B1G Chance For Miller Time In Indy

Congratulations to Ohio State on winning their twenty-fourth straight game, squeaking out a victory 42-41 over That Team Up North. Standing squarely and confidently in Ohio State’s quest for a twenty-fifth victory are the Michigan State Spartans, led by former Ohio State defensive coordinator (2001-2003) Mark Dantonio. Dantonio was recently named the 2013 B1G football coach of the year. Michigan State enters the B1G conference championship game with an 11-1 record, losing only at Notre Dame on September 21st, 17-13.

Coach Mark Dantonio is not the only familiar face that Ohio State will encounter in the 2013 B1G conference championship. Most prominently, former Ohio State offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Jim Bollman (2001-2011) will be involved as the Spartans’ co-offensive coordinator in Michigan State’s efforts to claim the B1G championship. Other Spartans assistants who formerly assisted Ohio State during the Jim Tressel era include Mark Staten, Mike Tressel, Rob Harley, and Ken Mannie.

What do I expect Saturday night when I turn on my TV (Fox will televise the game) at 8:15pm EST? Perhaps I may be mistaken, but I am expecting pangs of nostalgia, as I expect Michigan State to embrace the “Tresselball” style Ohio State fans became entirely familiar with from 2001-2011.

Here is my logic ~ Michigan State’s strength lies in its dominating defense. In addition, Michigan State has found a winning formula that relies upon steady passing by Ohio native Connor Cook, and dependable running by Jeremy Langford. While Michigan State’s offense is not as explosive as Ohio State’s, the Spartans have established a balanced offensive philosophy that has helped to produce eleven victories this season.

Let us get back to that dominant Spartan defense. A critical match-up that will bear watching will be Spartan DE Shilique Calhoun versus Ohio State’s left offensive tackle Jack Mewhort. Mewhort, entrusted with protecting Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller’s blind side, will have his hands full with Calhoun, a lanky and disruptive pass rusher.

Continuing with the Spartan defense, Ohio State will find that running the ball with senior running back Carlos Hyde may not be as easy as it has been for the Ohio State offense in the last few games against teams such as Illinois, Indiana, and That Team Up North. Michigan State traditionally plays a base 4-3 defense, and will bring up its safeties in run support to make it difficult to run. Michigan State has confidence in their cornerbacks, led by standout Darqueze Dennard, to play press coverage on Ohio State’s wideouts.

Faced with such options, here is where Braxton Miller’s performance will be critical. While I look for Michigan State to sell out against the run versus Ohio State, the press coverage Michigan State may employ could leave the Spartans vulnerable to quick screens and slants. Perhaps Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman can be isolated on a Spartan linebacker or safety on intermediate routes that do not take too long to develop. With Michigan State probably eager to shut down the Ohio State running game, play-action passes may be there at some point during the contest.

Back to Braxton Miller. While I am loathe to run Miller too much, exposing him to possible injury, I am certainly hopeful that Miller will not hesitate to scramble for positive yardage on pass plays. If a play is not there, or slow to develop, I would prefer Miller to scramble for a few yards, versus forcing a deep pass that may be incomplete or intercepted.

Twenty-four straight victories, with a possible BCS Championship Game berth on the line. In order to get to twenty-five straight victories, it may truly require Miller time on Saturday evening in Indianapolis for the Buckeyes.

Buckeyes Have No Time For Senioritis Against Indiana

Senior Day in Ohio Stadium is always a special occasion. Eighteen seniors, including Buckeye stalwarts such as Carlos Hyde, Corey “Philly” Brown, Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, Marcus Hall, and C.J. Barnett will be introduced for recognition by the fans, their respective families, teammates, and Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, in their final game as a Buckeye in Ohio Stadium. What may be an emotional moment for all could involve Christian Bryant, who was lost to injury near the end of the Ohio State/Wisconsin game on September 28th.

Senioritis is something that seems to afflict most students as they wind down their academic careers. Unfortunately for Ohio State fans and players, senioritis has been an issue in Ohio Stadium in recent seasons:

In 2011, Penn State defeated Ohio State 20-14 in the last home game at Ohio Stadium. This was the first post-Joe Paterno victory for Penn State, and one of many losses for the Buckeyes in the ill-fated 2011 season.

In 2007, Illinois defeated # 1 ranked Ohio State, 28-21. While Ohio State recovered nicely to earn a BCS Championship Bid after this defeat, it still marked a bitter ending for seniors such as Kirk Barton and Alex Boone.

Other areas of concern for Ohio State for this game stem from the fact that Ohio State suffered defensive lapses in their 60-35 victory over Illinois last week. Factor in how Indiana took Ohio State down to the wire last season, and one can understand why Ohio State cannot overlook Indiana in this upcoming contest.

Coach Meyer, a graduate assistant on the 1987 Ohio State coaching staff that suffered through what former Ohio State head coach Earle Bruce termed “the darkest day in Ohio State football” in a bitter home loss to Indiana in 1987, will keep his team focused upon the task at hand. I have every confidence in Coach Meyer relating these facts to his team before Saturday’s kickoff…

Below are some areas I will focus upon throughout the game…

Ohio State’s Focus Upon The Running Game: Indiana may be an offensive threat, but is poor by any definition defensively. A key way to keep Indiana’s dangerous offense off the field is for Ohio State to control the clock by relying upon its dominant running game.

Carlos Hyde is on the doorstep of a 1000 yard rushing season for Coach Meyer. Hyde should have his 1000 yards for this season by the end of the first quarter, based upon Indiana’s defensive status.

Once Ohio State has a comfortable lead, it would be advantageous for Ohio State to use other running backs such as Jordan Hall, Rod Smith, Ezekiel Elliott, and Warren Ball in the second half to finish off Indiana. Like Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall is also a senior playing in his final game in Ohio Stadium. It would be a fitting conclusion to Hall’s Buckeye career if Hall had an opportunity to score at least one more time in front of the Ohio Stadium crowd.

Will Dontre Wilson Be Involved In The Game Plan? Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman acknowledged earlier this week that Wilson needs to be more involved in the offensive attack, yet wonders how to do that without Ohio State’s other offensive weapons such as Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde, and Corey “Philly” Brown suffering as a result. Perhaps once the Ohio State running game has taken control of the game, Wilson may be factored into the contest.

Can Ohio State’s Pass Defense Slow Down Indiana? Illinois scored 35 points on Ohio State, the most points surrendured by Ohio State this season. Indiana, led by players such as Nate Sudfeld, Tre Roberson, Stephen Houston, Cody Latimer, and one-time Ohio State recruit and former Cleveland Glenville star Shane Wynn, can score on anyone. A case in point – Indiana was able to score 28 points on Michigan State, and Michigan State is arguably the toughest defense in the nation.

Secondary players such as Bradley Roby, Doran Grant, Armani Reeves, Tyvis Powell, and the aforementioned C.J. Barnett will all need to show up big in what promises to be an Indiana aerial assault. What would truly help would be if Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, and Michael Bennett can contribute with a pass rush to throw off the timing of the Indiana passing attack.

Has Ohio State Figured Out Its Special Teams Coverage Units? Shane Wynn is capable of taking a punt back for a touchdown, as V’Angelo Bentley of Illinois (another Cleveland Glenville alum, like Wynn) did last week against Ohio State. Has Coach Meyer figured out what went wrong against Illinois, and will it be fixed against Indiana?

No time for senioritis in Ohio Stadium on Saturday. Ohio State wants to send its eighteen senior players off with a victory in their last game in Ohio Stadium. It will bear watching to see how Ohio State handles the offensive challenges Indiana will bring to this game.