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December 7, 2013

The chase is over

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INDIANAPOLIS -- For the first time in two seasons, there will be no victory meal for Ohio State.

"The Chase," as coach Urban Meyer and ranked Buckeyes like to call it, for a Big Ten of national championship is over after suffering its first loss in 25 games to Michigan State.

"It's going to haunt all of us I imagine for a little while," he said, "but that's part of the game."

After stumbling into a 17-point crater, the second-ranked Buckeyes desperately turned to Braxton Miller to rescue them from their largest deficit in two seasons.

Miller, who time and again tossed his body across the turf of Lucas Oil Stadium, obliged, but it wasn't enough against Mark Dantonio and the Spartans.

The hole Ohio State found itself in proved to be far too deep and much too wide to climb out of.

Behind a tenacious defense, Michigan State knocked off the Buckeyes, 34-24, Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"That probably is the best team that we've faced in the past two years," said junior linebacker Ryan Shazier. "They beat us."

The loss is Ohio State's first since a Gator Bowl defeat to Florida on Jan. 2, 2012. Of course, it also abruptly snapped a 24-game winning streak and the team's dreams of ascending to college football's mecca for the first time in six years.

"I mean, does it make the loss harder? No. What makes the loss harder is I really wanted these guys to experience something special," Meyer said of the magnitude of the defeat.

"I imagine there's a chance we'll get invited to a great bowl game. If we do, they're going to get a very good Buckeye football team that's going to stick together and try to win a game. If you're asking me to measure the levels of hurt, I'm not sure I can do that."

Surely, though, this might rank among the most-painful defeats for Meyer, who came so close to leading the Buckeyes what was likely a berth in the BCS national championship game.

"We hurt right now," said senior running back Carlos Hyde.

Sophomore quarterback and Ohio native Connor Cook carved up the Buckeyes and an inept secondary for 304 yards and three touchdowns on 24-of-40 attempts.

The pass defense -- which seems to have been Ohio State's underbelly all season -- finally proved fatal against the Spartans.

"We have to get this fixed," Meyer said of the unit. "We're going to get back to work." But the Buckeyes struggled in the run defense too.

Spartans running back Jeremy Langford ran for 128 yards and one touchdown on 24 carries and allowed the junior to gash them for a 26-yard touchdown in the game's waning minutes.

What went wrong?

"There's a lot," said defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, whose defense surrendered 603 yards to Michigan last weekend.

"It is what it is, guys gotta make plays and we gotta put them in situations where they can make plays. There's no finger pointing, you gotta give them credit too. They did a good job, the guy through the ball in the right spots and guys gotta cover, guys gotta rush and guys gotta get there with pressure."

But the difference in the game, perhaps, was Michigan State's top-ranked defense which stifled Ohio State's usually-explosive offense from the inception of the championship bout.

"It was like we were playing the Bears or something," said senior center Corey Linsley, likening the Spartans to Chicago's Monsters of the Midway.

While Linsley was exaggerating, it appeared that way for a little while after Michigan State stifled a Buckeyes offense averaging 48 points and 531 yards a contest to just 28 yards on nine plays.

In what looked like a conscious attempt to try and attack the Spartans in the perimeter, Ohio State started hurled a volley of quick -- but ineffective -- swing passes to Hyde.

Miller, who used his arm and legs to account for 243 yards and three touchdowns, struggled early, totaling five yards on one-of-three passing attempts. Even in the running game, Michigan State kept the dynamic playmaker bottled up for just one yard on one attempt in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, Cook and the Spartans built a 10-point lead after a 72-yard pass from Cook to junior wide receiver Keith Mumphery.

And as Ohio State continued to uncharacteristically sputter on offense, cook found junior wide receiver Tony Lippett for a 33-yard score to go up, 17-0. Behind Miller, who ran for nearly 100 yards in just the second quarter, the Buckeyes would draw within seven points prior to halftime.

Miller connected with senior wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown for a 20-yard touchdown before senior kicker Drew Basil chipped in a 28-yard field goal.

In the game's second act, Ohio State -- at least initially -- played like the team that conquered opponents en route to 24-straight wins.

"In halftime, we just felt like that was their best shot and that's all they have so let's really go out this second half and show them what we really got and give them our best shot," Hyde said.

Like it had for the latter half of the regular season, the Buckeyes let handed the ball off to Hyde and let Miller make plays with his feet outside of the pocket.

The quarterback scored twice on runs of eight and six yards, respectively, to give Ohio State its first lead of the night, 24-17, with just more than five minutes to play in the third quarter.

Michigan State would answer.

After a 44-yard field goal, Cook tossed a nine-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman tight end Josiah Price to put the Spartans back on top.

They wouldn't trail again against a usually-clutch Ohio State team that crumbled down the stretch.

While the running game appeared to be working for the Buckeyes (273 total yards), Meyer and company seemed to veered away from it in the fourth quarter.

"I feel like we could've got any yardage we needed," Hyde said.

"I just felt like we could've ran the ball the whole game in the second half. But, like I said, you can't question the coaching call."

After a failed-fourth down attempt -- a call for Miller to sweep to the right on fourth down -- late in the fourth quarter, Michigan State all but sealed the upset after Langford's touchdown with 2:16 to play.



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