COLUMBUS — Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio was not happy when former Michigan running back Mike Hart made his famous “little brother” comment about the Spartans in 2007.
So, it’s probably not a good idea to refer to Ohio State’s rivalry with MSU as the little brother of its legendary rivalry with Michigan.
But that’s kind of what it is. The Michigan rivalry is in a category of its own. But Michigan State has tormented the Buckeyes often enough in the Urban Meyer era that it is clearly No. 2 on the list of Big Ten rivals.
The Spartans are the only Big Ten team to beat OSU twice since Meyer became the Buckeyes’ coach. And those two defeats were very costly for Ohio State.
In 2013, Michigan State beat Ohio State 34-24 in the Big Ten championship game when OSU was undefeated. Two years later, with Lima Central Catholic graduate Tyler O’Connor filling in for the injured Connor Cook at quarterback, Michigan State beat another undefeated OSU team 17-14.
The 2013 loss probably cost Ohio State a trip to the BCS championship game and the 2015 loss kept the Buckeyes out of the College Football Playoff.
Three of the last five times the two teams have played have had a retro feeling, with the two teams pounding on each other for 60 minutes.
Urban Meyer compared this year’s team to a prize fight earlier this week and said, “The tougher team usually wins.”
It was that way when Ohio State won 17-16 in East Lansing in 2012 and by that same score last season. It was that way in 2015 when Michigan State won 17-14 on a day when OSU seemed to forget giving the ball to Ezekiel Elliott was a very good idea.
The only exceptions were the 2013 Big Ten Championship game and OSU’s 49-37 win at Michigan State in 2014.
If there is a common thread to Michigan State’s success against the Buckeyes that has heated up the rivalry, it is that its defense has held them below their average offensive output and in one case far below it.
That probably should not be a surprise with Dantonio, the defensive coordinator on Ohio State’s 2002 national championship team, as its head coach.
The only time in the last five seasons Ohio State’s total yardage against Michigan State has exceeded its season average was when it rolled up 568 yards in 2014.
In 2016, it averaged 459 yards a game and gained 310 at Michigan State. The 2015 team averaged 434 yards and produced only 132 yards against the Spartans.
In 2013, Ohio State averaged 511 yards a game and had 374 yards against Michigan State. And in 2012, it was close, but OSU had 40 fewer yards than its average when it played the Spartans.
Ohio State goes into Saturday’s game at home against Michigan State as the Big Ten leader in total offense at 549 yards a game. Michigan State is third in total defense at 303 yards a game.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.