Can Ohio State beat Michigan State?

Gregory Shamus - Getty Images

Urban Meyer's Buckeyes prepare for their greatest test to date and a conference throw down with the Michigan State Spartans.

To get the low down on what Sparty brings to the table, we turn to The Only Colors' managing editor and CoachingSearch.com's Chris Vannini. You can follow Chris on Twitter at @ChrisVannini.

So I imagine a number of Ohio State fans caught the opener against Boise State, took in at least some of the Notre Dame game but have been largely out of the loop with Sparty otherwise. Describe where this team is at relative to expectations.

I think both sides of the ball have fit expectations so far. Everyone expected the defense to be one of the best in the country, and it has been. Everyone also expected the passing game to struggle, and it certainly has recently. I think most people were hoping for a 9/10-win season, depending on the nonconference slate. The loss to Notre Dame was kind of a wild card, and with that loss, this turns into people being happy with nine wins. The biggest problem in the Notre Dame game was the offensive line, which was returning a ton of experience and supposed to be a strength. They were blown up by the Irish. They played much better after a similar performance at Notre Dame last year, so the hope is they'll again make that turnaround. But, that passing game still needs to be fixed.

Andrew Maxwell sure looked streaky in that opener. Is this a guy Spartans fans are comfortable with yet and what more does he need to do to keep this team in contention for a Legends division title?

I think fans generally feel comfortable with him, but the jury is still a little bit out because of the inconsistency of the receivers. His completion percentage over the last two games is a little above 50 percent, but that's with more than six drops in each game. MSU had to replace their top three receivers from last year, and not one of them has made a case to be the top guy. The drops have been spread around. It does seem Maxwell has moved to his checkdown quite frequently, but that may be a case of not trusting the guys on the outside, and we can't blame him at this point.

Notre Dame completely neutered Le'Veon Bell. How did their approach differ from the rest of Michigan State's opponents?

Well, MSU's playcalling was also a part of that, as Mark Dantonio admitted they got away from the run too quickly (four second-half carries for Bell, none in fourth quarter). But a big part of Notre Dame's success was simply having a great front seven. They were able to rush the passer with even just three, as MSU's offensive line has not been as good as expected. The three linemen stuffed the middle, and the four linebackers covered the edges. Bell gets a large chunk of his yards after first contact, so there only has to be enough of a hole for Bell to get going.

Does Ohio State bringing a defense to the table recruited with stopping rushing attacks like Michigan State's in mind bring any real reasons for pause and do you expect Sparty to alter their game plan more in line with the dink and dunk of Ohio State's first four opponents.

I haven't studied Ohio State's personnel enough to speak on it, but it looks like the Bucks are right in the middle of the conference in rush defense. If there's one thing to expect from a Mark Dantonio-coached team, it's that the gameplan will often be the same. He's a Jim Tressel guy. You know what that means: Run the ball. Especially with the recent passing struggles, I don't expect a gameplan full of passing unless the run game isn't working. Bell is the most talented player on MSU's offense, so he needs to be a big part of it. Unless it's completely being shut down, MSU is going to be a run-first team. That may open up things as the game goes along, but getting the running game going is always the most important part of a Dantonio team.

And finally, will Mark Dantonio ever smile again?

He'll smile the next time he beats Michigan.

Prediction?

I'm going 13-10, MSU.

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