Spartans in the driver’s seat after crushing Buckeyes’ repeat hopes

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That Sparty D swallowed the Buckeyes whole Saturday in Columbus. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Urban Meyer couldn’t watch. So he turned his back to the field and waited.

It didn’t help.

Michael Geiger’s 41-yard sidewinder of a kick found its way through the uprights as time expired, and — just like that — No. 9 Michigan State had an earth-moving 17-14 victory over No. 3 Ohio State.

Just like that, Meyer had his first regular-season Big Ten defeat in four campaigns with the Buckeyes.

Just like that, the Spartans had new life — robust, vibrant life — in the College Football Playoff picture.

The chances of a national championship repeat plummeted drastically for the Buckeyes (10-1), who perhaps need too much help to get back to the playoff now. The Spartans (10-1), on the other hand, have a difficult but arrow-straight path in front of them: Win at home next week against Penn State and beat Big Ten West winner Iowa in the league title game in Indy, and a playoff berth should be theirs.

Of course, 11-0 Iowa, which doubled up Purdue 40-20 in a Week 12 snoozer, can win its way into the playoff, too.

That Ohio State — winner of 24 straight prior to Saturday — has been knocked from its perch will take some getting used to. Next week’s game against rival Michigan was supposed to be for the East crown. Meyer vs. Jim Harbaugh was supposed to be the mother of all coaching matchups. The hype alone would’ve been glorious.

Now? Holy anticlimax, Batman.

The Game, as it’s called, still will be something of a big deal, but the game that’ll mean more is Penn State at Michigan State. And if the Spartans play defense like they did in Columbus, there might not be much suspense.

On a rainy day that affected both passing games, Ohio State’s star-studded offense was held to mind-boggling totals of 132 yards from scrimmage and five first downs. It was vintage Spartans — and then some — on defense, a huge turn of events on a day Mark Dantonio’s team was without its best player, senior quarterback Connor Cook.

“The chips were a little bit against us,” the coach said. “I thought the one thing that made a difference [was] we’ve been chased all year long so far in 10 games, and this game we got to be the chaser. And so we could chase this game and play on emotion.”

After the game, emotions boiled over for the losing team. Superstar junior running back Ezekiel Elliott — held under 100 yards rushing for the first time in 16 games — expressed frustration with the team’s play-calling and said there’s “no chance” he’ll be back next season.

Meyer and his staff have some heavy lifting to do in the days to come. Michigan, which won 28-16 at Penn State to get to 9-2 in a brilliant first season under Harbaugh, will be disappointed about the likely end to its Big Ten title hopes. But the Wolverines are playing with house money. They’ll be beyond stoked at the chance to pour salt into the Buckeyes’ wounds.

“It’s easy to lead when everything is going well and you’ve won a bunch of games in a row,” Meyer said. “That’s not how you judge a team. That’s not how you judge character. That’s not how you judge a leader. That’s how you judge a front-runner. That’s how you judge when things are going well. We’ve just been hit right in the gut.”

The tough-minded Spartans have given themselves a puncher’s chance at a national title.

“I think if we win the next game,” Dantonio said, “we’re going to the Big Ten championship game. So that’s a start.”

GAMES OF THE WEEK/WEAK

Week: No. 10 Baylor 45, No. 6 Oklahoma State 35. Everyone wondered if the Bears could wipe themselves off the turf after a devastating loss to Oklahoma — and that was before quarterback Jarrett Stidham was injured with an entire half to go in Stillwater. If you haven’t been paying attention, Stidham is a true freshman who was playing only because starter Seth Russell is injured.

Hello, Chris Johnson. The sophomore, who was third string a few short weeks ago, played a tremendous second half as Baylor moved to 9-1 and dealt the Cowboys their first defeat, likely knocking them out of the playoff race. Johnson threw for a pair of long third-quarter touchdown and ran in the team’s final touchdown.

Week: Mississippi State 51, Arkansas 50. You’d like to think that when your quarterback throws for 406 yards and seven touchdowns at home that victory is automatic. No, sir.

Brandon Allen was ridiculous for the Hogs (6-5), but Dak Prescott was even better for the Bulldogs (8-3). The Dak Attack aired it out for 508 yards and five scores and added two more touchdowns on the ground. The final TD — a 14-yarder to Fred Ross with 3:05 to go — held up when Arkansas’ chip-shot field goal attempt was blocked by Beniquez Brown.

Weak: The Citadel 23, South Carolina 22. Steve Spurrier sure got out while the getting was good. The shell of a team he left behind is 3-8 after losing — unthinkably — to an in-state military school from the FCS ranks.

GAME BALLS

Vernon Adams Jr., QB, Oregon: The Ducks made it easy this season to forget about them, but now they’re 8-3 with victories over Stanford and, Saturday, by an impressive 48-28 count over USC. Adams was sensational, completing 20 of 25 throws for 407 yards and six touchdowns — to six different receivers.

KD Cannon, WR, Baylor: On a night when the Bears absolutely had to win, Cannon got behind Oklahoma State’s defense for 71- and 59-yard touchdown catches and finished with over 200 receiving yards.

Deonte Gibson, DE, Northwestern: The big fella just keeps getting better, as Wisconsin learned the hard way. Gibson dumped Joel Stave for three of the Wildcats’ six sacks in a 13-7 victory.

TRENDING

Up: UCLA. The Bruins entered Saturday trailing both USC and Utah in the Pac-12 South. By beating the Utes 17-9 on the road — as the Trojans were falling at Oregon — UCLA now is in position to win the division if it can topple crosstown rival USC in a winner-take-all regular-season finale.

Down: The SEC East. South Carolina lost to The Citadel. Florida was taken to overtime by Florida Atlantic. Georgia was taken to overtime by Georgia Southern. The gap between divisions in this league never ceases to widen.

Down and out: No. 19 Houston. The Cougars were 10-0 entering a game at run-of-the-mill UConn. The dream died in 20-17 misery. Tough day for Ohio State and for former Buckeyes offensive coordinator Tom Herman, the Cougs’ first-year coach.

EXTRA POINTS

• College football officiating has become the clown act to end all clown acts. Congrats and all to Northwestern on its win at Wisconsin, but please — it shouldn’t have ended that way. Not after Jazz Peavy caught what appeared to be a game-tying touchdown pass in the closing seconds, leaving the Badgers an apparent PAT from victory.

Peavy caught the pass, touched both feet down, then took multiple steps in the end zone while unquestionably possessing the ball — a score by any definition, it would seem. But then he fell to the ground and bobbled the ball ever so subtly. Replay. Overturn. Badgers robbed of a “W” in preposterous fashion. Something has to change.

• LSU has lost three straight following a 7-0 start, and word on the street is Tigers coach Les Miles is all but fired. The Mad Hatter is 110-32 at the school, with a national title to his credit. Sure, you maniacs in Baton Rouge, fire this guy. No way you’ll regret it … right?

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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