The B1G Championship game features one of the top offenses in the nation in Ohio State going up against Michigan State’s top ranked defense. The Spartans lead the nation in total defense and are 4th in points allowed at 11.8 per game (for reference, Florida State is #1 at 11 per game).
Delving deeper into the numbers reveals that this is truly a strength vs. strength match up. Ohio State rushed for more yards this season than any other team in the nation. They are second in the nation in rushing yards per game at 321.3 and first in yards per attempt at 7.0. As good as Ohio State has been at running the ball, Michigan State has been equally dominant in stopping the run. The Spartans have only allowed 64.75 yards per game and limited opponents to 2.23 yards per attempt.
Tradition suggests that Michigan State and their defense will prevail and Ohio State will struggle to run the football. When the unstoppable force meets the immovable object, at least in football, the immovable object tends to prevail. However, a closer look at Michigan State’s performance against Nebraska suggests that Ohio State will have success running the football. It’s unlikely that Hyde and Miller will combine for 300+ yards for the 3rd straight game, but I don’t believe Sparty can completely stymie the Ohio State offense.
When Nebraska played Michigan State just three weeks ago, they put up very respectable rushing numbers and managed to score 28 points, despite turning the ball over 5 times. Nebraska rushed for 180+ yards and averaged nearly 6 yards per carry. They did this by ensuring their offensive line got to the second level of Michigan State’s defense. The Spartans build their defense around having the defensive line controlling their gaps and eating up lineman. This frees up their middle and strong side linebackers, as well as their strong safety to attack the runner and stop the play for a loss or minimal gain.
Of course, getting to the linebackers is easier said than done, especially their Middle Linebacker, Max Bullough. Max is a very smart player and excels at hiding behind his defensive lineman. It’s easy for offensive lineman to not see Max and assume he got caught up in the “wash”. That is when he sneaks out of his hiding place and makes the play. Nebraska did a good job of identifying Max and rarely lost him in their run plays. Additionally, Nebraska’s offensive line did a good job of blocking Michigan State’s front line. The Spartans defensive line is fairly ordinary and given just how good Ohio State’s offensive line is (especially compared to Nebraska) they should feel good about their ability to open holes.
Another reason Ohio State should pay attention to the Nebraska tape is the similarity in schemes between the two offenses. Nebraska ran several formations, both spread and tight that Ohio State has been effective running out of this year. It’s safe to say that Ohio State has a better offensive line and better quarterback than Nebraska and a slight edge at running back (Abdullah is a very good runner, but different in style than Hyde). Just by doing some simple math it seems like Ohio State should have a good day on the ground against the Spartans (always show your work: similar schemes + better personnel = 225+ yards).
It’s always dangerous to cherry pick one game out of a schedule and analyze it to show why team X will have a good game, but in this case I believe it’s warranted. Nebraska is the only team on Michigan State’s schedule that was offensively consistent, ran a scheme similar to Ohio State, and boasts comparable talent on the offensive line. Michigan State will obviously have studied the Nebraska game tape and made the necessary adjustments. Ohio State’s offensive line is excited to go against the best defensive front they’ve seen all season and show that they can push anybody around. There is no doubt both teams will be at their best on Saturday and we’ll get to see if the unstoppable force or the immovable object wins this round.