Preview -- Michigan State at Ohio State

COLUMBUS OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Mascot Brutus Buckeye is carried up the stands by fans during a game against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Ohio Stadium on September 25 2010 in Columbus Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)






We've been here before.  In 2008, a 6-1 Michigan State team urging to prove its legitimacy faced Ohio State in Spartan Stadium for a chance to take control of the Big Ten.  The kickoff was at 3:37, October 18th.  The following were the scoring plays in the first quarter:

1st 08:25 OSU - Pryor, Terrelle 18 yd run (Pretorius, Ryan kick)
                                                  4 plays, 47 yards, TOP 1:49, OSU 7 - MSU 0
    04:33 OSU - Robiskie, Brian 7 yd pass from Pryor, Terrelle (Pretorius, Ryan kick)
                                                 5 plays, 17 yards, TOP 2:35, OSU 14 - MSU 0
    02:44 OSU - Wells, Chris 1 yd run (Pretorius, Ryan kick)
                                                 2 plays, 57 yards, TOP 0:16, OSU 21 - MSU 0

That's a 21-0 in the first quarter, and the Buckeyes wouldn't need any more  points as they proceeded to rout MSU 45-7. 

Almost three years later, A Michigan State team beset by injuries to its offensive heads to Columbus to face an Ohio State team beset by scandal.  The following are analyses of the Buckeyes' offense, defense, and special teams.


The Joe Bauserman-Braxton Miller quarterback controversy has ended, long live the Bauserman-Braxton controversy.  The climax of the controversy came two weeks ago in the Buckeyes' loss to Miami, where both quarterbacks completed two passes.  The difference is that Bauserman needed 14 attempts to Miller's 4 to reach two completions, and the freshman Miller is now the starter.  He's one of the least accurate quarterbacks in the Big Ten (51.7% completion percentage on the season), but he's a fairly efficient runner (4.8 yards per attempt).  Although some of the balls he's thrown have looked ugly, they have a strange way of finding their targets in stride.  The game plan has been constructed, in true Tresselball fashion, to have Miller throw sparingly; he only has 29 attempts in three games on the season.

The running backs are aided in part by a very good offensive line.  I was listening to the Eleven Warriors podcast last night about Ohio State's last game against Colorado, and Luke and Johnny of the 11W crew stated that the offensive line was the best part of the offense.  Even without All-Big Ten offensive tackle Mike Adams out due to suspension, they've been doing a good job helping the running backs getting consistent yards.  Carlos Hyde (So., 6'0", 238 lbs.), Jordan Hall (Jr., 5'9", 195 lbs.), and Rod Smith (R-Fr. 6'3", 230 lbs.) have all averaged better than four yards per carry on the season.  The yards per carry in four games so far: 4.4, 3.7, 4.7, and 4.8 -- few big plays, but steady enough to cause problems for defenses.

Given Ohio State's reticence to pass, it's not surprising no Buckeye is in the double digits in receptions. Receiver Devin Smith and tight end Jake Stoneburner are tied for the team lead in receptions with eight (8!), and obviously a study in contrasts.  Smith is fifth in the FBS with 22.9 yards per catch (with three touchdowns to boot), while half of Stoneburner's catches were for touchdowns.  They're the only two players with touchdown receptions on the team this year.  Even though he only has five receptions on the year, receiver Verlon Reed also has big play ability with a 15.3 yards per catch average.


I'll level with you. I haven't seen much of Ohio State's defense this season, and missing visual evidence, I'll go to what I usually go to when I need information -- numbers. Just know to be worried about defensive lineman Jonathan Hankins, linebacker Andrew Sweat has the most tackles on the year (24), that they've been averaging 5.75 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks per game, and their turnover margin of +0.5 puts them 35th in the NCAA currently.


Here is what Ohio State allowed on the ground in the Akron, Toledo, Miami, and Colorado games:  1.3, 1.5, 5.7, and 4.8 respectively.  While those numbers against Miami and Colorado look weak, a closer look reveals that the Buffaloes gained more than half of their total rushing yards for the game on two runs.  Remove those runs and Colorado's yards per carry becomes 2.2.  Miami had six runs of more than ten yards in their victory.  My thought is that Ohio State is very, very good at stuffing the run consistently, but the potential for big plays exists.  On one hand, I feel like that's a generic statement -- "you can't run on Ohio State, except when you can!"  On the other hand, there's evidence to support that statement, so I'll stick to it.  Also a factor -- Miami could afford to run clock on Ohio State, while Colorado had to pass more, playing from behind.


Ohio State's yards per attempt allowed against Akron, Toledo, Miami, and Colorado: 2.9, 7.0, 5.3, and 6.1 respectively.   Good numbers all.  Let's go to the completion percentages for Akron, Toledo, Miami, and Colorado: 36.8%, 50%, 69.6%, and 56.4%.  While these numbers look disparate, there's a theme, excluding the Akron game -- the lower the completion percentage, the greater the yards per attempt were.  I was really hoping to glean some sort of great nugget from this data, but it looks like Ohio State has just had a very good pass defense so far.  The only comment I can come up with is that Miami achieved a high completion rate by many short passes.  If the offensive line is in the same state it was against Notre Dame, Kirk Cousins may have to pass 50 or more times again.


Kicker Drew Basil has had a decent year so far, going 5-7, with his only two misses coming from beyond 40 yards.  Their punter is Ben Buchanan, and he's good.  He's averaging 41.9 yards per punt, and 11 of 19 of his kicks have been downed inside the 20.  The kick returner to look out for is Jordan Hall, his two returns this season have gone for 90 and 45 yards.  Hall also returns punts sometimes (three for 44 yards), but the most dangerous punt returner is Chris Fields, who already has run a punt back for a touchdown this year.


Oof.  If there was ever a game that could replicate the epic 6-4 tussle Penn State and Iowa had years back, it's this one.  Two very good defenses with Achilles' heels for each team on offense means this game could easily turn into a three-hour ride on the struggle bus.  I've got a feeling Ohio State will stifle MSU on the ground, but I've also got a feeling Cousins can pass the ball to get first downs.  On defense, what MSU must do is exceedingly obvious -- stop the run and force Braxton Miller to pass. On special teams, hope the Spartans can go one day without a breakdown.

I said this on the Eleven Warriors podcast, and I'll say it here -- Much in the way I was doubtful that State could beat Penn State in the road until they did it, I'm doubtful that Michigan State can beat OSU on the road.  I hope I'm wrong, but I think the Buckeyes' rushing attack is slightly more effective than MSU's offense, and they prevail on the day.


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