Michigan State welcomes your Ohio State Buckeye this Saturday to East Lansing for a 3:30 PM kick-off on ABC. College Gameday has also descended upon East Lansing and has been regretting it ever since they arrived.
The Spartans and the Buckeyes engaged in a laughable slap-fight last year that consisted of a whopping 499 yards of TOTAL OFFENSE (from BOTH teams) and if it wasn’t for a last minute touchdown from Joe Bauserman, the Buckeyes would have been shut out. The Buckeyes couldn’t even muster ONE yard per carry on the ground. The less we talk of that game, the better.
So with that game in the forgettable past, let’s look at what will be taking place this Saturday. Hopefully it will not mirror last year’s contest in any way, shape or form.
When Michigan State has the ball:
You already know that when Michigan State has the ball that we’re going to see #24. It’s no stretch of the analytic brain to realize that Ohio State has to stop Le’Veon Bell. He’s one of the nation’s top running backs, statistically speaking, partially due to the fact that his number has been called repeatedly in the first four games of Michigan State’s season. But you tip your hat to Bell and prepare to play smash mouth football.
At the helm of the Michigan State’s offense is Andrew Maxwell. Maxwell is not exactly a young quarterback. He’s a junior that has spent time behind Kirk Cousins before finally getting the opportunity to lead the Spartans into Big Ten play.
Michigan State’s wide receivers are inexperienced and there isn’t a true playmaker among them. Their big TE, Dion Sims (#80) will be a tough matchup. He is huge with great hands but is definitely not a big play threat. He’ll hurt the Buckeyes a couple times for first downs but overall he probably won’t be able to contribute extensively to stretch the field.
Without the threat of a playmaker at wide receiver, Ohio State should be able to leave returning-from-injury cornerback Bradley Roby and Travis Howard in man-to-man situations and cheat up the safety for run support. Until Maxwell can prove he can go downfield to some deep, the Buckeyes will have the run support they need to stop the Spartan (read: Bell) running attack.
Cliche time: this game is going to be won in the trenches. Again, no surprises here. This game is the classic strength on strength-on-strength. Big uglies and hogmollies and whoa Nellies.
The trench warfare will probably tilt in Ohio State’s favor. All-world Jonathan Hankins has been a beast to block up to this point. Whatever faults this defense has had in this young season, Hankins is not one of them. He has been a shining point in this imperfect defense. Whomever he matches up again across the line is going to have his hands full. He may actually decapitate someone on Saturday.
What happens with the rest of the line and the line backers remains to be seen. We’ve been promised success and improvement but so far have only seen moments of brilliance marred by missed tackles and lack of discipline. SYR had it right when he suggested that OSU hire Chris Spielman as tackling coach. Wrap and drive. Wrap and drive.
When Ohio State has the ball:
Michigan State had its way last year with Braxton Miller. I think they had like 22 sacks, but I stopped counting after the ninth sack, so my memory may be unreliable. The poor performance from the offense last season has many reasons. You could blame the blander-than-vanilla offensive game plan last year if you want. You could blame a still-wet-behind-the-ears freshman Braxton Miller starting for one of the first times, if you want. Whatever it was, the Buckeyes offense struggled to get anything to work. That game was an exercise in surviving adversity where the coaches seemed helpless to change.
That was last year. This year, we have already seen enough to know that A) this is not last year’s offense game plan and B) this is not last year’s Braxton. A more diverse, uptempo offense and a stronger, more confident Braxton Miller face up against Michigan State’s defense.
This is the first game that Ohio State will be sporting both Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall in the backfield. Both runners compliment each other in style and the word is that the coaches are working on ways to have both players on the field at the same time. Only one can carry the ball but the options and possibilities become tenfold with a bruiser and a cruiser available.
Braxton Miller is going to do Braxton Miller type things. Michigan State has a strong and experienced defensive line, including the return of the (in my simple, humble, mostly uninformed opinion) overrated William Gholston. The offenses that Michigan State has faced so far have not had a play maker like Braxton. A new QB at Boise State and Everett Golson at Notre Dame are solid but are nowhere in the same conversation. So Braxton is going to stress the Michigan State defense.
And Mark Dantonio knows it.
Urban Meyer is still going to try to establish the run with both Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde. Ohio State’s offensive line will have a lot to handle with this front seven. As I said in the previous section, this is also where the game is going to be one and like I said before, I think the balance may tip (ever so slightly) in the defense’s favor. Michigan State’s defensive line is going to present the biggest challenge Ohio State’s offensive line has faced thus far.
With the emergence of burgeoning stars in “Philly” Brown and Devin Smith, Ohio State probably has an edge in terms of offensive talent and will be needed for moving the ball down the field. With a solid performance so far by Stoneburner, Miller has had targets. Michigan State hasn’t given up a lot of yards through the air but they haven’t exactly pressured any passing games, either. With only three interceptions and three sacks, the Spartans could be ripe for a passing attack while they concentrate so heavily on keeping Braxton Miller bottled up in the pocket, committing extra players to stopping him instead of dropping back in pass coverage. I think Braxton may have a chance to show how far he’s coming along as a passer.
This game is going to be a real test. National TV, the College Gameday spotlight and two of the premiere B1G teams facing off in league play. The first road game for some of these freshmen and Urban Meyer and his staff. And with all that said, it’s still going to come down to some old-school, smash mouth Big Ten football.
A game I think Ohio State can win (Phil Steele thinks so, too (ESPN Insider$)):