Q & A on the Big Ten Championship Game With SpartanDigest.com's Mike Wilson
By Tony Gerdeman
There is now only one thing standing between the Ohio State Buckeyes and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game, but that one thing is quite the obstacle. Michigan State, with the top defense in the nation, will pose all sorts of problems for the Buckeye offense. Meanwhile, a maligned Ohio State defense will have to find a way to stop an improved Spartan offense.
There are a ton of questions that are going to be answered on Saturday night, but we didn't feel like waiting. With that in mind, we turned to Mike Wilson, who covers the Spartans in all facets for SpartanDigest.com. We asked some of the questions that our readers had regarding this matchup, and he was kind enough to provide some insights as to what the Buckeyes are walking into this weekend.
1. The MSU offense has been sufficient since Connor Cook took over, but what happened against Purdue and Minnesota that only 14 points were scored? Was it something MSU wasn't doing, or was it something the opposing defenses were doing?
In the case of Purdue, Cook was erratic in that game while the rest of the offense was clicking, whereas Minnesota was a credit to good defense by the Gophers and pretty average play by Cook again. In both cases -- and in all of MSU's games -- it comes down to how good Cook plays. As he goes, Michigan State goes. If he clicks early, which he didn't in those two games, it can be a good day for the Spartans.
2. With regard to the second-half shutouts on defense, is there a noticeable change schematically, or has it simply been a defense wearing down an offense?
It's a combination of both things. Pat Narduzzi and his staff are great at making halftime adjustments, but the Spartans also keep the intensity high in wearing down opponents. I honestly expect an Ohio State touchdown on its first drive of the game. That's the time MSU has given up points when a team comes out with wrinkles and things not seen on film, but then they adjust throughout the game to shut down those plays.
3. What is the strength of the MSU offense?
Experience and strength up front. The Spartans offensive line has worn down opponents throughout the year and Jeremy Langford takes advantage of it to rack up yards in the second half and break out for big runs in the fourth quarter.
4. What is the weakness of the MSU defense, and how often is it exploited?
I think the best way to attack the MSU defense is to get a linebacker (Taiwan Jones) out of the box and then run some read-option plays and attack up the middle. If there is success there, start running outside more and then open up the pass game. The strength for MSU lies in having nine in the box with corners in press coverage, so getting them more spread out bodes well for the running game.
5. We know Connor Cook is licking his chops when it comes to the Ohio State defense, where do you see Michigan State's biggest advantage on offense?
I'll go back to the offensive line. They have played well throughout the year in protecting Cook and allowing the Spartans to dictate the pace of the game through ball control and long drives ending in touchdowns. Those are the things MSU has to do to beat Ohio State as it also keeps the ball away from the OSU offense.
6. What area of the field does the MSU passing attack focus on mainly?
Well, on third down it would be the shallow cross or any route short of the sticks. Apart from that it varies game by game. The passing game has become much more vertical in the past month or so as Cook has become more confident and the receivers have been making more plays than last season.
7. Nebraska and Indiana each scored 28 points against the Spartans. Is it proper to assume that the Spartan defense has a little more trouble with spread offenses than pro style?
That's a fair comment, certainly. I think it's more about teams who spread you out and use a lot of misdirection and smoke and mirrors to mess with the MSU defense. I think Nebraska is just MSU's kryptonite for some reason, and Indiana did a good job of taking advantage of short fields. Ohio State obviously presents the biggest test for MSU to date.
8. Michigan State has yet to play a QB who can run like Braxton this year. Last year, he rushed for 136 yards on the Spartans, and Taylor Martinez went for 205 yards. Do you expect Miller to approach his numbers from last season?
I think he will get between 80-120 and I think if MSU keeps him on the low end, that bodes well for them. I have expected that MSU will try to take Carlos Hyde away and shut him down and make Miller beat them, especially through the air. That's the model MSU uses. Take away the run and make a team pass.
9. The Buckeyes are averaging over 300 yards rushing this season, and have only been held under 200 yards once. Where do you think that total needs to be for MSU to get the win?
Under 200 sounds good to me. No one has put up that many on Michigan State this year with Nebraska getting the most with 182 -- and only two teams have gone for more than 100. Obviously, there are more factors for MSU to win, but it starts with limiting the Ohio State rushing attack, which is easier said than done.
10. Jeremy Langford and Carlos Hyde have each rushed for 100 yards in their last seven games. Do either of them make it eight in a row?
I think Langford will as MSU will look to run the ball to control the clock and wear down the OSU defense. That has been pretty standard for him of late as well as Hyde. As I said above, I think MSU will look to shut down Hyde and make Miller beat them. With that, I think Hyde crosses 100 only if he breaks out on a big run or 40 yards or so. I think they will do well enough at limiting him on other gains as MSU has a good tackling defense.
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