The Big Ten Champhionship Players to Watch

BIG Champ

Whenever Michigan State and Ohio State get together there are always NFL caliber players littered all over the field. Here are a few guys to watch Saturday who will have a large impact on deciding who will be crowned the Big Ten Champions.

Michigan State

Connor Cook, Quarterback #18- Cook is a quality game manager for Sparty. He runs their system at a high level of efficiency. Cook is asked to throw short to intermediate underneath routes and let his receivers gain yards after the catch. Cook only averages 6.97 yards per attempt on the season which further enforces what he is asked to do for the offense, however he can push the ball down field off of play action as he possesses an above average arm. While Cook looks like a statue when he first steps on the field, he does a good job of navigating the pocket and escaping pressure to gain a few yards and prevent negative plays. There will not be many opportunities to pressure Cook on Saturday, as they like to get the ball out of his hands quickly, however with the Buckeyes recent struggles in the secondary, expect Cook to take a few more shots down field and possibly find his big play target.

Bennie Fowler, Wide Receiver #13- Fowler is Cook’s favorite down the field target. He’s averaging 16 yards a catch, for 6 touchdowns on the season, and his long was a ridiculous 87 yard catch that can be seen below. Fowler is an average size receiver, at 6’1 212 pounds, who possesses adequate speed, but generally his separation comes from corners biting on play action. Roby will most likely be matched up on Fowler in man situations. It will be important for Roby to keep Fowler in check on Saturday, or the secondary could be in for another poor statistical outing in the biggest game to date this season.

Max Bullough, Middle Linebacker #40- Bullough isn’t going to flash to you on Saturday. He may have a double digit tackle day, but his impact comes in his leadership and knowledge. Bullough is a senior middle linebacker who is familiar with this Buckeye offense and will have his defense well prepared on Saturday. He is defensive coordinator, Pat Narduzzi, on the field coach. He will be called upon to blitz on occasion, and is very capable of making plays in the box or in space, but Bullough’s impact is as much intangible as anything he puts on the stat sheet.

Shilique Calhoun, Defensive End #89- While Bullough is the brain and leader of the Spartan D, Calhoun does the heavy lifting on the line. Calhoun has registered 7 sacks and 16 tackles for loss on the season. He is an absolute monster of an athlete and will line up at either end position, which will pose a serious challenge to both Taylor Decker and Jack Mewhort. Luckily for both tackles they have faced a monster at defensive end/linebacker once this year with Khalil Mack. Calhoun is not quite the athlete that Mack is, none the less he will have an impact Saturday in pass rushing Miller, and stopping Miller and Hyde in the run game.

Denicos Allen, Outside Linebacker #28- Allen has the size of a safety at 5-11 218 pounds, but he plays much larger than that at outside linebacker. He is the play maker for this Sparty defense as he leads the team in tackles (83), and is second, by one in, tackles for loss (15). Allen’s impact on Saturday may be felt more if Narduzzi decides to use him as a spy on Miller. While spying Miller has not always proved to be the most efficient method of defending him, since Miller is an improved passer, it may help to contain one of the two headed monsters in the Buckeyes rush attack. Also watch for Allen to blitz off the edge, as Narduzzi likes to dial up exotic blitzes on second and long or third and long.

Ohio State

Corey Linsley- While this may not be the sexy pick, Linsley may be the most important factor in determining the success of this Buckeye offense. Linsley calls out the protection and identifies blitzers which is vital against this aggressive defense. Not only that, but the majority of the Spartan defense blitzes come through the A gap. Watch Linsley on Saturday night as he will be a busy busy man. If Linsley is successful in reading potential blitzes and adjusting protection properly, then the offensive line and offense should be quite successful.

Braxton Miller- Miller’s intelligence and preparation will be tested this week. He will face a defense that is loaded with NFL talent and is very disciplined. The Spartans will line up mainly in man coverage, and challenge the Buckeye wide receivers one on one. There will come a time in this game where Miller will have to throw open one of his receivers, and that is where we will see the improvement he has made as a passer. Miller has transformed himself in to a quarterback that is an athlete, and Saturday night will be one of his greatest tests. Miller will have to make big time throws, take care of the ball running and throwing, navigate the pocket and scramble when necessary, and make the correct reads in the option game. A lot will be rested on Miller’s shoulders Saturday night. Buckeye fans will see how far this young man has come in mastering the art of quarterbacking, and where he will need to improve to reach his full potential.

Devin Smith- The Devin Smith that is playing in this game this year is twice the receiver he was last year against Sparty. Smith’s main improvement has come in his route running ability and preparation. He and Braxton have developed a chemistry on their timing patterns, especially on come back routes and back shoulder throws. Smith has also improved on running his deep patterns. He understands how to manipulate safeties and corners to create more space for Braxton to throw in to. Smith was huge in this game last year. He will most likely be matched up against the Spartans best corner, Darqueze Dennard. Dennard will present a good physical challenge to Smith, has he will try and jam Smith at the line, and then turn and run with Smith as he gets vertical. Smith and Dennard will be a very entertaining match up on Saturday night.

Carlos Hyde- Hyde will face his greatest challenge yet this Saturday night. The front seven of Michigan State is daunting. They play their linebackers close to the line, and make a living off of stuffing the run. Hyde’s draft stock and hype could simmer down or sky rocket depending on his performance Saturday night. If his offensive line is able to get off their initial blocks and get to the Spartan linebackers, expect Hyde to be very successful. In my opinion, I think that will happen. I expect Herman to inject a lot of tempo Saturday night, and I do not think the front seven of Michigan State has seen a large and athletic offensive line like Ohio States. Hyde should have a good amount of success against this front, as the Spartan front will have to account for Miller as well. If the Buckeyes can stretch the field vertically with Smith, Hyde should have even more success. Hyde’s importance in pass protection can not be understated either. Hyde struggled late in the game against Wisconsin as Chris Borland often blew Hyde in to Miller on blitzes, but Hyde should be in better shape and able to withstand the duties of pass protection as well as toting the rock 20 times.

The Buckeye Defense- As a whole, this unit was abysmal last week. Good news for this defense; this Spartan offense is pedestrian at best. They live off of short throws and yards after the catch. Their run game is decent, but nothing like Wisconsin’s. Their offensive line is solid but can be moved. Bottom line for the Buckeye D: there is no reason for the Spartan offense to have success Saturday night. If the defensive line does not get home then they will need to get their hands up to deflect passes. I do not expect any surprises from MSU. They make take more shots down field, but their receivers should not get separation from Grant or Roby. They run it right at you, and when they run play action it is generally only with two receivers running the routes. Linebackers should not bite on the play action since the Spartan run game should not be very effective. The secondary will face one of the few receiving core, in the Big Ten, that does not have a premier receiver. This defense has more talent, speed, and size than the Spartan offense, what they have been lacking is discipline and focus. If they can muster up a tiny bit of that Saturday night they should have a successful night against a very basic Spartan offense.


  1. […] Barnett in to the box to help stop the run which will leave the Spartans all alone on the outside. Bennie Fowler is the major deep threat for Michigan State and he will need to win against Roby veritcally to help […]

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