Dantonio returns home. This time, however, he will not be facing his mentor across the sidelines, but will be facing his mentee. The roles have been reversed. Fickell’s foundations as a defensive mind were set at Dantonio’s chalkboard, and the two remain close acquaintances to this day.
The Bad News
With due respect to Al Golden, this will be Fickell’s first true coaching test. Dantonio has established a reputation as one of the more saavy coaches in the B1G, taking calculated risks at times and playing conservative at others. Also, he’s been able to extract more productivity out of his players than their talent level would seem to allow.
The Spartans lead the nation in total defense (172.3 ypg) and pass defense (101 ypg) and have an offense with veteran skill players that has looked dangerous at times. They are led by fifth-year senior quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is way better than OSU’s fifth-year senior quarterback, who we affectionately call “B-Deck Bauserman.”
The Spartans have destroyed the cupcakes on their schedule, beating Youngstown State, Florida Atlantic and Central Michigan by a combined score of 117-13. They lost their only game to a decent opponent when Notre Dame easily brushed them aside 31-13.
The question is: which MSU team will show up on Saturday? The one that rushed for 197 yards against Central Michigan; or the one that only managed 29 yards against Notre Dame?
The Good News
While Michigan State won a share of the B1G championship last season, it wasn’t without drama. They needed a fake field goal in OT to beat ND, and needed miracle 4th quarter comebacks to beat Purdue and Northwestern. Remove those three breaks, and MSU would be viewed as a ‘fair-to-middlin’ team at best.
Dantonio hasn’t done that well on the road, either, going 10-10 overall (and 1-6 against ranked opponents).
At the Big Ten preseason media day, Dantonio said, “Every time we’ve lost a game, when I talk about lost it decisively, which has not been very often, it’s because we’ve not won the game up front.” With that in mind, OSU seems to hold a decisive advantage in the trenches against MSU. The Buckeyes will likely continue to rely on the power-I/spread hybrid being developed for Braxton Miller.
The best benefit of this approach is that OSU’s best and most reliable player, Zach Boren, will continue to see significant time. With OSU’s larger and more athletic offensive line, and “I’m Zach Effin Boren’s” continued ownage of all things linebacker, the advantage in the trenches and rushing game seems to favor OSU.
Boren leading Braxton… woe unto any defender who sees this approaching.
Image via The-Ozone.
Will this strategy allow Braxton some play-action magic to convert some 3rd downs via the pass? Time will tell.
Ultimately, because neither team is particularly dominant this year against good competition, the game will likely hinge on whichever team capitalizes on the other’s mistakes. In that vein, MSU has had special teams difficulties this season. The Spartans gave up an 89 yard kickoff return against ND. They’ve also had major problems with penalties, committing 27 penalties (to OSU’s 16). Jordan Hall has been getting closer to the end zone each week… will this be the week he punches a kickoff or punt return in?
OSU will be without Jaamal Berry, a potent weapon on offense and special teams. However, if there’s one position OSU could suffer a loss of depth in and it have negligible impact, it would be at RB. Expect no drop off in rushing with Hall, Hyde, and Miller in the backfield.
Finally, the weather may play an unforeseen role. The conditions are expected to be windy and gusty, which could affect the kicking game in particular. Michigan State edges OSU out slightly in FG percentage on the year (but only slightly).
What to think
Doom is nigh if…
- OSU is forced into repeated 3rd-and-longs
- The game becomes a FG-fest
- Fickell gets his glass-eyed Adam Sandler face going
Rapture is around the corner if…
- Hall gets a special teams score
- The defense gets a defensive score
- Any OSU RB goes over 100 yards
Ohio State 24 (with 1 TD via defense or special teams)
Michigan State 17