BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Tyson Walter trudged slowly off the field, muttering softly, smiling slightly. The giant tackle stared up at the scoreboard at Ohio Stadium and shook his head, more astonished then angry, like a man who had just been hit by a meteor.
WR Dee Miller is helped off the field after the Buckeyes' shocking defeat.
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A bolt from the blue leveled the Ohio State Buckeyes Saturday, shattering their undefeated season and leaving a crater-sized dent in their national championship dreams. Improbable Michigan State, four-time losers and 28-point underdogs, seized the day, four OSU fumbles and a 28-24 upset before 93,595 horrified spectators at the Horseshoe.
"It's disbelief," Walter said, sorting out his emotions a few minutes afterward. "I walked off the field shaking my head with a stupid look on my face. It's a bad joke. They shouldn't have been on the field with us. We're a better team. It's a bad joke.
"Tomorrow, when I wake up and it sinks in, I'm going to be nauseous." For eight weeks, the Buckeyes had appeared bulletproof. There were seven major undefeated teams at the start of play Saturday, but Ohio State had been so scary that it had earned 117 out of a possible 130 first-place votes in the two major polls.
With exquisite balance on offense and a dominating defense, the Buckeyes appeared bound for the Fiesta Bowl and a shot at a national title. But all of that is over now, and John Cooper's annual agony against Michigan may only mean the inside track for the Citrus Bowl. The mighty have fallen, and the ground doesn't have much give to it.
"It's repulsive," Walter said. "Flat out, there's no excuse for it. We're Ohio State. We've got all the talent in the world. Every time we were out on the field and got stopped, we'd look at each other and say, What's going on?' We got blindsided by this."
OSU students wear shock on their faces.
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"It's very hard," said Ahmed Plummer, the senior cornerback from Wyoming High School. "I've been here four years now and this is the fourth time I've had a chance to win the national championship. To have it spoiled like that ... I kept thinking we would win."
With 1:29 to play, deliverance was still attainable. Having failed to succeed at smashmouth football on their penultimate possession, running 12 straight times before being stopped on downs, the Buckeyes went obsessively to the air.
Quarterback Joe Germaine moved the ball from his own 49-yard line to the Michigan State 15 with two crisp passes to David Boston and John Lumpkin. But having run out of timeouts - one of them squandered when the Ohio State coaches wrongly suspected they had too many men on the field - Cooper lacked the time and the confidence to grind it out.
Germaine threw four more passes from the 15, the first three of them incomplete, the last one intercepted by Renaldo Hill. The pass had been intended for Dee Miller, who lay facedown in the end zone for a long time before returning to the sideline. When Miller subsequently left the field for the dressing room, it was with a towel on his head, shielding his anguished eyes.
"They just came in and wanted it more than us," he said. "You have to chalk it up, be men and move on. We made a lot of silly mistakes."
'Rocky' by knockout
The Buckeyes have been mistake-prone all season, but their considerable talent has camouflaged a multitude of sins. They had fumbled 20 times in their first eight games, but lost only six of them. They have averaged more than 77 yards per game in penalties, but were otherwise so productive that it scarcely mattered.
"Like we say in coaching, 'It doesn't catch up with you until it catches up with you,' " Cooper said. "We let them live too long instead of putting them away."
Michigan St. QB Bill Burke passes the stunned Columbus crowd.
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Michigan State trailed 17-3 at one stage, and lost its best defensive lineman (Robaire Smith) with a broken leg on the seventh play of the game. Yet the Spartans, who previously upset Notre Dame, refused to unravel. They pounced on the loose balls and made Ohio State pay handsomely for its mistakes. Were it not for a 73-yard interception return by Damon Moore, the Buckeyes would not have scored a point after the first quarter.
"We had to come in today as the squirts who had to pick a fight with the bully," Michigan State coach Nick Saban said. "Not that we wanted to pick one, but it was on the schedule, so we had to do it.
"I told the team it was going to be a 15-round fight and we needed to be Rocky in that 15th round."
Yo, Adrian. They did it.
BUCKEYES FUMBLE TITLE BID
Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at firstname.lastname@example.org.