Ohio State vs Michigan State Preview

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Ohio State and Michigan State will decide who will be the frontrunner in the Big Ten East Division on Saturday.

The Buckeyes are the last undefeated team in conference play, but a loss to the Spartans would put them behind the eight ball. Michigan State currently holds the tie breaker over Michigan, so a win against Ohio State would put them at the top of the division.

If Sparty wins, Ohio State will need to beat Michigan, and will need some help from Penn State if they want to advance to the title game.

But if Ohio State wins, then The Game against the Wolverines next week will determine the East Division Champion.

Either way, it’s do or die for both teams. Not only is the conference championship, but so is the College Football Playoff. Right now, it’s “win and you’re in” for the Spartans and the Buckeyes. One of them will be out of the CFP race by Saturday night.

If Ohio State wants to keep their playoff hopes alive, they have to take care of #7 Michigan State.

While the Buckeyes went through a short stretch of games where they did not play to the Ohio State standard, they looked alive against Purdue. They will be looking to keep things going against one of the few Big Ten teams to defeat Ohio State in the last decade.

Ohio State vs Michigan State Preview

Michigan State is one of two teams from the Big Ten East to beat Ohio State since the conference split into East and West. The Spartans also have the honor of being the only Big Ten team to beat Urban Meyer twice, the first time being in the Big Ten Championship Game under the Leaders and Legends format.

But those two losses were in the Mark Dantonio era. The two starting quarterbacks in that game were J.T. Barrett and Tyler O’Connor.

Both programs have come a long way since then. Ryan Day has taken Ohio State to two CFP appearances and a National Championship game. Mel Tucker has taken a downtrodden Michigan State program and seemingly built it back up in only a year.

Last year’s game was a blowout in favor of the Buckeyes with Larry Johnson at the helm. But, Michigan State is a different program this year, so they will make this game more competitive.

There are three ways the Buckeyes can make sure they keep their perfect conference record:

Ohio State Will Air the Ball Out

Michigan State has played the second- and the third-best passing offenses in the Big Ten in the last two weeks. This week, they play the first.

Purdue and Maryland are the only teams in the conference, along with Ohio State of course, to average over 300 yards of passing offense per game. Michigan State has played some great passing offenses, and the stats show it.

Going into Week 11, Sparty has given up 329 passing yards per game. That is last in the entire country. Duke has the second-lowest average in FBS, and they only give up 304 yards per game.

Ohio State’s passing defense hasn’t been good either, but it’s nowhere near as bad. The Buckeyes actually have the second-worst passing defense in the conference, and they give up 68.5 fewer yards per game than the Spartans.

Michigan State’s passing defense is in a tier of their own.

Unfortunately, Ohio State’s passing offense is in a tier of their own as well.

C.J. Stroud has the Buckeyes at sixth in FBS in passing yards per game, which has them comfortably atop the conference.

Day is not afraid to let Stroud sling the ball. Stroud already has two games of 50-plus attempts, which is something that not even Dwayne Haskins did. He also has three of the top eight highest single-game passing yards totals in program history.

Under normal circumstances, Stroud will let it fly. Against the worst passing defense in the nation, Stroud might add another 400-plus yard game to his resume.

This could finally be the game where Chris Olave passes Dave Boston on the all-time receiving touchdowns list at Ohio State.

Get Ahead Early

The Buckeyes will want to score fast and make Payton Thorne play hero ball.

Before we get to that, this is the part where we have to talk about running back Kenneth Walker. It’s easy to see why the Heisman Trophy is a realistic aspiration for him. He is tough to bring down, he is explosive, and he is fast. At only 5’10”, he looks like Derrick Henry with a lower center of gravity.

He could get 100 yards without breaking a sweat.

Against Purdue, Walker still gained 146 yards, averaging well over six per carry, and scored a touchdown. But, they also took a 10-point lead late in the game, which forced the ball out of his hands.

Ohio State does have a decent rushing defense, but it would be easiest if they didn’t have to defend Walker at all. That’s why they need to score early and often, and make Michigan State play catch-up.

Thorne looks like a lot of quarterbacks the Buckeyes have seen in conference play, like Aidan O’Connell and Sean Clifford. He doesn’t have an electric arm, but he can make intermediate passes when he needs to. He doesn’t have overwhelming speed, but he can make the defense pay if he catches them sleeping.

Thorne is used best as a supplement to Walker. Tucker wants Thorne to throw as many times as he hands it off. In most of Sparty’s games so far, the number of Thorne’s passing attempts and Walker’s rushing attempts have been equal, give or take two. So Day will want to force Michigan State to run an unbalanced offense that they are not comfortable with.

Ohio State wants Michigan State’s best ball carrier to be stuck in the backfield protecting the quarterback.

Bend, But Don’t Break

Last week, Ohio State had a special teams advantage over Purdue, which aided in padding the margin of victory.

Again, the Buckeyes have the special teams advantage.

Ohio State kicker Noah Ruggles is the only kicker in the Big Ten that hasn’t missed a kick yet this season. Ruggles has made all 57 of his extra point attempts, and is the only kicker in the conference with 100 percent accuracy kicking field goals. He is 16-for-16 so far this season.

Matt Coghlin, on the other hand, has missed five of his 15 field goal attempts. For kickers in the conference with that many attempts, Coghlin is last in field goals made.

He currently only has a 66.7 field goal percentage, which is near the bottom of the conference.

If Coghlin isn’t kicking, it’s Stephen Rusnak. That would also be favorable for Ohio State, as Rusnak has missed the only field goal he’s ever attempted.

Between Coghlin and Rusnak, the Spartans have not made a field goal in three games. The last made field goal was in the fourth quarter against Indiana on October 16th. That was an entire month ago!

The only field goal they’ve attempted was a 43-yard miss from Rusnak. Excluding the game against Indiana, Michigan State has missed a field goal in every conference game in which they have attempted one.

So if Ohio State can keep Michigan State out of the end zone and force Coghlin to kick field goals, they might steal three points on a missed kick.

 

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