Spartans and Buckeyes: The Big Ten Championship Game Preview

The Spartans and Buckeyes will enter Saturday’s game after very different performances in their previous outings. Ohio State needed an interception, on a two point conversion, to hold off arch rival Michigan in the final seconds. The defense put in its worse outing of the season, allowing the Wolverines to gain 603 yards and score 41 points, while the offense had one of its more successful days rushing for 393 yards, and scoring 42 points. As the Buckeyes were fighting off the Wolverines, Sparty was busy putting in a poor offensive performance and good defensive performance against the Minnesota Gophers. Both teams survived their respective games, and will meet in Indianapolis in what appears to be another street fight type game, similar to the one that was played last year in East Lansing. The Buckeyes are fighting for a trip to the national title game, while Michigan State is fighting for a shot at the Rose Bowl. This game will come down to who can minimize their weakness and play the most mistake free football. Allow me to explain.

What Ohio State has to do on defense

The Spartan offense matches up favorably for this Buckeye defense. The Spartans will run the ball to set up the play action for their intermediate passing attack. Ohio State bolsters one of the best, most athletic, defensive front sevens in college football. They thrive off stopping the run and should have a lot of success doing so Saturday night. Ryan Shazier and Michael Bennett are tackle for losses machines and should have a great deal of success against this Spartan offensive line that has, at times, seemed a bit slow. The Spartans like to run off tackle, so the Buckeyes will need to maintain gap integrity and not over pursue the play to prevent cutback lanes. Michigan States Jeremy Langford is an all purpose back who has good vision, and once he gets moving downhill he is tough to stop. The Ohio State front four will need to minimize arm tackles against him and fill gaps quickly to prevent him from gaining momentum. Stop the run and this Spartan offense becomes a whole lot less complicated to defend.

When the Spartans pass it, it is generally to their running backs in the flat, or on quick curls or slants to their receivers on the outside. The offensive coaching staff like to move the pocket and get the ball out of quarterback Connor Cook’s hand quickly. On those short quick throws, the pass rushers will most likely be unable to get home, so they must get their hands up and bat down a couple of passes. Joey Bosa and Noah Spence are perfect athletes to do so. That will lead to Cook lofting the ball more to get it over the lineman, which will provide the corners a chance to jump routes or make a big hit. When the passes are complete in the flats the Buckeyes must swarm to the ball. Roby and Grant are quality tackling corners, but they do have a tendency to miss at times, so Shazier, Perry, Barnett, and Brown must be close by to clean up any mistakes.

Cook will rarely take shots down field. Even when he does, it is almost always off of play action and you will notice there are only two receivers running routes, which means the Spartans like to max protect on their play action plays. It will be important for Roby and Grant to not bite on play action, and stay disciplined on the routes as they may be left in coverage for longer than 4 to 5 seconds, if the Buckeye front is unable to generate pressure. The corners will also have to stop the tendency of face guarding their receivers. That is leading to a lot of jump ball situations being won by the opposing receiver. 5’8 Jeremy Gallon won a jump ball last Saturday against 6’1 C.J. Barnett because Barnett had his back to the ball and face guarded Gallon.

The Buckeye linebackers will not have to worry about a Devin Funchess type at tight end. Their main goal for Saturday will be to keep everything in front of them and when they need to make tackles, do so.

What Michigan State has to do on offense

The Spartans keys to success on offense will take them away from their traditional play calling. Connor Cook will need to have the game of his life on Saturday. While running the football will need to remain the staple for Michigan State, Cook will need to take advantage of the Buckeyes miscues and lack of discipline in the back seven. The Spartans can still run two man routes off of play action, however they need to ask their receivers to implement more double moves to get the Buckeye corners to jump on the short route, like they did against Wisconsin.

The Spartan receivers are not an elite group, but on Saturday they will need to take advantage of the one on one match ups they will face. Ohio State will drop safety C.J. 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 the Spartan run offense out. Tony Lippett and Macgarrett Kings Jr. are the other two receivers who will need to have big games for the Spartans to exploit the Buckeyes weakness on the back end.

What Ohio State has to do on offense

The Buckeyes will face their toughest match yet this Saturday. While their rushing offense has been playing at a very high level this season, they will need their passing offense to show up Saturday as well in order to beat this Spartan defense.

In order to get Miller and Hyde going on Saturday the Buckeye coaches will need to rely on extra blockers against the Michigan State front. The Spartans initially will not play with 8 guys in the box as they will have confidence in their front seven, which they should. Heuerman will be key on Saturday for Hyde’s success, as he will need to occupy the Spartan linebacker in his gap. Expect to see several pulling guards when Hyde runs as well. The Spartans play their linebackers extremely close to the line so guards Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell, as well as center Corey Linsley, will need to play their best games of the year. When Miller runs, the Buckeyes can use Hyde as an extra blocker to spring him to the next level. If the Buckeyes can get Hyde and Miller to the next level, that is where they can do their most damage. That will also force both safeties to cheat up more, which will leave the no fly zone a little more open.

Michigan States corner back, Darqueze Dennard, has declared the Spartan secondary a no fly zone. On Saturday night Philly Brown, Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, Jeff Heuerman, Dontre Wilson, and Chris Fields will have to operate in that restricted air space. The Spartans possess one of the best corner combinations in the country and play some of the best man coverage you will see in college football. Their corners can press and run with most receivers. However, their safety play is where the secondary is vulnerable. Both safeties are hard hitters, but neither really excels in pass coverage. Philly Brown and Jeff Heuerman will be the keys to the Buckeyes success Saturday night. Both present match up issues for the Spartan safeties and linebackers. Browns speed in the slot has been an issue for all teams this year, and Heuerman’s combination of speed and size should prove to be successful against slower linebackers and shorter safeties. If the Buckeyes can get these two guys going, then it opens up down the field shots for Smith and Spencer, which will stretch this Spartan defense beyond its capabilities.

One more key for the Buckeyes. Herman needs to put the pedal to the medal against this defense. Go up tempo as fast as the offense can go. Against Indiana the Spartan defense looked on their heels at times against the Hoosier tempo. The Spartans depth, and Hoosier’s inability to link drives together, is what won Michigan State the game. However, this Buckeye offense is much more efficient and could really hurt this Spartan defense with their tempo.

What Michigan State has to do on defense

One word- contain. Stopping this Ohio State offense is nearly impossible. However, what teams like Iowa, Wisconsin, and Northwestern were able to do was force the Buckeyes in to long drives. Force the offense to get in to third down and convert multiple times on a drive. That limits big plays, and also limits further possessions.

The Spartan defense does not do much special. They will most likely stay in a base package the majority of the game. They do not sub often unless they play against tempo. They like to stunt defensive lineman inside, bring double A gap pressures with their linebackers, and blitz with their outside linebackers and corners. The key to their pressures is forcing the Buckeye offense in to long passing situations. While Miller is an improved passer and pocket navigator this year, he still has a tendency to revert back to old mechanics. The Spartan defense will have to get him back to his old ways this Saturday. They will have to force Miller in to mistakes. The Spartans can win this game with Hyde running for 150 yards. They will not win it if Miller gets loose running and throwing. Containing Miller, forcing long drives, and forcing turnovers are the Spartans keys to slowing down this Ohio State offense.

The Chase is real. Spartans vs Buckeyes. Buckle up, this is gonna be a wild one. Prediction: Ohio State 34 Michigan State 23


  1. My take is that our strengths will out-play theirs. I think our offense can score on anyone, even MSU’s vaunted defense. I also think, the crazy rivalry game not withstanding, that our defense is more than capable. Especially of shutting down a pro-style, plodding Jim Bollman led offense. I think Ohio State wins easily.


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