Work in Sports
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Ticker) -- For more than 20 minutes, Ohio State still seemed to be recovering from last week's heartbreaking loss at Purdue.
But the No. 19 Buckeyes got a wakeup call in the form of Michael Doss' 73-yard fumble return for a touchdown midway through the second quarter and kept their slim Big Ten Conference title hopes alive with a 27-13 victory over Michigan State.
Ironically, Doss was burned last week on Drew Brees' 64-yard touchdown pass to Seth Morales in the final two minutes that gave Purdue a 31-27 win over Ohio State.
"We're 7-2 because we're not turning the ball over and we're getting turnovers," Ohio State quarterback John Cooper said. "We're No. 1 in the conference in causing turnovers and we are playing good defense."
The Buckeyes (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) pulled within one game of the idle first-place Boilermakers and Northwestern, which defeated Michigan today.
"We got the running game going a little bit in the second half," Cooper added. "But the credit goes to our defense again today. They really played their hearts out. I wasn't very proud of the way we played in the first two quarters, but we made some adjustments and I thought we gained the momentum as the game went on."
Michigan State, which has dropped five of its last six, jumped to a 13-3 lead in the first quarter on touchdown runs by Little John Flowers and Jeff Smoker and appeared to be in position to increase its lead.
But Doss' fumble return resulted in a possible 14-point swing and pumped life into the Buckeyes, pulling them within 13-10 with 7:34 remaining in the second period.
With the Spartans (4-5, 1-5) facing a 3rd-and-4 at the Buckeyes 16, Ohio State defensive end Brent Johnson jarred the ball loose after sacking Smoker for an 11-yard loss. Doss scooped up the fumble and went the distance, turning the game in Ohio State's favor.
"We turned the ball over three times, leading to 17 points for them," Michigan State coach Bobby Williams said. "Take those away and it's a different ballgame. There are so many things that are frustrating about this game. We will bounce back."
Bellisari completed 9-of-20 for 132 yards, passing only twice in the second half.
After being outplayed for most of the first half, Ohio State forged a 13-13 halftime tie as Dan Stultz kicked a 38-yard field goal with one second remaining.
Keeping the ball almost exclusively on the ground, Ohio State pulled away in the third quarter, grabbing a 27-13 lead on Steve Bellisari's one-yard TD run and Derek Combs' nine-yard scamper. Combs rushed for 153 yards on 31 carries.
"One of our 10 commandments is to win the surest way is to keep the ball away from the other team," Cooper said. "The way we did that was to try to run the ball and use up time. My thinking was in the third and fourth quarter is that we were up two touchdowns and we just needed to hang on to the ball."
Smoker faced constant pressure throughout, getting sacked six times. He completed 10-of-18 for just 77 yards and one interception.
Cooper, however, feels the Buckeyes most improve for their final two games against Illinois and Michigan.
"We have to protect the quarterback," he said. "He can't continue to get punished. It's hard to throw with people in your face. Michigam State has to protect its quarterback also. That's how you win football games."
Michigan State needs to win its final two games to become bowl eligible.
Ohio State avenged a 23-7 loss to the Spartans last season and increased its lead in the all-time series to 21-12.