Ohio State and Michigan State will play on Saturday, or at least that’s the goal.
Ohio State desperately needs this game to qualify for the Big Ten Championship. Not only do they need to play, but the Buckeyes need to win. If Ohio State only plays six or seven games (which is half a season in a normal year), their only chance at a College Football Playoff berth is to go undefeated.
But Michigan State is no stranger to knocking off probable division champions. Just last week, Sparty took down No. 8 Northwestern. But Ohio State and Northwestern control their destinies in the path to the Big Ten Championship, but Michigan State would like to say they defeated both.
Michigan State has won the two biggest games they have played this year. Their first win was against their “big brother” Michigan in Ann Arbor. Their second win came at home to the probable East Division Champions.
The funny thing about Michigan State is that they looked pretty awful in all their other games.
But if Mel Tucker can get his team to play up to Northwestern and Michigan, then he can certainly do so against Ohio State.
Ohio State vs. Michigan State Preview
The key to Michigan State is their defense. Mel Tucker has made changes from the Mark Dantonio system that help them as the Big Ten is moving from many pro-style offenses to spread offenses.
The Spartans only average 18 points per game, with their 29 against Northwestern setting a new season-high. That makes them the lowest-scoring team in the Big Ten. They have won two games with a combined margin of 12 points, which means their defense kept it close.
Ohio State’s Offense vs. Michigan State’s Defense
In both of their wins this season, their opponents found it difficult to run the ball in between the tackles.
Northwestern tried several times to beat Michigan State in the trenches early, which resulted in two drives ending in turnovers on downs.
The best way to attack Michigan State on the ground is around the perimeter. Jet sweeps, tosses, and screens are commonly used plays against Michigan State because they have the best success.
Even if the opponent gets the ball in space, however, Michigan State is an excellent tackling team. They don’t miss many tackles, and when they hit the ball carrier very few fall forward.
As a result of all of these factors, Michigan State only gives up 132 rushing yards per game. Rushing against them gets easier in the red zone, however, as they have given up a Big Ten-leading 14 rushing touchdowns.
Surprisingly, Ohio State has the highest rushing yards per game average in the conference. That said, Michigan State doesn’t present the sort of defense that leading Buckeye rusher Master Teague typically succeeds against. Teague is an excellent one-cut back, but when he has to create for himself, things don’t go well.
Michigan State has some great cornerbacks on the boundary, but are weaker in the middle of the field. Garrett Wilson should have another huge day from the slot.
Ohio State Defense vs. Michigan State Offense
Spartan quarterback Rocky Lombardi is an interesting player. He does really well on big-time passes but misses easy throws close to the line of scrimmage. The passing game is in the middle of the pack in the conference because it is a boom or bust.
There is no doubt that Lombardi will sling it deep early and often. Indiana and Michael Penix Jr. showed the conference that the deep ball is Ohio State’s Achilles heel. Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson will be licking his lips at game time. The deep ball is the only thing that works for Michigan State, and the only thing that works against Ohio State.
How does Ohio State limit Lombardi? First of all, they need to make sure that under no circumstances can the defense get beat deep. Another thing they can do is play mostly zone coverages. Lombardi finds man coverage easier to read. Zone tends to confuse him. Most of his turnovers are against the zone. Not to mention that Lombardi likes to bail the pocket when things are tight downfield. Zone defense will help limit his running production.
Ohio State has one of the best rushing defense in the Big Ten, while Michigan State has the worst rushing offense. As a result, this game will play out very similarly to the Indiana game. There will be a lot of deep passes with very few rushes. On paper, this game should be an easy Ohio State victory. In reality, there are so many outside factors to account for that it’s very hard to say. Michigan State could keep it close, but they would have to play their best game of the year to pull off the upset.