They struggled to put away a Boise State team that might not be that good, got whipped by Notre Dame, and sleepwalked through a 23-7 win over Eastern Michigan.
Woo, I guess.
So if it's not going to be a Battle of Resumes, what is it going to be? Well, it's going to be a good, old fashioned, dogfight. It's tough to call game 5 of the season/week one of conference play a 'must win' game, but you can make that argument, in some respects, for both teams.
For Michigan State, they want to send a message that they are a legitimate contender for the conference title and what will probably be (at least at this rate) the B1G's only BCS berth. A convincing win at home against Ohio State could help send that message. A loss against a team with nothing to play for, at home, would be their second in three weeks against top competition, and would cast doubt on the whole idea that MSU is a legitimate conference power player.
For Ohio State, it might be even harder to call any game 'must win' for a team that is ineligible for the conference championship game and a post-season bowl. On the other hand, Urban Meyer came to Columbus with his hair on fire, and all that off-season of momentum and expectations has ebbed a little bit, as the Buckeyes struggle a little bit more each week. A convincing win against a team many think will be the eventual conference champion gets OSU back on the Good Vibe Groove Train and outs the rest of the conference back on notice. A loss, and the bloom comes off the rose a little bit more for Urban Meyer, and critics will accurately dub OSU a Paper Tiger. And couches throughout central Ohio will burn well past midnight.
So, what does OSU need to do to walk out of East Lansing with a win?
OH HAI Andrew Maxwell. Pass It, We Double Dog Dare You. Andrew Maxwell got a lot of pre-season hype entering 2012, and a lot of folks felt he could actually be a step up from the poster children of 'game managers' Kirk Cousins. So far, Maxwell has had a hard time managing the part in his hair. Maxwell is completing just a shade over 56% of his passes, and has as many TD's to interceptions (3). When forced to play from behind against Notre Dame, Maxwell was terrible, and the Spartans struggled to get anything going. The Bucks need to putthe ball in his hands, and make him make plays. So far, he hasn't been able to.
Hey, There's Le'Veon Bell. Put Him On The Ground. Bell has been the only consistent offensive threat for MSU so far, and he is a fast, powerful runner. He doesn't go down very often after his first contact, and gets stronger as the game gets further along. Don't let Bell get going, wrap and tackle, and the first guy there needs to hold the line until help arrives. Don't give MSU easy down and distance situations, and make them have to pass, early and often.
The Goal Line Is 85 yards That Way. Bet You Can't Get There From Here. If OSU is successful in the first two, MSU isn't going to be able to drive the length of the field. That means offense and special teams must win the field position battle with sustained drives and flipping field position when they do go 3 and out. Yeah, fundamentally sound special teams, I said it. Can the Buckeyes do it? Well, they can if...
The Three Headed Offensive Monster Keeps Michigan State Off Balance. And by that I mean Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde, and Jordan Hall. It looks like both top RB's will be healthy for the first time this season, and that is good news indeed for the Buckeye running game. For Miller, he'll need to make plays with his legs and his feet. MSU has the best defense in the B1G, and this will be the biggest test for the new Urban Meyer offense. MSU pursues laterally as well as any defense in the country, and will be looking to stop Miller's big play capability with his legs. That's where Hall and Hyde come in, along with Miller's passing ability. He's left at least one big pass play on the field in each game this year; and he cannot afford to do that when they get MSU at a disadvantage. There might not be a lot of chances to make a play or get a score, and OSU cannot afford to blow a scoring opportunity.
That's Where Devin Smith, Jake Stoneburner, And Philly Brown Come In. Ohio State enters the game 99th in the country in passing yards, with 199/game. The underwhelming Andrew Maxwell is averaging over 229 yds/game. That's where the Holy Receiving Trinity comes in to play. While it's true Miller has missed some big plays, all three have dropped key passes in crucial situations in each game. If Miller gets the ball there, they need to bring it in. Devin Smith is quickly becoming known for his Cris Carter-like ability; Cris Carter never dropped 10 yard outs or buttonhooks.
Fearless Prediction: Although OSU's defense has been, shall we say, inconsistent, especially early on, Meyer was right in the fact that MSU is a more traditional offense that OSU's defense matches against well. Andrew Maxwell isn't going to win many games with his arm, and I think the Bucks will do a good job at making the Spartans one-dimensional. This is the week they figure out their tackling woes, and the Silver Bullets come up big, with three turnovers.
Final Score: Ohio State 23, MSU 13.