COLUMBUS - Ugly day, ugly playcalling, ugly execution and there might just be more ugliness to come.
Ohio State's football season is on the brink after one of the most disheartening defeats in recent memory on Saturday. Michigan State took a shutout into the final seconds and beat the Buckeyes, 10-7, in the Big Ten Conference opener for both teams.
Only Joe Bauserman's 33-yard touchdown pass to Evan Spencer with 10 seconds to play enabled Ohio State to avoid being shut out for the first time since 1993 in a 28-0 loss at Michigan. The Buckeyes have not been shut out at home since 1982, when Wisconsin beat Ohio State, 6-0, on a rainy, dreary day much like this one at the Horseshoe.
The Buckeyes endured a sickening dose of reality two weeks ago in a 24-6 loss at Miami. It was a defeat that exposed several shortcomings in a team left shorthanded by suspensions and injuries.
This was worse, because it happened along the banks the Olentangy River and in broad daylight - what there was of it anyway - and in front of 105,306 soggy spectators. And it was worse because it is now clear there is far more wrong with these team than just a quarterback who is learning on the job (Braxton Miller) and one who has been around the program for years, but is limited in his playmaking ability (Joe Bauserman).
The Buckeyes - save for their final offensive play - couldn't pass against the Spartans. They also were utterly unable to block or run the ball.
Miller made his second consecutive start, but was befuddled from the start by Michigan State's incessant blitzing. He finished 5-of-10 for 56 yards - and 33 yards came on one completion to Chris Fields. He was sacked four times. He ran nine times for minus-27 yards.
Wait until Ohio State's remaining opponents get a look at the Spartans' defensive scheme on video. Miller repeatedly was unable to get the ball away on what should have been hot reads. When he wasn't sacked, he was often tackled for no gain. His open-field skills are supposed to be exceptional, but Miller's longest run went for 3 yards.
Michigan State (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) came after Miller on almost every play for three quarters before Ohio State coach Luke Fickell finally sent in Bauserman. The senior was benched against Colorado State after that abysmal 2-of-14 performance against the Hurricanes and aside from the Buckeyes' final drive, he wasn't much better Saturday. Bauserman finished 7-of-14 for 87 yards - with 33 yards coming on the touchdown pass to Spencer. He missed several open receivers and was sacked five times.
That brings us to the Buckeyes' offensive line, which was reduced to a human sieve by Michigan State's front seven. Ohio State gave up nine sacks, including two each by linebackers Chris Norman and Denicos Allen. Five other Spartans players had sacks and Michigan State finished with 13 tackles for loss. Some of the Spartans spent more time in the Buckeyes' backfield than anyone wearing Scarlet and Gray.
Ohio State averaged less than one yard per rush. That's not a typo. The Buckeyes ran the ball 39 times for 35 yards.
That statistic by itself speaks volumes about the Spartans' domination at the line of scrimmage, but it also is an indictment of Ohio State's playcalling. Michigan State put eight, nine and even 10 defenders with eight yards of the line of scrimmage and all but dared the Buckeyes to throw downfield.
"They were sometimes sending more people than you can block," Fickell said.
Time and again, Ohio State ran right into the teeth of the blitz for little or no gain. The Buckeyes' longest running plays? Dual 13-yard gains by Bauserman and running back Carlos Hyde. They never got running back Jordan Hall on the edge, where his quickness might have made a difference. Miller also never got to the edge, where Terrelle Pryor - for all his warts off the field - could be as dangerous as any quarterback in college football.
Michigan State's blitzes came from the outside and up the middle. Ohio State never knew where the pressure would be, only that there would be plenty. The Spartans, however, knew enough about the Buckeyes to completely shut them down.
"They seemed to know everything we were going to do," Ohio State fullback Zach Boren said.
Maybe the playcalling was bland because the Buckeyes didn't want to take too many chances with a freshman quarterback in the rain and a receiving corps that still lacks experience and confidence. Fickell said as much. But he also hinted that responsibility for some of the sacks and other botched plays falls to the quarterback.
"Sometimes it's on him to get the ball out of there," Fickell said.
Neither quarterback did that fast enough for the offense to gain any traction.
With a non-existent passing attack and an running game that was stalled, the Buckeyes looked a lot like the Akron Zips on Saturday. In a word, ugly.
It's not going to get any easier. Yes, Ohio State's suspended foursome of running back Dan "Boom" Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, left tackle Mike Adams and defensive tackle Solomon Thomas are back this week as the Buckeyes prepare for Nebraska.
But even if they're back and get significant snaps against the Cornhuskers, can this team win in Lincoln on Saturday night? Or even at Illinois on Oct. 15? Wisconsin comes to the Horseshoe on Oct. 29.
This season can get even uglier fast if the Buckeyes aren't careful.