It says a great deal about this year’s Big Ten that the two highest ranked teams in the conference have been widely criticized for underperforming this season.
Saturday afternoon those teams will meet and decide, for now, who is the best of what looks to be a mediocre bunch.
The #14 Ohio State Buckeyes (4-0) will travel to East Lansing, Michigan to face the #20 Michigan State Spartans (3-1). Last season, the Spartans won a defensive struggle 10-7 in Columbus, but much has changed this year for both teams.
Ohio State – Michigan State Preview
Ohio State has jumped to what, on the surface, looks like an impressive undefeated start, but the games tell a different story.
After blowing out Miami (OH) 56-10 to open the season, Ohio State has struggled to put away their last three opponents at home: Central Florida, California and Alabama-Birmingham.
The big story in Columbus and much of college football, of course, is Urban Meyer leading the Buckeyes. Many expected sophomore quarterback and dynamic athlete Braxton Miller to shine in Meyer’s brilliant offensive schemes, but many have been critical so far.
Miller has shown an incredible ability to run the ball, making highlight reel moves with his feet in each of the first four games. Meyer and many Buckeye fans think that Miller has taken to running too much and that he needs to make more plays in the passing game and improve his ability to make reads.
Michigan State has faced major change as well, mostly on their offense. Quarterback Kirk Cousins in gone to the NFL, as are two of last year’s best receivers, B.J. Cunningham and Keith Nichol.
Junior Andrew Maxwell now starts at quarterback, and after a dismal start against Boise State (3 interceptions) he has managed to play better. Completing passes at a 56.6% rate and throwing three touchdowns in four games, however, is a far cry from what Cousins brought to the table in making Michigan State a national power last season.
Let’s look at the keys to the game for both sides.
What Ohio State Must Do To Win
As much as Urban Meyer may want Braxton Miller to take shots downfield, Michigan State has been really strong against the pass this year. The Spartans have allowed just 164 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks.
As a counter, I think Ohio State should try to establish the run with running back Jordan Hall to open the game. Hall has averaged 96 yards on 17 carries in each of the last two games, but has yet to find the end zone. The Buckeyes have relied so heavily on the legs of Miller that Michigan State will surely key on him. If they can find success with Hall between the tackles, Michigan State will be forced to stack the line. Stacking the line will open the middle of the field for Miller’s passes and running lanes.
Ohio State’s defense has struggled tackling this year. Against Cal, without question the most talented team the Buckeyes have faced, they allowed 512 yards of total offense. PAss defense has been especially troublesome, as Ohio State has allowed at least 249 yards in every game this year.
The good news is that Michigan State’s strength is running the ball with LeVeon Bell. If Ohio State can bottle up Bell, or even slow him down as Notre Dame did (17 carries, 77 yards), they have a great chance of forcing Maxwell and the Spartans into tough long distance third downs and possibly turnovers.
What Michigan State Must Do To Win
Michigan State must win the battle at the line of scrimmage. It is vital for them to stop Jordan Hall and apply pressure to Miller. With Miller still being somewhat unproven as a thrower, pressure could mean bad decisions, which in turn can mean good field position and, in the best case scenario, easy points.
Senior defensive end William Gholston, a player who looked like the next great Big Ten pass rusher last season, needs to improve on what has been a lackluster to start to his final year in East Lansing. Getting a sack or two on Miller would be a great start to a turnaround to this season.
Also important is staying to assignments to keep Miller from getting outside the pocket and making huge plays on the ground.
Michigan State needs to capitalize on Ohio State’s weakness against the pass. So far this year, though, the Spartan receivers have had great difficulty making plays and catching passes. Maxwell will need his receivers to get separation, have sure hands and make the Buckeyes miss in the open field. It is important for Maxwell to not have to do too much, because that could lead to forced throws and costly mistakes.
Ohio State has an incredible ability to pull out close games with big plays at key times. It will help if Michigan State’s crowd can get rowdy and throw the Buckeyes off their game in those key moments.
Ohio State – Michigan State Prediction
Despite the home field advantage and the questions on defense, I think the Buckeyes go into East Lansing and take this game. I expect Miller to have a huge game and the Buckeyes to win with relative ease.
Final Score: Ohio State 27, Michigan State 17
Ohio State – Michigan State Game Info
- Ohio State – Michigan State Date: Saturday, September 29, 2012
- Ohio State – Michigan State Kickoff Time: 3:30 PM ET
- Ohio State – Michigan State TV Info: ABC
- Ohio State – Michigan State Point Spread: Michigan State -3
- Ohio State – Michigan State Over/Under: 42