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Previewing MSU vs. Ohio State

Interesting numbers and keys to the game for MSU and Ohio State.

Kirk Irwin - Getty Images

Game time: 3:30 p.m.
Location: Spartan Stadium
Radio: Spartan Sports Network
Online streaming: WatchESPN (College GameDay only)
Gameday info from MSU: Here
Opponent blog: Land-Grant Holy Land
Preseason Q&A: Here, Game week Q&A: Here
Tickets: Here
Pete's EL Visitors' Guide: Here
Line: MSU -3


MSU opens up Big Ten play with the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes — the top-ranked team in the conference. A year ago, MSU's defense dominated in an ugly 10-7 win, and it sprung the Spartans to a conference-best 7-1 record in the Big Ten. Can MSU again open conference play with a victory and beat the Buckeyes in East Lansing for the first time since 1999? Let's take a look.

Ohio State's season to date (4-0): W 56-10 vs. Miami (Ohio), W 31-16 vs. UCF, W 35-28 vs. California, W 29-15 vs. UAB

By the numbers:

394.8: Total yards per game allowed by the Ohio State defense, which is last in the Big Ten by nearly 30 yards.

17.2: Points per game allowed by Ohio State, which is fifth in the Big Ten and shows a bend-but-don't-break trend

233.5: Total yards per game allowed by the MSU defense, which is tops in the conference by 60 yards.

9: Sacks by the MSU defense against the Buckeyes last season

29: Native Ohioans on MSU's roster (seven starters), including Le'Veon Bell, Johnny Adams, Denicos Allen and Marcus Rush

2: Michigan natives on Ohio State's roster, including defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins, a high school teammate of Will Gholston

610: Rushing yards for Bell this season, which is second in the nation (5.2 ypc)

441: Rushing yards for Braxton Miller, which is 10th in the nation (6.6 ypc)

7: Interceptions by the Ohio State defense, which is tied for the best in the Big Ten

Three keys for MSU:

Receivers catch the ball: Aside from it being a well-documented problem for MSU in recent weeks, it has been a problem for the Ohio State defense, as in some dink-and-dunking has proven successful for otherwise underwhelming opponents. Ohio State is going to dare Andrew Maxwell to make some throws — that's what most defenses will do to MSU this year. That's going to have to start with grabbing the catchable balls.

Defensive ends and linebackers contain Miller: MSU's defense since 2010 has done a great job against run-first quarterbacks (Denard Robinson, Taylor Martinez, Braxton Miller). William Gholston and Marcus Rush typically do a great job containing the quarterback in the pocket. Notre Dame rolled out Everett Golson quite a bit and found some success, but the difference is that Miller would rather make plays with his feet.

Turnovers: The Buckeyes are tied for the lead in the Big Ten in turnover margin at plus-five, while the Spartans are minus-one. For all the yardage Ohio State has given up, they've made some big plays, including seven interceptions. Turnovers have killed MSU this year, including two pick-sixes, and a fumble last week quickly turned into a touchdown for Eastern Michigan. In a game in which I don't expect much offense, a few turnovers and favorable field position could be the difference.

Three keys for Ohio State:

Beat MSU with speed plays to the outside: Urban Meyer has brought his speed-based offense to the Big Ten. Jordan Hall missed the first two games of the season, but has been getting healthy and fits the Percy Harvin role Meyer used at Florida. MSU's linebackers will be tested running sideline to sideline.

Make tackles: Meyer has been furious with the number of big plays the Buckeyes have given up this year, but a big part of that is because of missed tackles. Le'Veon Bell makes plenty of tacklers miss on their own, and Ohio State is going to need to wrap up everyone.

Miller makes some big throws: As mentioned above, MSU has typically done a good job containing running quarterbacks. Just like Ohio State, the Spartans will load the box and force the quarterback to make plays with his arm.

Prediction: 13-10 MSU

I really have no idea who to pick in this one. Luke Zimmermann from Land-Grant Holy Land said he's picking whoever wins the coin toss. MSU is favored by a little, but the game opened as pick-em. It's that close. This game matches strength (OSU offense) vs. strength (MSU defense) and weakness (MSU offense) vs. weakness (OSU defense). Whoever's weakness is stronger could be the difference, and I think I have faith that MSU's offense will do just enough. If Maxwell throws an interception or two, however, that would change things. I trust Maxwell to make some more throws than Miller.

MSU hosts its third ranked team before October, and a national audience will gaze upon the Spartans once again — this time with a pregame show. The Spartans failed their last test, but opening up Big Ten play with a win would get rid of the bad taste and get things back on track.