This Saturday will mark the 40th meeting between Ohio State (3-1) and the #25 Michigan State Spartans (3-1). The Buckeyes own the all-time series edge with a 27-12 record.
The Buckeyes have won seven in a row in this rivalry and haven't dropped a game to the Spartans since 1999.
Michigan State has won in Columbus just twice in the last 40 seasons. This game will mark the first time since 1966 that a ranked Spartan team will face an unranked Buckeye team. Michigan State was ranked #1 overall that year and defeated Ohio State 11-8.
The Buckeyes are 70-23-4 in conference openers and have not lost a conference opener since 2004.
Ohio State is 55-5 at Ohio Stadium since the start of the 2002 season.
When Michigan State Has The Ball
Despite some early-season struggles by the Spartan running game the Buckeyes will come into this game intent upon stopping Michigan State's rushing attack.
The Spartans enter the game ranked ninth in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging just 143.2 yards on the ground per game. But Ohio State will not be overlooking what Michigan State is capable of when they run the ball.
The Spartans are led on the ground by Le'Veon Bell (38-217) and Edwin Baker (50-216). Baker has struggled a bit this season, but no Spartan running back has really been able to establish themselves consistently.
There has been a lack of big plays for the tailbacks as well. The longest carry of the season has been a 30-yarder by Bell.
The Ohio State run defense has only had one bad outing, but that bad outing also happened to come against the only team they faced that had the talent and desire to actually run the ball. They will be facing another talented backfield on Saturday, and even though they have improved their tackling from the Miami game, they haven't really been tested yet.
On Tuesday, senior linebacker Andrew Sweat declared himself 100% healthy for the first time all season, so he will be running all over the field chasing ball carriers. Freshman linebacker Ryan Shazier is listed as Sweat's backup, but there will be times when they will be on the field together.
Middle linebacker Storm Klein will need to get to his gaps in time. Stopping the first down run will be key in limiting Michigan State's ability to be balanced on second and third down. If the Buckeyes can keep the Spartans in third and long for the length of the game, they will win.
Injuries have forced Michigan State to utilize a makeshift offensive line. Left tackle Dan France was a defensive tackle last year and has had his problems this season. Right tackle Fou Fonoti has stepped in for Skyler Burkland, who was lost for the season against Notre Dame. Despite these issues on the edges, the Spartans have only allowed five sacks on the season.
Michigan State's offensive line is solid up the middle, but they are having trouble opening up proper holes for their tailbacks. Things won't be any easier for them this week trying to move defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins around. Hankins will move back and forth from tackle to defensive end, and wherever he lines up, expect the run to be less effective there.
If the Spartans can be effective on the ground—and possibly even if they can't—Kirk Cousins will be a very effective play-action passer. Ohio State has had trouble covering the tight end down the middle of the field, and that's a pass that is in Michigan State's wheelhouse. This will be a difficult offense to defend for every Ohio State linebacker involved, especially for the freshman Shazier.
When Cousins isn't throwing over the linebackers' heads, he will be looking for receiver B.J. Cunningham, who is leading the conference in receptions (7.2 per game) and yards (107.0 per game). Cunningham, a Columbus native, is not just a downfield threat, but he is also a chain mover on third downs. He has a big frame (6-2 215) and positions himself tremendously well. Ohio State cornerbacks Travis Howard and Bradley Roby will both get opportunities against Cunningham, and they match up well in terms of size.
The Buckeye secondary has performed very well to this point. The insertion of Christian Bryant at strong safety allows even more man coverage, and so far each member of the secondary has been up to the task.
In addition to Cunningham, the Buckeyes will also need to keep an eye on Keshawn Martin. He is the second-leading receiver on the team (14 recs), but is also dangerous on reverses and screens. If the Buckeye defense gets too aggressive, don't be surprised if Martin is utilized in some form of misdirection. And don't put it past Mark Dantonio to throw in a trick play at some point either.
While Cousins has only been sacked five times, he is pressured constantly because of his offensive line. He has only thrown two interceptions, but right now it looks like there are trust issues and he has a tendency to be as worried about the rush as he is the coverage. If the Buckeyes can get to him early, it should pay dividends for the entire game. Cousins isn't above throwing a bad interception, and the Ohio State secondary isn't above making a great interception, so there is a possibility for turnovers here.
Along with the talented but under-performing running game, Michigan State is also in a similar situation with their special teams. They return the ball well. Both Keshawn Martin on punt returns and Nick Hill on kick returns are capable of taking a kick all the way back.
However, last week against Central Michigan the Spartans gave up a punt block, and the week before against Notre Dame they gave up an 89-yard kickoff return touchdown. There are definitely possibilities here for the Buckeyes.
When Ohio State Has The Ball
There are two basic schools of thought when facing a freshman quarterback like Braxton Miller. The first is to blitz him and force him to make snap decisions, and then take advantage of his indecisiveness. The second is to simply sit back in a zone and make him beat you with his arm. Expect to see the Spartans enrolled in both schools on Saturday.
Michigan State has the top pass defense in the entire nation, allowing just 101 yards passing per game and they have already intercepted six passes. Quarterbacks are only completing 49.5 percent of their passes against them.
The Spartans have one of the top secondaries in the conference. Safeties Trenton Robinson and Isaiah Lewis are both tremendous playmakers who don't necessarily fit the profile of past mistake-prone Spartan defensive backs. They both have range against the pass and the run, but Ohio State will need to test them deep so that they don't get comfortable just playing the run.
Receiver Philly Brown is out once again for the Buckeyes, so the receiving corps will continue to be undermanned. Freshman Devin Smith has emerged as Braxton Miller's favorite target, and he's also the Buckeyes' fastest receiver at the moment.
Ohio State's young receivers have had issues with having their routes redirected, and don't be surprised if that happens again this week against cornerbacks Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard. Adams is a veteran, and Dennard has been one of the better surprises of the Spartan defense this year. The receivers are going to have to fight to get open, and then hope the freshman Miller is in the pocket long enough to find them.
The Spartans only have five sacks on the season, and none from their starting defensive ends William Gholston and Marcus Rush. Gholston came in with the hype, but Rush is the one making a name as a redshirt freshman. He's currently fifth on the team in tackles with 14.
Left tackle Andrew Norwell has had good and bad moments this season, and he is going to face two talented—but raw—pass rushers this week. How he holds up will determine an awful lot in this game. If he has a rough outing, it will lead to at least one turnover, and the Buckeyes can't afford more than one turnover if they plan on winning this game.
Michigan State brings the second-best rush defense (71.2 ypg) in the conference to Ohio Stadium, and they're allowing just 2.7 yards per carry to this point. The matchup of the game may be Ohio State's interior line against defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. If the Buckeyes want to run the ball between the tackles, somebody(s) will have to neutralize the massive Worthy.
If there is one thing that the Buckeyes have done well on offense this season, it's run between the tackles. Jordan Hall has only carried the ball 32 times, but he's been solid with the ball and is averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Ohio State is still lacking big plays from their running game, which would make things much easier than sustaining drives for the long haul.
Hall will get the start and will likely get the most carries he's ever had as a Buckeye, provided Michigan State doesn't get out to a 14-0 start and ruin Ohio State's best laid plans.
Carlos Hyde will also get some carries, but it will likely be the running of Braxton Miller that best complements Jordan Hall. His ability to move the chains on third down can be the deciding factor.
Part of stopping Miller in that situation will fall on linebacker Denicos Allen, who is second on the team in tackles with 21. He is also leading the Spartans with five tackles for loss. He is no stranger to the backfield and is quick and fast enough to get on top of Miller before the rookie realizes it's happening. Don't be shocked if Allen is also used to spy Miller, especially against blitzes as Miller looks to get upfield as quickly as possible.
Allen is fast and disruptive, but he hasn't seen anything like Braxton Miller this season. Miller's quickness can't be simulated until you actually see it in person.
Middle linebacker Max Bullough and weakside linebacker Chris Norman are both active as well. Bullough leads the team in tackles with 24, but he's not just a run stuffer. The coaches love his ability to defend the pass as well, which was exhibited last week with an interception against Central Michigan.
Michigan State may come in with the nation's top-ranked defense, but the only team that they played with a breathing offense scored 24 points on them. This is a good defense, but they are not the best in the nation. The Buckeye offensive line can handle this defensive line, but it will be up to the playmakers behind them to live up to their names.
One area where the Buckeyes could certainly make some of those plays is in the special teams. Punter Ben Buchanan pinned Colorado back repeatedly last week, and if he can do it again on Saturday the Buckeyes will be halfway home to a win.
The Spartans are allowing 25.5 yards per kickoff return, which bodes well for Ohio State. It will be interesting to see if Michigan State does anything to avoid Jordan Hall on punt returns the way Colorado did last week. The Buffaloes did themselves more damage than good, so initially expect Hall to be given the opportunity to return a couple.
How It Will End Up
It's not going to be a pretty game. That's not what either of these teams are capable of right now.
The Spartans will continue to struggle running the ball, but Kirk Cousins will hurt the Buckeyes down the middle of the field. Cousins will be rattled at times, but he will be able to find his outlet receivers because Mark Dantonio will have a good idea of what to expect from the Buckeyes on defense.
The Ohio State offense won't be able to outsmart the Michigan State defense; they will have to out-execute them. That's asking too much for an entire game—especially when any mistake can be the difference in the game.
The Buckeye offensive coaches will have Braxton Miller wound so tight about turnovers that he may not even be able to let go of the ball in order to throw it. He was pretty efficient and safe with the ball last week, but he's just too dynamic to not make a mistake or two this week while trying to make a play. Expect two turnovers and hope for just one.
He will also make plays, because it just comes naturally to him.
For the most part though, there will be no surprises from the Ohio State offense. The coaches will play it as safe as possible in hopes of winning a close one, and Michigan State knows it.
When it's over, this game will have ended up being played about a month too early for the Buckeyes to actually win it.
Michigan State 20 – Ohio State 16
Donate by Check :
1380 King Avenue
Columbus, Ohio 43212
Help us bring you more Buckeye coverage. Donate to the-Ozone.
Click here to email this the-Ozone feature to a friend...or even a foe.
(c) 2010 The O-Zone, O-Zone Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, rebroadcast,rewritten, or redistributed.