24. In 24 straight contests, the Buckeyes have come out victorious, subpar schedule or not. It’s something that no one in the current college football landscape can claim. To get to 25, however, they’ll need to beat their first Top 10 opponent in that stretch. The Michigan State Spartans are looking to make their own claim to the conference and hush critics who say they too haven’t played anybody. With a stout defense, this will be the most complete opponent that Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde, and company have faced in their career. On the other end of this game, should they navigate a victory, stands an almost-certain trip to Pasadena and the BCS National Championship Game. Here’s some notes on the matchup and how they get to No. 25.
The Michigan State defense vs. Ohio State offense: Who have they played?
I think the first thing to look at is who these two polarizing sides of the ball have matched up against so far this season.
Ohio State opponents’ defense ranks:
6th, 6th – Wisconsin (294 YPG, 14.8 PPG)
8th, 10th – Iowa (303 YPG, 18.8 PPG)
43rd, 29th – Buffalo (376 YPG, 22.3 PPG)
49th, 59th – Penn State (381 YPG, 26.2 PPG)
39th, 62nd – Michigan (367 YPG, 26.5 PPG)
89th, 68th – Northwestern (424 YPG, 27.1 PPG)
55th, 96th – San Diego St. (393 YPG, 32.3 PPG)
110th, 104th – Illinois (482 YPG, 35.4 PPG)
104th, 111th – Purdue (460 YPG, 38.0 PPG)
121st, 114th – Indiana (528 YPG, 38.8 PPG)
122nd, 122nd – California (530 YPG, 45.9 PPG)
So yes, the Buckeyes have faced four 100th ranked or worse defenses, scoring 210 points in those four games. But, they’ve faced two top ten defenses in Wisconsin and Iowa. They scored 31 on Wisconsin and 34 on Iowa. These two teams were not coincidentally the only two teams that could keep Ohio State from scoring 40 points.
Now, let’s see the quality of offenses that Michigan State has faced:
11th, 19th – Indiana (509 YPG, 38.4 PPG)
82nd, 38th – Michigan (383 YPG, 33.8 PPG)
60th, 47th – Nebraska (421 YPG, 32.6 PPG)
61st, 52nd – Illinois (427 YPG, 29.7 PPG)
80th, 74th – Iowa (389 YPG, 27.3 PPG)
75th, 76th – Notre Dame (399 YPG, 27.1 PPG)
105th, 79th – Minnesota (343 YPG, 26.4 PPG)
73rd, 84th – Northwestern (400 YPG, 26.2 PPG)
110th, 116th – Western Michigan (327 YPG, 17.2 PPG)
119th, 119th – Purdue (283 YPG, 14.9 PPG)
121st, 120th – South Florida (266 YPG, 14.5 PPG)
Michigan State, similarly, has played three 100th or worse offenses, allowing 19 points combined to those three teams. The four best teams that the Spartans faced scored 67 points (Indiana and Nebraska each scored 28 points). Notre Dame scored 17 points on the Spartans in South Bend and beat them 17-13 for the lone blemish on Michigan State’s season.
We’ll see what gives between the Ohio State offense (6th in yardage at 531 yards per game, 3rd in points per game at 48.2) and the Michigan State defense (1st in yardage at 238 yards per game allowed, 3rd in points allowed at 11.8).
The duality of Ohio State’s rushing attack
If this were last year’s rushing attack, I’d be downright terrified about this matchup. I think Michigan State has a very good chance to key in on one rusher and hold him relatively quiet in this title game. But, Carlos Hyde has come so far and made this offensive attack unpredictable. Last year in East Lansing, Braxton Miller completed 16 passes for 179 yards, having to run it 23 times for 136 yards to earn the one-point win. Sixty-three of those yards came on a deep ball to Devin Smith for the go-ahead score late in the third quarter. Hyde’s reached 100 yards rushing in 7 straight games, with Wisconsin being the last team to hold him under 100 (17 carries for 85 yards in his first heavy load of the season following suspension). He’s averaged five yards per carry or more in each game this season. The Buckeyes have those four veteran talented offensive lineman (though Marcus Hall will not start this game). I don’t expect Ohio State to run all over Michigan State in any regard, but I do think Hyde will eclipse 100 yards, the Buckeyes will pick up enough third and short scenarios to keep drives going, and Braxton will make one or two big passing plays in 1-on-1 coverage to Devin Smith or Philly Brown to compliment the ground game.
The pressure up front
The holes in the Ohio State secondary aren’t going to go away, but they can be minimized by great pressure from the defensive line and turnovers. The Buckeyes have just one forced turnover in the last two games including zero interceptions after having at least one in each of the season’s first ten games.
The Buckeyes have 39 sacks on the season, and it will be up to Noah Spence (8 sacks), Joey Bosa (5.5 sacks), Michael Bennett (7 sacks), and Ryan Shazier (6 sacks) to get after Connor Cook with regularity and keep him out of his comfort zone. Having Curtis Grant back in action in the linebacking corps should help a little bit as well.
For the secondary, all I ask is don’t give up the big play.
“The Chase” and the long road back
Ohio State’s been through a lot since I walked onto campus as a wide-eyed freshman in 2006. They’ve lost two BCS National Championships to SEC schools by a convincing margin. The respect for the Big Ten has plummeted in that span to the point where 1-loss SEC teams are clamoring for entry into the title game over a potentially-undefeated Buckeye squad. Jim Tressel was dismissed, Terrelle Pryor left early, the school had its first losing season in 2011 since 1988, and the resulting bowl ban prevented them from having a chance at a title last year.
Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller, and company have an opportunity to hush the naysayers who would love to see nothing more than the Bucks fall flat on their face and send a 1-loss SEC team into the title game. From 6-7 to a National Championship Game trip in just two seasons on the heels of a 25-game winning streak would be an unbelievable accomplishment for the junior and senior leaders on this team. There’s no coach out there that gets more from his teams than Meyer, and I expect the focus and motivation to be there tonight.
Prediction: The Spartans will rank right up there with Wisconsin and Michigan (due to the rivalry) in the most complete challenges that Ohio State faces this season. I’m sure Michigan State will exploit an Ohio State defensive or special teams breakdown or two for big yardage and probably a score. The Spartans will hold Braxton Miller under 100 yards rushing, but they won’t do it to Carlos Hyde. Hyde gets the ball 25 times to eclipse the century mark. Braxton finds Smith or Brown for a big touchdown early. Michigan State’s offense makes a mistake or two. We see Kenny Guiton and Dontre Wilson on offense to change things up. Michigan State hangs with Ohio State for 3 1/2 quarters, but the Buckeyes take care of business, defeating the Spartans 34-24.
(Photo: Marvin Fong/The Plain Dealer)