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Get to Know the Opponent: Ohio State

The Spartans travel to Columbus with first place on the line.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns / USA TODAY NETWORK

To quote Kevin McCallister in the “Home Alone” movie, “This is it, don’t get scared now.” The Michigan State Spartans are in a position that none of us expected back in August before the season started, and now MSU has a chance to take it even further.

Michigan State has one game against Ohio State with first place in the Big Ten East on the line this weekend, with two games total left in the season. We have seen MSU have this chance a few times recently, with mixed results. But if you want to be the big dog, you have to beat the big dog, and Ohio State is exactly that. So let’s take a look at the team in Scarlet and Grey.

School: The Ohio State University

Nickname: Buckeyes

Conference: Big Ten (East Division)

Location: Columbus, Ohio

Head Coach: Ryan Day (third season, 32-3 overall)

Record: 9-1 (7-0 in Big Ten)

Mascot: Brutus Buckeye

All-Time Series (Modern): Ohio State leads 34-15 and has won five straight

Here’s a fun fact. Ryan Day has never lost a Big Ten game. In fact, the Buckeyes’ loss to Oregon earlier this year was his first loss outside of the College Football Playoff. Day and the Buckeyes have dominated the conference, and quite frankly, it’s getting a little boring.

Team Stats

Ohio State leads the nation in scoring, averaging 46.3 points per game. I’d love to say the Buckeyes have feasted on bad teams, and to an extent that is true, but even against Oregon, Penn State and Nebraska, OSU is averaging 29 points per game. The Buckeyes are going to score, no matter how well your defense plays.

On the ground OSU in 30th in total rushing offense, averaging 196.4 yards per game. The Buckeyes are tied for second in the nation in rushing average at 5.95 yards per rush and have 21 rushing touchdowns on the season.

Through the air, the Buckeyes are sixth in total passing, at 353.6 yards per game, just ahead of Purdue. The difference is Ohio State is much more efficient, averaging an even 10 yards per pass attempt, third best in the country. OSU also rank third in total quarterback rating, and has 32 passing touchdowns against six interceptions.

Oh, the Buckeyes also rank first nationally in total offense and yards per play. So that’s fun.

How about on defense? Well, the Buckeyes allow just 20.2 points per game, 23rd best in the country. Some of the better teams they have played have been able to put up points on them, including Minnesota, Oregon and Purdue, who all scored over 30 points. The problem is that OSU tends to just score more.

The rushing defense ranks 13th nationally, allowing 105.9 yards per game. The Buckeyes are 11th in rushing average, allowing 3.10 yards per rush, not too far ahead of Michigan State at 15th overall.

Through the air, you can move the ball on Ohio State, as it ranks 108th, allowing 261.1 yards per game. However, the yards per attempt numbers are much better, at 6.9 yards per attempt, which ranks 34th, tied with MSU by the way. So both teams give up a lot of yards through the air, but in the case of both, the volume of passes they face are a large reason for it. Although in OSU’s case, it’s more of a result of teams trying to play catch up.

Some situational areas of concern include OSU ranking fourth in the country in third down conversions, at better than 53 percent, while Michigan State ranks 81st defensively in that same category.

OSU is also 10th in red zone conversions, and 41st in red zone touchdown rate. MSU is No. 8th in the nation defensively in opponent red zone touchdown rate, so once again, bending but not breaking will be crucial.

Players to Watch

In a shocking turn of events, Ohio State has a fantastic quarterback. C.J. Stroud has done just fine taking over for Justin Fields, and has thrown for over 3,000 yards while averaging 9.8 yards per pass attempt and completing 68.8 percent of his passes. He has 30 touchdowns and just five interceptions. The only good news is he isn’t the same running threat as Fields, although if that means he’s going to stand in the pocket and throw more, I’m not sure that is really good news.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson has eclipsed the thousand-yard mark with 1,035 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, while averaging 7.34 yards per carry. Henderson has also caught 16 passes for 223 yards and three scores.

Ohio State has three receivers with more than 50 catches on the year. Jaxon Smith-Njigba leads the way with 59 catches and 1,027 yards. Garrett Wilson has 53 catches for 813 yards and nine touchdowns. Senior Chris Olave has 51 receptions for 708 yards and a team high 11 touchdowns.

Tight end Jeremy Ruckert will also get into the mix a few times per game, and has 22 catches for 256 yards and three scores.

On defense, a couple of defensive tackles lead the way. Haskell Garrett has a team high 4.5 sacks and is second on the team with six tackles for loss. He also has a fumble return for touchdown.

Tyleik Williams has four sacks and is third on the team with 5.5 tackles for loss and has a forced fumble.

Defensive end Zach Harrison has a team high seven tackles for loss, and has also forced two fumbles and has added three sacks of his own.

Safeties Craig Young and Ronnie Hickman each have two interceptions, and have each taken one back to the house. Hickman also leads the team in total tackles.

Kicker Noah Ruggles has not missed a kick this year, going 16-for-16 on field goals, and 57-for-57 on extra points.

Punting nemesis Drue Chrisman is finally gone, with Jesse Mirco handling the punting this year. Mirco is averaging 41.63 yards per punt on the year.

So that’s a look at Ohio State. The offense is quite scary. And the defense is pretty good, however it doesn’t have that complete freak pass rusher the Buckeyes have had in the past, so that is at least something.

In order for Michigan State to pull this off, the Spartans are going to need the defense to play its best game of the year, and the team as a whole also probably needs to score 40 points of its own. Stranger things have happened, but the Spartans are going to need to play a complete game from start to finish if they want to get out of the Horseshoe with a victory. It won’t be easy.