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Game Preview: Michigan State Spartans vs. Ohio State Buckeyes

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans will have their most daunting task of the season thus far (and probably all season long) as the team travels to Columbus to take on the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes.

Both schools are off to 2-0 starts in Big Ten play, while Ohio State is yet to lose a game this season at all and MSU comes in with a 4-1 record overall. This is only the second road game of the season for the Spartans, and it is going to be a raucous atmosphere under the lights at Ohio Stadium.

It is that time of the week. Let’s preview the matchup:

Tale of the Tape

Michigan State:
2019 Record — 4-1 (2-0 Big Ten)

Offense (per game average) — 413.6 total yards, 269 passing yards, 144.6 rushing yards

Defense (per game average) — 253.8 total yards allowed, 198.0 passing yards allowed, 55.8 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored: 157 (31.4 ppg)

Cumulative Points Allowed: 75 (15.0 ppg)

Current S&P+ Ranking: 21st

Ohio State:
2019 Record — 5-0 (2-0 Big Ten)

Offense (per game average) — 535.6 total yards, 254.0 passing yards, 281.6 rushing yards

Defense (per game average)— 223.8 yards allowed, 138.8 passing yards allowed, 85.0 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored: 262 (52.4 ppg)

Cumulative Points Allowed: 43 (8.6 ppg)

Current S&P+ Ranking: 2nd

Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: Ohio State leads 32-15
Current streak: Ohio State has won the past three meetings.
Last Michigan State Win: Nov. 21, 2015 (17-14)
Last Ohio State Win: Nov. 10, 2018 (26-6)
Michigan State all-time record: 705-460-44 (.601)
Ohio State all-time record: 916-325-53 (.728)

Previous Game Results

Michigan State 40, Indiana 31

Too close for comfort. The only reason why the final score was 40-31 was because of a fumble returned for a touchdown by Michael Dowell on the last play of the game. It was the complete opposite of what we’ve come to know MSU football to be the past couple of years. This time, instead of a dominant defense and struggling offense, the offensive unit scored 34 points (prior to the fumble recovery), and had 442 total yards, while the defense was picked apart by Indiana’s redshirt freshman quarterback, Michael Penix, Jr. The defense (and coaching staff) had no answers to the Hoosiers’ passing attack, but the MSU offense did enough to seal the victory and go 2-0 in conference play.

Ohio State 48, Nebraska 7

This Ohio State team runs as a well-oiled machine. The Buckeyes scored 48 unanswered points before Nebraska got on the board with a garbage time touchdown in the late third quarter, and Ohio State just coasted to victory from there. This was a nighttime environment on the road for OSU, but did not phase the team one bit. Quarterback Justin Fields continued his impressive start to his Buckeyes career with a 15-for-21, 212 yard, three-touchdown performance through the air, while adding 72 yards and a score on the ground. J.K. Dobbins had a huge day as well with 177 rushing yards and a 7.4 yards-per-carry average. He became just the 11th Buckeye ever to record 3,000 career rushing yards. This game was never in doubt.

Key Matchups

Justin Fields versus MSU defense: Due to Fields’ prowess as both a passer and a rusher, the entire defense (not just the secondary) needs to be on high alert every time the football is in his hands. Fields has thrown for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns this year, without a single interception in 116 attempts. He’s obviously very dangerous and he can get the ball to his playmakers in a hurry. Containing Fields in the run game, and putting pressure on him on passing downs will be key to limiting Ohio State’s scoring this week. Of course, both of those tasks are much easier said than done.

J.K. Dobbins versus MSU front seven: As if one game-breaking offensive player wasn’t enough, how about we add J.K. Dobbins to the mix? Dobbins dominated the vaunted Michigan State defense as a true freshman in 2017 with 124 yards on just 18 rushes (6.9 ypc), while adding four catches for 20 yards and a score. Last year, the Spartans’ No. 1 ranked rush defense got the best of Dobbins as he rushed for just 28 yards on 14 carries (2.0 ypc). It is absolutely vital for Michigan State to take away either the Ohio State rushing attack or passing attack and make them one-dimensional. If not, we will be in for a long Saturday night.

Elijah Collins/MSU offensive line versus OSU front seven: As we learned last year, winning the field position and ball control battles are incredibly important against Ohio State (duh, captain obvious). The running game has to be effective to keep the OSU offense off of the field and wear down Chase Young and the Buckeye defense. Of course, Young’s 8.5 tackles for loss point toward that being an unlikely outcome. After breaking out for 192 rushing yards against a weak Western Michigan defense, Elijah Collins is yet to break the 80-yard mark since. MSU’s banged up offensive line is going to have its hands full, but a strong rushing attack astronomically improves the Spartans’ chances of pulling an upset.

Game Info

Time: 7:30 p.m. (EST)
TV Channel: ABC
Location: Ohio Stadium, Columbus
Weather expectations: 70 degrees at kickoff, partly cloudy, sunset at 7:09 p.m., winds east/southeast at six MPH
Line: Ohio State -20


Any thought of Ohio State taking a step back this year with a new head coach and transfer quarterback have been shut down (which I never believed to be the case in the first place, personally). This is going to be a tough game for the Spartans no matter how you spin it. As mentioned, it’s going to be crucial for the offense to run the ball effectively, control the clock and take care of the football. Defensively, the team needs to put pressure on Fields and neutralize the threat of a running game. These are tough tasks, to say the least, against a Buckeyes team that is ranked top-five in the country.

Michigan State has also had to deal with transfers this week and is still dealing with a slew of injuries, so it makes you wonder if this team is distracted at all. On the other hand, Ohio State has really not been tested at all yet this season, and the Spartans may be the toughest opponent on their schedule through six weeks. I do expect the MSU defense to bounce back this week, but I have worries about the offense against this strong Buckeyes defense. This very well may be a low-scoring, defensive battle like must of last year’s game was, or it could be an Ohio State blowout from the opening whistle like it was two years ago — I don’t see much in between, but I can’t predict the future.

I am going to be candid here. While I do expect MSU to compete on Saturday night (and I think MSU covers the 20-point spread), this is the first game all season where I see very few scenarios in which the Spartans win. But anything is possible:

For more on Ohio State, check out our “Get to Know the Opponent” piece.

Your turn.


Will Michigan State pull off the upset in Columbus?

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