Hey Spartan fans, we’re back with another Q&A, this time it’s Senior Day in East Lansing. Spartan seniors including RJ Shelton, Josiah Price and Riley Bullough will play their last game at Spartan Stadium this Saturday and will have to take down the number two team in the country if they want to go out as winners.
That team? None other than Ohio State. The Buckeyes come to town looking for revenge after last year’s 17-14 loss, which was made memorable by Michael Geiger’s fantastic celebration after nailing the game winning field goal.
This year is decidedly different. The Spartans are 3-7 and the Buckeyes are 9-1 and Michigan State is hoping to play spoiler. That may be very unlikely but, hey, anything can happen.
Urban Meyer's overall record at Ohio State is 59-5, what does that record mean to the fan base? How is Urban viewed in Buckeye Nation?
Consider where the program was when Meyer took over in 2012. Ohio State had just come off a 6-7 campaign, was facing a three-year scholarship probation, and had a national reputation for choking in big games. Meyer completely changed that narrative by taking an SEC-like approach in how he built his staff and attacked recruiting nationally, which I believe has trickled down and positively impacted the entire conference. He’s celebrated for that as much as he’s celebrated for his record in some respects. The 59-5 record is remarkable, but it’s hard not to feel like Meyer has left a little bit on the table during his time in Columbus. The Buckeyes have won just one Big Ten title under Meyer, and that likely won’t change this year unless Penn State unexpectedly falls against Rutgers or your Spartans. The losses have been few, but they’ve been curious as well – especially last year’s collapse against Michigan State on Senior Day. Still, the state of the program is probably as strong as it’s ever been, and I don’t think Buckeye Nation would choose any coach over Meyer, including Nick Saban.
Prior to this season Michigan State had been the only team to play spoiler to the Buckeyes. Those games include 2013's Big Ten Championship game and last year’s regular season meeting. With those losses Michigan State arguably took two chances away from Ohio State that could have easily turned into championship seasons for this team. Does that play into this weekend’s game?
I think it absolutely plays into Ohio State’s mindset this week. Playing a 3-7 team the week prior to hosting a top-5 Michigan team, that would typically have the makings of a trap game, or at least a letdown in execution and focus. You would have to think Ohio State approaches this game differently with recent history in mind. An interesting development in recent years has been Meyer’s execution in recruiting from a national perspective, and how that’s impacted recruiting in Ohio. There are simply less spots available today for Ohio prospects that the Buckeyes would have traditionally taken under Jim Tressel, and the ones that end up at Michigan State seem to play with a chip on their shoulders when they square off with Ohio State once a year. Couple that with the fact that Michigan State has spoiled two championship campaigns, including beating Meyer’s most talented team last season, and you have the makings for one of the better rivalries in this conference.
The Buckeyes seem to be on another planet since losing to Penn State. Following that loss Ohio State has outscored opponents 148-26, how did that loss manage to give the Buckeyes so much momentum moving forward?
The Buckeyes are simply following the same trend that we’ve seen after any loss during Meyer’s tenure. Look back to 2013, when the defense consistently struggled during an undefeated regular season before falling apart against Michigan State and then Clemson in the Big Ten Title and Orange Bowl. In the ensuing offseason, Meyer made significant changes to the defensive staff, including hiring Chris Ash on as defensive coordinator. Ash installed rugby-style tackling during spring and fall camp, and the defense rode that method to a national championship the following year. Or how about last year when an offense stocked with NFL talent looked so pedestrian for almost the entire conference slate. Michigan State exposed Ohio State’s conservative and unimaginative play calling, holding the Buckeyes to just 132 yards and a handful of first downs in a late-November win. The following week Meyer moved offensive coordinator Ed Warinner up to the press box, the staff opened up the play calling, and Ohio State ran roughshod against Michigan. They looked similarly impressive in the bowl game against Notre Dame. For whatever reason, the Ohio State staff reverted to its conservative ways following the early-season win over Oklahoma, which culminated in the team’s fourth-quarter collapse at Penn State. Since then, they’ve simply done a better job getting the ball in the hands of their best playmakers, and its paid dividends.
What can we expect out of the Buckeyes this Saturday? Who do you think is going to have a break out day or simply who will be the biggest difference maker in this game and why?
I think we’ll see a focused and angry team that plays to keep its title chances alive and avenge last season’s loss. Last season Michigan State absolutely dominated Ohio State in the trenches. They were the angrier, nastier, tougher team for 60 minutes, a message that has been drilled into this Buckeye team since spring camp. With that in mind, I look for Ohio State’s lines to return the favor, and I think that the offensive line in particular will turn in its best performance of the season so far.
J.T. Barrett is quietly having a very successful season at Ohio State this year, with nearly 2,300 yards passing, 617 yards rushing, 31 total touchdowns, and only 4 interceptions. Why do you think he is being given the cold shoulder in the Heisman Watch, when he currently has more touchdowns than Deshaun Watson (Clemson Quarterback) and Jalen Hurts (Alabama Quarterback) as well as more total yards than Hurts to go along with it?
I don’t know if I necessarily subscribe to the idea that Barrett is significantly less celebrated than Watson or Hurts. Bovada currently gives Barrett the fourth-best odds of winning the award, a spot behind Watson and ahead of Hurts. With that said, this is clearly Lamar Jackson’s award. Barrett hasn’t helped himself in making it a competitive race – he was up and down against Wisconsin and then downright bad against Penn State when the Buckeyes had the national spotlight in consecutive weeks, but I’m not sure if it would have made much of a difference.
What will Ohio State need to ensure the Spartans wont be playing spoiler again this weekend?
This is essentially a bowl game for the seven-loss Spartans. I’m sure it’s been a miserable season for players and fans alike, but what better way to celebrate senior day than by ruining Ohio State’s championship hopes once again? If Ohio State enters East Lansing with a focused mindset, and with a creative offensive game plan like we’ve seen in each of the last two weeks, then I don’t think they’ll have much a problem taking care of an already beaten up Michigan State side. But if Ohio State plays not to lose like it did against Penn State, on what appears to be a bad weather day, then all bets are off.
What is your prediction and final score of this weekend’s game?
Urban Meyer is notoriously ruthless in revenge games, and Ohio State needs style-points at this point to maintain its position as a playoff team. The Buckeyes have been firing on all cylinders in November, and that will continue this weekend. I have the Buckeyes winning and covering, 45-14.
Thanks to Evan and everyone over at Land-Grant Holy Land. Good luck this weekend!