(EAST LANSING) - Poor special teams play combined with a Damon Dowdell three interception performance doomed Michigan State to a 32-19 loss at the hands of Ohio State.
The loss puts the Spartans on the brink of bowl oblivion, now needing to sweep their final three games to become bowl eligible.
It didn't take long to find out if the Spartans had what it took to play with the Big Boys of the Big Ten. John L. Smith's teams are a combined 0-4 against Michigan and Ohio State.
On MSU first possession Dowdell threw a costly interception that was returned to the Spartans 17-yard line. Three plays later, freshman Ted Ginn, Jr., the Scout.com national high school player of the year a season ago, took a reverse from quarterback Troy Smith and streaked into the end zone untouched to put the Buckeyes up 7-0.
When the Spartans next drive stalled, Ginn fielded a rugby-style punt from Dave Rayner and ran 60 yards into the end zone to put Ohio State up by fourteen. Mike Nugent's 53-yard field goal put the Buckeyes in command.
"It was disappointing to let Ohio State take a lead like they had today," said safety Jason Harmon. "We told the offense that if they started scoring some points that we are going to keep the game close. Once we got used to their offense, we did pretty well."
Indeed, down 17-0, MSU mounted a comeback with a solid 15-play, 86-yard drive when Dowdell hit Jerramy Scott from 8-yards out to get to 17-7. Rayner added two field goals to cut the OSU lead to 17-13 at the half.
Rayner added two more boots of 53 and 29, to become MSU's all-time scoring leader. Rayner has 312 points and 59 field goals in his career, surpassing the previous MSU records of 308 and 57, respectively, held by John Langeloh (1987-90). His efforts would give the Spartans their first lead of the ballgame at 19-17 with just 5:59 remaining.
It wouldn't last.
The Buckeyes would score 15 unanswered points when Smith hit the speedy Ginn with a short pass and he flew pass the Spartans defenders into the end zone from 58-yards with just 1:24 left in the game, crushing the Spartans faithful. The Buckeyse took an eight point lead following the successful two point conversion
With the Spartans to march back into contention, Dowdell's pass was picked off by linebacker A.J. Hawk ending the bid.
Maurice Hall's 51-yard scamper sent the 72,222 fans to the parking lots.
Dowdell threw his third interception ending the Spartans last gasp bid.
A clearly crestfallen John L. Smith took blame for the loss.
"I don't know what to say. You have to give Ohio State a lot of credit. They're a good football team. I'm proud of them (the players); they fought back to give us an opportunity to win but we didn't get it done at the end. And that's just pure coaching. Coaches deserve the credit for this loss, not the kids."
MSU (4-5, 3-3) now must win its remaining three contests vs. #4 Wisconsin next week, at Penn State and at Hawaii to become bowl eligible.