The No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0) and the No. 10 Michigan State Spartans (11-1, 8-0) meet in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday.
Ohio State enters the game on the heels of a 42-41 win over rival Michigan. They completed their second-consecutive undefeated regular season and stretched their school record and nation’s longest winning streak to 24 games.
The Spartans completed their third perfect Big Ten regular season in school history. Their only loss this year was anon-conference loss to Notre Dame. They also tied a school record with 11 wins, which they have done twice before. MSU became the first Big Ten team to win all eight conference games by double digits.
This is the second Big Ten title game in the last three seasons for Michigan State. The Spartans lost to Wisconsin 42-39 in 2011. The Buckeyes are making their first appearance in the title game after being ineligible last season.
This is the 42nd meeting between the two sides, though the first at a neutral site. Ohio State holds the series lead 28-13.
When Michigan State Has The Ball
The Spartans’ offense has not been a joy to behold this year though they have improved over the course of the season. The Green and White are ranked 84th nationally in total yardage (380.2 yards per game) and 63rd in points per game (29.4).
Head Coach Mark Dantonio took three games before naming a starting quarterback, eventually landing on sophomore Connor Cook.
On the season, Cook has completed 58.2% of his passes for 2,119 yards, 17 touchdowns, and four interceptions. Although he has been mostly a game manager, Cook can make plays when necessary – though he was pulled from the Notre Dame game.
His offensive line, which is made up of three fifth-year seniors, a redshirt freshman and a sophomore, have given up just 12 sacks this season – fewest in the Big Ten. The smallest of the group is center Jack Allen at 6’1”, 297.
Ohio State will try and use this size against them and attack with speed. The Buckeyes’ have the most sacks in the Big Ten, 39, and Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, and company will want to rebound after not being able to bring down Devin Gardner more frequently last week.
Ryan Shazier should also be in the backfield often. Urban Meyer has called him the best blitzer on the team and OSU will continue to use him as such. He may have a chip on his shoulder in this game, after not winning the Big Ten’s Linebacker of the Year or Defensive Player of the Year award this week.
Jeremy Langford is the typical Spartan running back and has put up good numbers this season. Langford has rushed for just 80 yards less than Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde and two more touchdowns, albeit in three more games. Langford has rushed for 100 yards or more in his last seven games and was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention. The Buckeyes have not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season.
Langford will present a challenge, but not more than what the Scarlet and Gray have already faced this season.
Wide Receiver Tony Lippett has caught the most passes for MSU – 35 – but receiver Bennie Fowler has the most yardage – 496. Fowler also leads the Spartans in receiving touchdowns with six.
Recently the Buckeyes have kept their cornerbacks on specific side of the field instead of matching them up with a certain receiver. Both Bradley Roby and Doran Grant will be covering different receivers and have to help in run support.
The safeties for Ohio State want to redeem themselves after a disappointing performance in Ann Arbor. Corey “Pitt” Brown and C.J. Barnett will be able to help on the throw-back screens that Michigan State will likely use, after seeing the success it has had against Ohio State already this year.
The Spartans tight ends are more of the blocking variety, but Josiah Price has caught 13 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns this season. The linebackers and corners will have to keep an eye on him because the Michigan State will have taken note of the success tight ends had against OSU early on.
Freshman kicker Michael Geiger is 12/13 on the season with a long of 49 yards, but has missed two extra points. Junior Mike Sadler is averaging 42.4 yards per punt with a long of 69 yards.
When Ohio State Has The Ball
This is the side of the ball where things get interesting. The Buckeyes are sixth in the country in yards per game (530.5) and third in the nation in scoring (48.2 points per game). MSU’s defense ranks first nationally in total defense (237.7 yards per game) and is fourth in points allowed (11.8).
OSU has not seen a defense like this all year, but Michigan State has not faced an offense as explosive as the Buckeyes’, so something will have to give.
Braxton Miller was named the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Year this week and he is where Ohio State’s offense begins. The Buckeyes have gone more run heavy the last few games, but playing in indoor conditions may allow them to open up the passing game a bit more this week.
Miller only completed six passes against Michigan – a number that will surely increase this week – but he did throw two touchdowns and rush for 152 yards and two scores.
The Spartans are the top ranked pass efficiency defense holding opponents to an average rating of 91.8 and ninth in passing yards allowed with 172.9 per game.
MSU plays the press quarters coverage giving each defensive back a quarter of the field. It puts the cornerbacks in one-on-one coverage and allows the defense to play nine-v-nine.
Fortunately Michigan State has some good defensive backs in 1st-Team All-Big Ten corner Darqueze Dennard and safeties Isaiah Lewis and Kurtis Drummond.
The corners tight coverage means Ohio State’s wide receivers will have to beat the press in order to get open. Devin Smith admitted this week that he and Philly Brown are looking forward to the challenge this provides.
Miller will likely have to get rid of the ball quickly when throwing because the Spartans like to blitz. They bring linebackers through the same gap in order to get in the backfield.
Fortunately, OSU’s offensive line of four seniors and one sophomore has been one of the best in the country and kept their quarterback upright more often than not. They will go against defensive end Shilique Calhoun who was also named All-Big Ten.
The defense is the best against the rush in the country, allowing just 64.8 yards per game, and that is credit to the defensive line and the linebackers.
Max Bullough is another 1st-Team All-Big Ten player on the Spartans’ defense and he’s not even their top tackler. That honor goes to Denicos Allen who has 83 tackles on the year and 15 tackles for a loss.
They will be responsible for stopping Hyde who has been near unstoppable recently. After 226 yards last week, Meyer’s first 1,000-yard back would likely be a Heisman contender if he had played all 12 games.
Michigan State will likely put most of their effort into stopping Hyde and hoping Miller can’t beat them.
Last week, Miller was able to find Jeff Heuerman for a long touchdown pass. The tight end could be another useful weapon again this week.
How It Will End Up
What this game may ultimately come down to is the Michigan State offense against the Buckeye defense.
Ohio State’s defense was criticized again after their performance against Michigan and the Spartans have struggled to score against defenses like Purdue’s.
There may be more punts for OSU in this game than previously due to Michigan State’s defense, but the Buckeyes will not be stopped altogether.
The Spartans will have to have some tricks up their sleeve if they are going to be able to hang with Ohio State.
It will be close for a while, but the Buckeyes wear down MSU in the end.
Ohio State 31 Michigan State 17
Related Feature: OSU vs. MSU Side by Side