Buckeyes/Spartans 2014 – Let’s Get Ready To Rumble

In 2012, Ohio State traveled to East Lansing, Michigan, to battle B1G foe Michigan State for a regularly scheduled conference game. At the conclusion of a 17-16 victory that left Ohio State undefeated, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said, “This was a war. This was two sledgehammers going at each other…”.

In 2013, Ohio State met Michigan State in Indianapolis to battle for the B1G Championship. After the Spartans defeated the Buckeyes 34-24, eliminating Ohio State from an opportunity to compete for the national championship, Coach Meyer stated, “You know it’s going to haunt all of us, I imagine, for a little while…”.

“A little while” has passed. On November 8, 2014, at 8pm EST on ABC, Ohio State will have an opportunity to show Michigan State, and the nation, if the Buckeyes are still haunted from last season’s defeat by the Spartans.

This game has taken on added significance for both teams, as both are ranked outside of the top four in the College Football Playoff. A loss for Ohio State or Michigan State will certainly eliminate them from playoff contention.

Other areas of importance for Ohio State fans? This little tidbit of information from The Columbus Dispatch’s Rob Oller should give all Ohio State fans something to contemplate…

How evenly matched are these teams? This graphic, courtesy of BTN’s Brent Yarina, sums it up nicely…

Here are the three critical areas I will be focusing upon as I tune into the game that will put one of these teams in the driver’s seat to securing the B1G East Division berth for the 2014 B1G Championship Game…

1. Will Ohio State Force Michigan State To Defend The Entire Field? – On this week’s MotSaG podcast (I know it’s shameless self-promotion, but I did mention this idea here first), I jokingly suggested that perhaps someone should lie to Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman and say that Ohio State is playing North Texas or Tulane, other teams that wear green. My rationale in this is perhaps Coach Herman will be more comfortable calling the offensive plays, instead of playing more conservatively and predictably as Coach Herman has in previous big games/opponents that Ohio State has faced over the previous seasons (2012 Wisconsin, 2013 Wisconsin, 2014 Virginia Tech, 2014 Penn State).

Here is the point – Michigan State has two superior defensive coaches on staff in former Ohio State defensive coordinator/current Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio and current Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. Michigan State had a bye week last weekend, allowing both Dantonio and Narduzzi ample opportunities to scrutinize all of Ohio State’s offensive tendencies, as well as come up with variations of the defensive challenges that worked so well previously against Ohio State (Virginia Tech, Penn State games). In order for Ohio State to win this game, Coach Meyer and Coach Herman cannot run the predictable halfback read option plays up the middle with Ezekiel Elliott and expect to win this game. Screens, slants, jet sweeps with Dontre Wilson or Jalin Marshall, deep passes to Devin Smith, etc., will all be needed to keep Michigan State off-balance defensively.

2. Will Ohio State’s Defense Rise To Its Biggest Challenge This Season? – Michigan State prides itself on running a traditional pro-set offense, led by native Ohioan quarterback Connor Cook. While Cook does not excel in any one particular area as a quarterback, Cook represents the type of quarterbacks that have developed into dependable game managers, such as his predecessors Brian Hoyer and Kirk Cousins, both of whom have moved onto NFL careers after playing for Michigan State.

Cook will rely upon steady MSU playmakers such as RB Jeremy Langford and WR Tony Lippett. Langford may be one of the most underrated running backs in the B1G, while Lippett averages 21.2 yards per reception.

Look for Ohio State to move stalwart defensive lineman Joey Bosa around the Ohio State defensive line, as Bosa will probably be double or triple-teamed by Michigan State on passing downs. Ohio State’s Doran Grant will probably be matched up with Lippett, so this battle will be one to watch. The often-maligned Ohio State secondary, which has improved tremendously over the course of the season, will need to wrap up and tackle; so often, younger players try for a ‘kill shot’ that could make a highlight film, but allow the opposing player to break free and run after the catch.

3. Will Ohio State’s Special Teams Play A Part In This Game? – Occasionally this season, Ohio State has sacrificed valuable yards and field position on kickoffs by kicking the ball out of bounds, giving the opposition the ball on the 35 yard line. Ohio State cannot afford to provide Michigan State with such ideal starting points on the field.

Another area that relates to Ohio State’s special teams will be related to freshman placekicker Sean Nuernberger and Coach Meyer. On occasion, Coach Meyer has declined to attempt field goals, wanting to retain possession of the ball. Last week versus Illinois, Coach Meyer went for it on two different times, and came away with no points. Against Michigan State, Ohio State fans can only hope Coach Meyer will take the points, as the points will be hard to come by in this contest.

As for Nuernberger, there have been field goal misses that have hurt Ohio State tremendously; the game against Virginia Tech is the most painful example Buckeye fans will remember this season. Will Nuernberger rise to the occasion if called upon in this game against Michigan State?

Prediction: I want to preface this by stating that I hope I am wrong, but here is how I see it will happen…The weather forecast for East Lansing is for rain/snow/sleet, with a high in the 40s and a low in the 20s. Weather like that usually makes passing the ball more challenging, which swings to Michigan State’s favor to stack the box and dare Ohio State to throw.

Considering Coach Herman’s tendencies to become conservative with his play-calling, and Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett nursing a sprained MCL injury that limits his mobility, I see Ohio State struggling to get anything consistently going against a well-coached Michigan State defense.

Lastly, Michigan State’s team is predominantly seniors and juniors, while Ohio State’s team is younger, with freshmen and sophomores playing key positions throughout the roster. The home field, a well-rested Spartan team, potentially bad weather…I see it Michigan State 24, Ohio State 17. And if I am wrong, feel free to let me have it @ChipMinnich, because nothing would make me happier to say I am wrong on this one.

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