The Buckeyes will travel to East Lansing on Saturday to take on the 3-7 Michigan State Spartans. Ohio State is looking to exact some revenge on Sparty for ruining last years run back to the College Football Playoff, when Michael Geiger kicked the game winning field goal as time expired to give them the upset win in Columbus. Backup quarterback Tyler O’Connor will again lead the Spartans into battle against the Buckeyes like he did last year replacing the injured Connor Cook en route to the upset victory.
Michigan State enters the game coming off of a victory against Rutgers after a seven game slide that saw them lose in almost every way possible. Losses to teams like Indiana, Maryland and Illinois don’t sit well with the fans of the Spartans and with no bowl game on tap this season, the game against Ohio State and next week against Penn State are their bowl games.
Despite the overwhelming notion that the Buckeyes will walk into East Lansing and walk out with a win, this is a rivalry game and Michigan State will do everything in their power to beat the Buckeyes.
TV: ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 (Joe Tessitore, Todd Blackledge and Holly Rowe)
Radio: Ohio State IMG Network 97.1 WBNS (Paul Keels, Jim Lachey, and Matt Andrews), Sirius (135) and XM (195)
Online: WatchESPN / Ohio State IMG Network / TuneIn
Series Record: 29-15 Ohio State
Previewing the Spartans
For Michigan State it has been a downward spiral that might have all started with the drubbing they took last year against Alabama in the College Football Playoff. Since that game Michigan State has not looked like the same dominant force that was causing havoc in the Big Ten under Mark Dantonio. Sure the Spartans lost some talent to the NFL, most programs go through that (ask Ohio State), but they have been recruiting at a national level over the past few seasons which should have had them continuing on the same success path. Enter the 2016 version of the Spartans, at 3-7 and 1-6 in the Big Ten, and you would think we were talking about Illinois or Purdue.
As mentioned above, the Spartans are led by former Ohio State assistant Mark Dantonio who is now in his 10th season in East Lansing. He has a 90-40 overall record as the head coach of the Spartans, and up until this year only had one losing season which was back in 2009. Again, up until this season the Spartans had gone to nine straight bowl games under Dantonio and will miss the postseason for the first time since John L. Smith’s final season of 2006.
The Spartans ended their seven game losing streak last week with slump buster Rutgers, winning 49-0. Before that game, the Spartans lost games to Indiana, Northwestern, Maryland and Illinois which are teams that usually don’t win against Dantonio.
Sparty is led on offense by Tyler O’Connor, a senior quarterback out of Lima, Ohio. O’Connor, as you can remember, came into the Horseshoe last year and led the Spartans upset over then #3 Ohio State, sending Michigan State to the Big Ten Championship where they defeated Iowa to get into the College Football Playoff. O’Connor has not been spectacular this season only completing 61.5% of his passes with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions on the season.
The real fire power for the Spartans is at running back where LJ Scott, the sophomore out of Hubbard, Ohio, continues to grow. He has only rushed for over 100 yards four times this season, but has done so in three of the past four games. To give Scott a breather, they bring in Gerald Holmes the junior out of Flint, Michigan. Holmes has just as many touchdowns as Scott this year with five, and is averaging five yards per carry on the season.
R.J. Shelton, Donnie Corley and Josiah Price is the three headed monster at wide receiver that the Buckeyes will look to lock down. If the name Donnie Corley sounds familiar it is because Ohio State and Michigan State went toe-to-toe in his recruitment, and the Spartans ended up securing the commitment. As a true freshman, he has provided O’Connor with a reliable target downfield and is third on the team in catches with 27. R.J. Shelton is the leading receiver and go-to target for O’Connor as he has 47 receptions for 710 yards on the season with a team high five touchdowns.
On defense, the Spartans are led by senior Riley Bullough and junior Chris Frey at linebacker. They have 131 tackles between them on the season and will look to plug the middle when Ohio State runs that way.
The big question mark comes at defensive end where star Malik McDowell, who sat out last week at Rutgers, has been removed from the depth chart for the match-up against the Buckeyes. McDowell is a big force on the end and leads the Spartans with seven tackles for a loss on the season.
The Spartans enter the contest ranked 59th in the FBS allowing 360.5 total yards per game. They are allowing nearly 200 yards passing per game along with 160 rushing yards per game. Their turnover margin is -3 for the season and that ranks them tied for 92nd in the country.
The most glaring stat about Michigan State this season is their lack of sacks. They rank 2nd to last in the FBS with only seven sacks on the season through ten games. Last season the Spartans were 13th nationally with 37 sacks, so the drop off has been quite astronomical. The loss of Shilique Calhoun to the NFL draft has allowed offensive lines to key on McDowell and limit the amount of pressure they have gotten on quarterbacks this season.
Previewing the Buckeyes
The Buckeyes enter the game off consecutive 62-3 wins over Nebraska and Maryland. The offense seems to again found its rhythm as J.T. Barrett has looked more comfortable throwing the ball since the loss at Happy Valley. The offensive line has done a much better job of protecting Barrett as well, allowing him more time to scan the field for open receivers. The running game is as solid as ever between Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel and true freshman Demario McCall. The defense has been lights out over the past two weeks allowing only two field goals in the last 120 minutes of play.
The Buckeyes enter the game ranked #2 in the newest college football playoff rankings, but they do not control their own destiny in the race for the Big Ten East. Michigan still has all the tie-breakers and if they win out they will be the representative in the Big Ten Championship game. The Buckeyes must beat the Spartans this week and the Wolverines next week and hope for a Penn State loss to either Rutgers or Michigan State in order to be in the championship game. The big question is, will the Buckeyes not making it to Indianapolis for the chance to win the Big Ten Championship hurt their chances of making the playoff? Let’s worry about Sparty and the Wolverines first.
The Buckeye offense starts and ends with J.T. Barrett. The junior quarterback is Ohio State’s all time leader in touchdowns accounted for with 98 and stands only eight away from tying Drew Brees Big Ten Conference record. When J.T. is on point, the Buckeyes tend to roll. Two years ago in East Lansing Barrett led the Buckeyes to an upset victory and had one of the best games of his career accounting for 386 yards of offense and five touchdowns.
Where is the Heisman love for Curtis Samuel at? In ESPN’s latest Heisman watch there are 12 guys listed and not one of them is named Curtis Samuel. Samuel is the only player in the nation that might hit 1000 rushing and 1000 receiving yards in the same season. This feat has only been done one other time and that was at the FCS level when Brian Westbrook did it in 1998 with Villanova. Samuel has 637 yards on the ground along with seven touchdowns, and 750 yards receiving with six touchdowns. He has been J.T.’s go to target this season as he leads the Buckeyes with 57 receptions on the season.
The Buckeyes limited Mike Weber last week as he has been battling a shoulder injury but he still racked up 93 yards and is only 65 yards short of a 1,000 yard season. The Buckeyes boast the 10th overall rushing offense in the country averaging 267 yards per game, and the Spartans run defense has been giving up over 160 yards per game on the season. Weber and Samuel along with J.T. Barrett should be able to get their yards this week.
Last week we saw more of K.J. Hill and we also caught a glimpse of how special Binjimin Victor might be. Hill had five catches for 62 yards against Maryland and is becoming a viable target for Barrett. Victor caught his first touchdown as a Buckeye from Joe Burrow late in the game against Maryland. Guys like Noah Brown and Parris Campbell still need to get involved in the game plan more as they were held to two catches for 35 yards against Maryland.
On defense I am not sure you could ask for a more solid two weeks out of a team than we just witnessed. Holding Nebraska and Maryland to a combined six points and 380 yards of total offense is what I would call dominant. The Buckeyes enter the game against the Spartans with the #4 overall total defense in the country allowing a mere 274 yards of offense per game. They also rank 2nd in the country in defensive touchdowns with six, all coming on interceptions which were returned for touchdowns.
The Buckeye defense is led by junior Raekwon McMillan and sophomore Sam Hubbard up front. McMillan leads the team in tackles with 64 and Hubbard has 6.5 tackles for a loss. Jerome Baker has been a pleasant surprise for the Buckeyes as he came in to replace an injured Dante Booker and has put up 58 tackles, seven for a loss and 2.5 sacks so far this season.
The Buckeye secondary might be the best in the country and they are led by junior Gareon Conley and sophomores Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker. The three of them have a combined 11 interceptions on the year and very rarely get beat on any deep ball down the field.
Add in guys like Nick Bosa and Chris Worley along with team sack leader Tyquan Lewis and the Buckeyes are an imposing force on defense allowing just 12.7 points per game which ranks them 3rd in the nation.
Three Key Match-ups
The Weather vs. Ohio State’s Offense
We have seen how the Buckeye offense shrivels up when the weather turns bad, as Urban Meyer and company kno that turnovers are more likely to happen when conditions worsen. Last year against Michigan State, the Buckeye offense was anemic putting up only 132 yards during a cold wet game at the Horseshoe. The weather is expected to be cold and there is possible rain and snow in the forecast for Saturday as well. Hopefully since the game is at noon, these conditions will not come into play as they are right now scheduled to happen in the evening. If the Buckeyes have to play in bad weather, hopefully we have a different game plan than in the past.
The Buckeyes vs. Looking ahead to Michigan
The Buckeyes should have no issues focusing on Michigan State this week, as they have had the Buckeyes number over the past few years. However there looms a game against another team from up north next weekend which could have far greater implications. The Buckeyes can not afford to lose against Michigan State, as if they do they are completely out of the Big Ten race. Urban Meyer has them looking at one game at a time, and with the laser focus the last two weeks have shown us, it doesn’t look like the Buckeyes are taking anyone for granted.
Urban Meyer vs. Mark Dantonio
As Ohio State’s head coach Urban Meyer has only lost five games, however two of those loses come at the hands of Dantonio. The Spartans head coach ruined Ohio State’s 2013 season in the Big Ten Championship game with the 34-24 victory sending the Buckeyes to the Orange Bowl instead of a possible match-up with Florida State in the National Championship game. We all remember what happened last year when 9th ranked Michigan State came to Columbus and found a way to gut Ohio State’s national championship aspirations once again. Dantonio knows how to win against Urban Meyer and even in a down year, this can’t be overlooked.
It may be a down year in East Lansing but I expect the Spartans to show up for battle on Saturday looking to play spoiler for the Buckeyes chances at the College Football Playoff. They will be hoping that the Buckeyes are more focused on next week’s match-up against the Wolverines and take them for granted. I don’t expect this to be the case, as Urban Meyer has been laser focused since their loss at Penn State, and has been driving home the one game at a time mantra into these kids. I do expect Michigan State to give Ohio State a game for a while and even with a reshuffled offensive line and missing key players on defense they will make some plays.
This will be the final tune up for J.T. Barrett and company to get ready for the vaunted Michigan defense and I expect they will come in focused and ready to deliver. It might not be as pretty as it has been the past two weeks. It probably won’t even be decided by halftime but rest assured the Buckeyes will come out of East Lansing with a win.
Ohio State 35 – Michigan State 13