Ohio State vs. Michigan State Preview


The 13th- ranked Ohio State Buckeyes (7-1) will head into the unfriendly confines of East Lansing, Michigan to take on the 7th- ranked Michigan State Spartans (7-1).

This will be the first game of the year where the Buckeyes will be the underdog. The Spartans are favored by 1.5 points in what will essentially be the Big Ten East championship game. In addition to a conference champion trip on the line, there is also the potential of a playoff birth for the winner. The loser left to deal with the realization their playoff hopes are dead.

The good news for Buckeye Nation is the fact Ohio State is 6-2 against the spread.

Recent history behind this match-up offers a glimpse at how close this next contest might be. In the Big Ten Championship last season, the Spartans exploded to a 17-0 lead, only to find themselves trailing 24-17 with 5:36 left in the third quarter. The OSU lead was short-lived; however, as MSU out-produced in yardage, 227-46, from that point on. Sparty ended the 2013 game by scoring another 17 unanswered points and taking the win.

Better luck for the Bucks in 2014 as the game against Michigan State takes place at Spartan Stadium, a location Ohio State is more familiar with and successful than Indianapolis. The last time Ohio State visited East Lansing was in 2012 and despite the slim, 17-16 win, the Buckeyes played excellent ball control offense and ran out the last 4:10 with three crucial first downs. It’s also worth noting that in the last seven years, Urban Meyer holds a 22-2 record against conference opponents while away from home.

The 2014 Spartans bolster one of the most impressive defensive lines and defensive back-fields in the country. If the Buckeyes can find a way to attack much like the Oregon Ducks did in week one, then all is well. The Ducks used their speed to exploit the Sparty defense and with speedsters: Devin Smith, Dontre Wilson, and Curtis Samuel, there is no reason to think OSU can’t do the same.

The first obstacle for the Buckeyes will be containing the intense pass rush of MSU, more specifically, Shilique “The Freak” Calhoun. Though hasn’t been the turnover machine he was last season, Calhoun has already amassed six sacks and will look to make a statement for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors and his NFL draft stock.

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With an already gimpy J.T. Barrett, its safe to bet the Buckeyes will be doubling and chip blocking Calhoun every chance they get. The pass blocking of Taylor Decker has been slowly improving week to week as footwork and hand usage has become the cleanest part of his game. Mix both with the innate blocking reads Ezekiel Elliot makes on a consistent basis and OSU will neutralize The Freak.

Sparty linebackers are the least of the Buckeye’s problems as none have the skills or speed to hang with OSU backs and tight ends while in coverage. Taiwan Jones is a solid backer and plays his best when trying to sniff out the run, but Ezekiel’s belly button saw worse in Happy Valley; not to mention, the focus for this game should be more through the air. Expect to see Jeff Heuerman frequently targeted while the Bucks are in the red zone.

Michigan State is notorious for bringing heat from all angles, but they always blitz from the opposite side of the running back. OSU backs will need to adjust quickly. With J.T. Barrett still hobbling around, the Buckeyes may look elsewhere for that offensive X- factor. Marshall took snaps during the Illinois game, attempting a pass in the process. Marshall’s comfort under center is something to keep in mind as Ohio State’s success on offense remains high-risk, high-reward plays with lots of speed.

On the defensive side of the ball, Ohio State will have to contend with the ground-and-pound style the Spartans bring to the table. With Jack Allen at center and Jack Conklin at offensive tackle, Michael Bennett and Co. might have their toughest challenge yet. This Sparty O-line is geared to run block and with an impressive back such as Jeremy Langford, Michigan State should have some success on the ground.

There’s no arguing the NFL caliber skills Connor Cook has put on display this season, but his two interceptions were killer in Sparty’s early-season loss to the Ducks. If the Buckeyes can dial up the right kind of pressure with Bennett and Bosa, they’re likely forcing Cook into making the same mistakes. Cook’s main target will be the tall target that is Tony Lippett. Though his measurables aren’t as in your face as Devin Smith’s, Lippett is a consistent threat who is most always in sync with his quarterback. Doran Grant will have his work cut out for him.

When the Spartans run the ball, the runner is usually Jeremy Langford. Langford’s violent running style and vision can be a deadly mix as MSU features the 17th ranked run offense in the nation. Ohio State has the defensive line to make some noise, both in the run and passing games, but if there is a stalemate, it’s the Buckeye linebackers who have been less than stellar when called upon. This undersized group has been underachieving, but the stage is set for freshmen phenomenon Raekwon McMillan to make a statement.

This will be another contest where the defensive line is forced to go above and beyond the call of duty. Taking a page from the opponent’s playbook, Ohio State should bring pressure from all angles and and force Cook into hurrying his throws. Making the Spartans one dimensional will make the slowing down the ground game an much easier task.

The Buckeyes and Spartans are in for a heavy weight slug fest. The Buckeyes have improved immensely since their devastating loss to the Virginia Tech Hokies, while the weaknesses Oregon exposed of Michigan State lingers. The Spartans do benefit from coming off the bye week while the Buckeyes’ more important player in J.T. Barrrett is banged up. This contest comes down to Barrett and if he can stay healthy.

If Ohio State can move the ball through the air on offense while the forcing Cook into uncomfortable situations on defense, then all signs point to a big Buckeye victory in East Lansing.