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Eric Schieve's five weekly predictions for this week's Buckeye game. What should we be watching for against Michigan State?
The failure of last week's predictions, unfortunately, is quickly becoming a theme for this column. Every week I start off with the predictions that went right, and the ones that went wrong. More often than not, I was completely wrong about at least three things in the Buckeyes' matchup. Last week was nearly an 0-fer, as Jordan Hall's strong performance was the only thing keeping us from batting .000. Honestly, I think I'm right about at the Mendoza line on the season.
However, it is time once again, dear readers, to give y'all some more predictions sure to go wrong. To this point, the Buckeyes as a whole have been as the pessimists predicted. This being an Ohio State-centric blog, there weren't a lot of cynics here to begin with, but now that we've watched them struggle through three of the four non-conference games, we have a better idea of what this team is and is not capable of. Hopefully this will improve my predictions. But probably not. Let's do 'em anyway:
1. El Guapo will still be a little gimpy and probably have a reduced workload/production. I have personally suffered a torn MCL. A sprain is a partial tear. Coming back from those is zero fun, and the toughest part about coming back from them is lateral movement. Urban Meyer's offense, despite his claims to the contrary, is built on lateral quickness of the backs. A healthy Carlos Hyde can not only run over defenders, but run around them as well. MCL injuries really affect lateral motion - in Hyde's case, cutting right is going to be a real problem. Even if Hyde has regained the ability to cut right, he will probably lack the confidence and decisiveness in that movement for another week or two. Expect to see more of Jordan Hall and Rod Smith, who appears for the moment to have been let off of the choke chain and out of the doghouse.
2. Braxton Miller will take his first real beating. Ohio State hasn't seen a defensive line like Michigan State's yet. Cal had players who were big and physical at the point of attack, but there wasn't anyone with a mean attitude like that of Michigan State's defensive front. And the Buckeyes struggled a bit with Cal's defense! Marcus Rush, Anthony-Rashad White, Tyler Hoover and especially all-everything William Gholston will bring the pain a little bit this week. Expect to see some more short routes and running backs carrying the ball to take some weight off of Miller's shoulders. With the offensive line struggling to get a push up front, Miller will need the ice bath after this one.
3. Press coverage on the outside. If you're anything like me, you've been screaming for this for weeks. Michigan State has seen the film on the Buckeye defense by now. They know that short, quick passes and screens are the way to go. The game plan this week for Sparty has to include bubble screens and slants all day if they want to open up the running game for Le'Veon Bell. MSU's receivers are no great shakes this year, with tight end Dion Sims being the only credible downfield threat (and make no mistake, at 6'5 and 280 lbs he's a force). Keith Mumphery hasn't gotten open and Tony Lippett has had a bad case of the dropsies. Sparty will try to use quick passes to get Andrew Maxwell in a rhythm. If ever there was a week where the Buckeye secondary was almost forced to play press coverage, it would have to be this one. Plus, Bradley Roby returns, which is nice.
4. Watch Sparty's offensive line, especially the tackles. This unit's pride is going to be hurt a little bit coming off back-to-back poor efforts against Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan. The two veteran tackles, junior Dan France and senior Fou Fonoti, will be the key to their performance on offense. Le'Veon Bell, as good as he is, won't be able to carry the team just by being better than everybody else like he could against EMU. Watch for which tackle is blocking John Simon all game long. The winner of those battles will have a lot to do with who wins on the field. If one of the two struggles, he'll be seeing Simon in his nightmares. Look for Big Hank to do some serious damage as well against a true freshman, Jack Allen, at guard, and a sophomore, Travis Jackson, at center.
5. Two defensive touchdowns. I don't feel like I'm really going out on a limb here, either. If Vegas has a prop bet on this, you might want to think about laying some potato chips on this one. Braxton Miller has been amazing so far this year, but one hit in the wrong spot from Michigan State's stud linebackers (whom I haven't even covered!) could spell trouble. Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State's defensive coordinator, loves to blitz, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Braxton pressured into a couple of mistakes or a fumble or two. Andrew Maxwell, on the other side, hasn't proven yet that he can consistently make good decisions with the football. It appears I was wrong about him at the beginning of the season - so far it looks like he lacks both the confidence and the arm talent to be a successful quarterback at this level of football. We'll see if that changes, but I'm thinking he's good for at least one pick-six.
#spartyparty approaches, Buckeye fans. Enjoy it, and feel free to send gloating tweets and comments if these predictions go sour as they have been for the past four weeks. Oh, and be sure to check out The Only Colors for all your Spartan related questions/needs.