3 Keys for Ohio State against Michigan State


As Saturday night approaches, the Buckeyes prepare for what may just be the most important game of their season. The onus of the loss to Virginia Tech still hangs on their shoulders, but the chance to lift their ranking has arrived. Urban Meyer leads 7-1 Ohio State into East Lansing to take on defending conference champion and last years dream crusher Michigan State. Questions still linger surrounding the Buckeyes, and with a daunting foe in their path, these issues must be eradicated. This is a big game and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman knows it.

“This isn’t just another game. It would be foolish for us with the world these young guys live in for us to say, ‘Hey, this is just another game and everybody cares about this game the way they care when you line up and play Kent State.’ That’s not true,” noted Herman. “We all know it’s not true. And we all know that at midnight Saturday night someone is going to have a big-time advantage in the Big Ten East.”

To beat the Spartans, the Buckeyes will need to be on the top of their game and play their best football of the season. It won’t be easy, but the Buckeyes have proven that they are not to be taken lightly. If the Buckeyes are to come out victorious there are three keys to the their game plan that must be executed effectively.

1. The defensive line must step up

Michigan State has been nearly unstoppable running the ball thus far this year. They rank 17th in the nation in rushing yards with just under 255 per game. Led by the Buckeye killer Jeremy Langford and senior Nick Hill the Spartan’s have terrorized opposing defenses with their run game. Last year the Buckeyes had no answer for the running attack, however, they now have the pieces in place. Stud defensive end Joey Bosa leads the charge alongside Adolphus Washington and Mike Bennett. The Ohio State run defense currently ranks 16th in the nation, allowing 118.6 yards per game. It won’t be easy especially against an experienced runner like Langford, but if they are able to close the gaps and force Michigan State to throw the ball into a much improved Buckeye secondary, the game will shift heavily in their favor.

2. The young offensive line needs to create running lanes

After a year in which all but one of the offensive linemen were seniors, Urban Meyer was forced to throw a largely inexperienced group into the fire that is college football. After a rocky start and a horrific game against Virginia Tech, these young men have found a balance, or as close to one as you can get. This unit is still one of the Buckeyes biggest weaknesses, though. Ohio State is a team that thrives off of the running game, much like Michigan State, and order for them to break a strong Spartans run defense, they will need the offensive line to create gaps and force the Spartans to commit to the run. This will effectively open up passing lanes for J.T. Barrett, and hopefully correct last year’s issues. The offensive line needs to create running holes, which were non-existent during the Big Ten Championship game, and if they’re unable t, the offense could have a long night.

3. J.T. Barrett must shine (just not the way Ohio State fans expect him to shine)

After Braxton Miller went down, freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett was cast into the fray with no prior experience in college football. He tripped up against Virginia Tech, and with the world coming down upon him, he’s responded quite well. He has dazzled, save for the Penn State game, showing the world why Urban Meyer spoke so highly of him coming into the season.

Michigan State’s secondary poses a more difficult task then he has ever faced, and for Barrett to be successful, the key is not to pass for record yards, but to effectively read the defense. The cornerstone of Urban Meyer’s offense is the read option, an in order to perform the read option correctly, the quarterback must decide when to keep the ball and when to give it to the running back. If Barrett struggles with this, the Buckeyes offense will lose a valuable asset. However, if he is able to read the defensive scheme and make good decisions, he will not only pick up decent running yards, but he will also force the defense to respect his legs. In turn this opens up room for quarterback runs and opens up space for the oft-ignored passing game. Michigan State is one of the toughest teams to do this against, especially with a lineman like Shilique Calhoun, but Ohio State will look to Barrett to attack the Spartans’ defense, much like Oregon’s Marcus Mariota did earlier this season.