It may have just been one game, but given what its already been through this season, Saturday's game could go a long way towards instilling what was some much needed confidence in the OSU defense. With running backs such as Nebraska's Rex Burkhead and Wisconsin's Montee Ball still remaining on their schedule, the Buckeyes now appear capable of keying in and stopping an opponent's star player, which is more than they could've said a week ago.

"We still have some things to take care of, but I think we took a step forward today," OSU linebacker Etienne Sabino said. "Le'Veon Bell's a great running back, but we're a great defense. I think we showed that today."


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