Today’s meeting between the Michigan St. Spartans and the Ohio State Buckeyes was the only meeting in college football this weekend with both teams being ranked, but also was the Big Ten’s first major conference game. The game was also about the head-to-head match-up of potential Heisman candidates between Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller and Spartans running back Le’Veon Bell. Both men have been receiving the Heisman hype from the beginning of the season with Bell having multiple 200-yard rushing performances already and Miller playing big even when his team hasn’t coming into today.
Unfortunately for Bell, he was neutralized by a defense that was too much for him for the second time this year. The other time came a few weeks ago when the Notre Dame Fighting Irish held him to just 77 yards on the ground. Today was much worse.
Bell wasn’t a force or even a factor in the game and was held to just 45 yards rushing. And while he still passed 100 yards total thanks to a decent day of receptions, it wasn’t enough in my opinion to save Bell’s stock in being a real Heisman candidate from taking a hit. It has to. Just like with the Fighting Irish, this was a big game for the Spartans (both were in East Lansing, Michigan), was against a high-profile opponent, and Bell didn’t have the kind of game that would turn a non-believer into a believer.
The blame isn’t only on Bell for his performance as the game was a test of wills with both defenses leading the way. The battle between lines was won all day by the Buckeyes’ defense and Bell’s poor day was one of the results.
If anything, Miller felt the pain in the first half that Bell must’ve been feeling all day. Miller suffered through an opening half that saw his runs go for little and his passing go for little more. To reiterate a point made in the previous paragraph, the defenses were leading the way and that meant that the Spartan D came up big as well. Miller was able to lead a touchdown drive on the Buckeyes’ opening possession, but did next to nothing else for the rest of the first half.
Where Millers’ potential Heisman status saved itself was when Miller propelled the Buckeyes to their 17-16 win with a big second half. His 63-yard touchdown play with receiver Devin Smith late in the third quarter was not only one of the few big plays of the game, but it put the Buckeyes in front for good after they lost a lead they had held well into the second half.
What could’ve been a devastating blow to Miller and the Buckeyes was a run by Miller early in the fourth quarter that went bad. At this point, it was 17-13 Buckeyes and Miller was running for a first down and more, but the ball fell right out of his right hand as he was going out-of-bounds. The ball was ruled dead as a Spartan defender picked it up, but was later ruled a fumble and the Spartans got the ball. As this was going on, Miller was down on the sideline, appearing to have hurt his left knee when he landed out-of-bounds. The Buckeyes lucked out twice here as their defense made a key stop and held the Spartans to a field-goal, and Miller was back on the field the very next possession.
After that, it was Miller’s runs that helped the Buckeyes eat up the clock after the defense helped seal the deal.