The marquee game of the Big Ten season takes place on Saturday night when Ohio State looks for a little revenge for last year's loss in the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State in East Lansing. The Buckeyes survived a scare in Happy Valley a couple weeks ago and rebounded last week in a big way against Illinois. Ohio State has now won 20 straight regular season games in the Big Ten conference, which ties the 2005-07 Ohio State teams for the conference record.
While Ohio State has their regular season conference winning streak going, the defeat at the hands of the Spartans last December put an end to the 24-game winning streak that the Buckeyes had going then. The loss ended any hopes that Ohio State had of making the final BCS Championship Game last year, and they'll be hoping that they can avoid the same fate this year as they hope to keep their slim hopes alive of making the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Even with their early season loss in Eugene to Oregon, Michigan State also has dreams of being involved in the College Football Playoff, and are currently enjoying their best offensive season in school history. Through eight games so far this season, Michigan State has scored 364 points, which is the highest total to start off a season ever for a Spartan team. The MSU attack is a very balanced one, as they are one of only three teams in FBS to average both 250 yards passing per game as well as 250 yards a game on the ground.
To go along with their potent offense, Michigan State also fields a stingy defense that is allowing opponents less than 100 yards per game on the ground, and overall is third in the Big Ten with 279 yards per game allowed in total defense. The Michigan State defensive line is led by reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Shilique Calhoun, who will look to put pressure on quarterback J.T. Barrett the same way that Virginia Tech and Penn State were able to. The secondary has Trae Waynes and Kurtis Drummond, who will be hoping to turn any of the pressure that Calhoun and company create into turnovers.
|Team||Record||CFP||F/+ Rk||Line||Off F/+ Rk||Def F/+ Rk||ST F/+ Rk|
|Std. Downs S&P+||Pass. Downs S&P+||Rushing S&P+||Passing S&P+||First Down Rate||Explosive Drives||Methodical Drives|
|Ohio State Offense||9||5||13||4||6||45||107|
|Michigan State Defense||11||1||3||8||2||83||1|
|Std. Downs S&P+||Pass. Downs S&P+||Rushing S&P+||Passing S&P+||First Down Rate||Explosive Drives||Methodical Drives|
|Michigan State Offense||2||29||19||5||13||63||116|
|Ohio State Defense||27||31||57||11||8||21||17|
Ohio State's biggest advantages
It's that time of year. There is something about November that brings out the best in Urban Meyer teams. Since 2003, the head coach has amassed a 35-3 record in the month. Saturday night's game might prove to be one of the toughest November tests that Meyer has faced during his head coaching career, but Meyer thrives under the pressure, with many of those November wins coming against a tough SEC schedule during his tenure at Florida.
Ohio State-Michigan State Advanced Stats Preview
We didn't know it at the time, but the Spartans had covertly developed an elite offense to match their top defense by last season's Big Ten Championship game. It's no secret this time around.
Last season Connor Cook came out of nowhere to throw for 304 yards. The Spartans passed early and often (40 total times) and then followed up that bevy of short passes (averaging 7.6 yards per attempt) with 128 yards from Jeremy Langford, much of which came in the fourth quarter. Now, Cook is a known commodity and the junior is averaging 9.43 yards per attempt.
As Urban Meyer said in his recent presser, this is a duel of sledgehammers for Big Ten supremacy. Let's see what the advanced numbers have to say about the matchup:
Not only will Meyer have his November dominance to lean on, but he has another motivational tool to help get the juices of his team flowing. With the loss to Michigan State last year in the Big Ten Championship Game, Michigan State was able to knock the Buckeyes out of the hunt for the national title. What better way to repay the Spartans than by going into their place and erasing any hopes that Michigan State has of being part of the first College Football Playoff? Add to that the stunning upset of the Buckeyes by the Spartans back in 1998 in Columbus, and Ohio State has to feel like they owe the Spartans one.
While Meyer may only be in his third season in the Big Ten, he has already visited East Lansing and led the Buckeyes to a victory. Back in 2012 in late September, the Buckeyes edged the Spartans 17-16 on their way to an undefeated season that year. The head coach may have been downplaying this contest as a "rivalry game", but you know that this a game Meyer and the Buckeye have had circled on their calendar for quite some time. More often that not, when Meyer teams are looking for some payback, they usually find a way to deliver on it.
Lightning in a bottle. There would be nothing better for the Buckeyes than hitting the road for this big matchup and getting off to a hot start. During their current six-game winning streak, Ohio State has outscored opponents 189-38 in the first half, including shutting out Penn State and Illinois. Last year against Michigan State in Indianapolis, the Spartans jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first half, and while the Buckeyes regained their composure to take a 24-17 lead in the third quarter, it felt like they spent all their energy digging out from the early hole they found themselves in.
If Ohio State is able to continue that trend from the last six games and get off to a fast start, they can take away the Spartan running game, which has been churning up yardage on the ground with Jeremy Langford. Connor Cook still has the tools to beat the Buckeyes through the air, but where Michigan State is best is when they are able to mix up the run and pass. If the Buckeyes are able to force Michigan State into a pass-heavy offense, Cook could make some mistakes with Ohio State's propensity to intercept passes and saddle the Spartans with an even bigger deficit.
Ohio State was able to take the Penn State crowd out of the game early in Happy Valley when they raced out to a 17-0 lead in the first half, so they are capable of going into a hostile environment and quieting the home crowd. Where Ohio State has to be better is when they come out of the halftime break to continue to keep the pressure on their opponent. A pick-six 6 some vanilla play-calling due to the knee injury to J.T. Barrett allowed Penn State to creep back into the game and force overtime. If the Buckeyes repeat that type of performance against Michigan State, they might not be so lucky. Michigan State is considerably better on the offensive side of the football and will be able to capitalize where the Nittany Lions weren't able to.
Defense, defense, defense. 2013 was full of many hardships on the defensive end for the Buckeyes, but they have rebounded in 2014. There has been a few spotty moments, but for the most part, the defense has held their own. In a game of this magnitude the Buckeyes are going to need continued strong play from the defense if they want to leave East Lansing with a victory.
The star of the defense so far this season is sophomore defensive end Joey Bosa, who has 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. The Buckeyes are going to need the Florida native to make his way into the backfield early and often on Saturday night to disrupt a Michigan State offense that has been flying high so far this year. For the most part, Connor Cook hasn't faced much adversity this season for the Spartans, so seeing Bosa in the backfield early in the game could get into the quarterback's head and force him into some mistakes that Michigan State hasn't been accustomed to.
But Bosa isn't the only star on the defensive end. Junior linebacker Joshua Perry is coming into his own this season, and had his breakout performance against Penn State this year with 18 tackles. The Buckeyes will need big plays from not only Perry, but also Curtis Grant, Darron Lee, and Raekwon McMillan if they have designs on bottling Langford and the Michigan State rushing attack. Ohio State certainly has the talent to shutdown the Michigan State offense, they just have to continue playing the way that they have been in the past few weeks.
Michigan State's biggest advantages
Green on green crime. If there is a Ohio State unit that Michigan State could exploit, it is the Buckeye offensive line. After seeing how Virginia Tech and Penn State harassed the Ohio State offense, the Spartans have the blueprint on just how to attack and slow down the Buckeyes. Add in the knee injury that Barrett suffered a couple weeks ago against Penn State and there is even more urgency for Shilique Calhoun and the rest of the Spartans to try and overwhelm the offensive line to get to Barrett.
Even if Barrett faces pressure, he has to maintain his poise because where Michigan State makes teams pay is in the turnover game. The Spartans are the best in the Big Ten and third in the FBS averaging a +1.5 turnover margin average per game. On the season, Michigan State has forced 22 turnovers and sit with a +12 turnover margin overall. With how Virginia Tech hounded Barrett into a number of turnovers in the second game of the season, the Spartans will surely dial up the pressure the offensive line will see.
Not only have the Buckeyes had some inconsistent play on the offensive line throughout the year, but they have also been undisciplined before the snap. Each week there seems to be a number of procedure and formation penalties on the offensive line. Ohio State can't afford to commit these type of penalties against an opponent that could make them pay for them. The Buckeyes may have been able to get away with some of these mistakes against lesser teams, but they'll be making an already difficult task even harder if they continue to make those mistakes against Michigan State.
Balance. This is without a doubt the most complete offense Ohio State has faced this season. The Buckeyes saw just how Cook and Langford could hurt them in the Big Ten Championship Game last year, and if they aren't careful, it could be a repeat performance on Saturday night. The Spartans are averaging 515 yards per game on the season, and do a great job of mixing up the run and the pass to keep opponents guessing. The unpredictability doesn't allow for opponents to load up to stop one aspect of the offense, because Michigan State will simply exploit the other.
After a little bit of a slow start to the season, Jeremy Langford has rounded into the form that Big Ten opponents saw towards the end of last season, rushing for over 100 yards in the last five contests. Not only do the Buckeyes have to be aware of Langford, but they can't sleep on running back Nick Hill, who is averaging 6.1 yards per carry and has found the end zone six times so far in 2014.
While for the most part Ohio State has been solid in the secondary, Michigan State has a weapon in the passing game who the Buckeyes will have to be aware of at all times. Tony Lippett is Michigan State's version of Devin Smith. The senior wide receiver is averaging 21.2 yards per reception this year, and aside from the Indiana game, has scored a touchdown in every one of Michigan State's games this year. Lippett has had three receptions of at least 60 yards this year, so the big play ability is definitely there. If the Buckeye secondary isn't on top of their game in covering Lippett, it could be a very long night for the defensive backfield.
Special ops. It is no surprise that a former assistant under Jim Tressel greatly values special teams. Under Mark Dantonio, Michigan State has a pair of kickers that could help to swing the game in their favor. Last year as a freshman, Michael Geiger burst onto the scene for the Spartans to hit 15 of 16 field goals for the Spartans on the way to a Rose Bowl championship, including hitting two field goals from 40+ yards in the Big Ten Championship game. This year has seen Geiger come back to earth a little, hitting only seven of the 12 field goals he has attempted, but he is still a dangerous kicker due to some of the high-pressure situations he excelled in last year.
Last year Michigan State punter Mike Sadler dropped 33 punts inside the 20-yard line, with 24 of those punts settling inside the 10-yard line. The performance of Sadler led to the season being named as a preseason All-American on a number of national lists. Much like Geiger, the stats of Sadler have dipped a little this year, but the experience he possesses could be a deciding factor in what is shaping up to be a tight game.
Ohio State has their own strong kicking game with Sean Nuernberger and Cameron Johnston, but the experience edge goes to Geiger and Sadler. While Nuernberger was able to hit a 49-yard field goal against Penn State, how will the freshman kicker hold up in a game of this magnitude? Add in some of the injuries that the Buckeyes have suffered on their kick coverage unit, and in a matchup that is predicted to be close, the smallest mistake could be the difference between a win and a loss.
F/+ Projection: Michigan State 31, Ohio State 29
Win Probability: Michigan State 58%
A week after a 64-7 F/+ predicted victory over Illinois, Ohio State finds themselves on the wrong side of the F/+ projection for the first time this season. With both teams having similar averages in a number of categories on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football, it is no surprise that the margin of victory for the Spartans is expected to be razor-thin.
What makes this matchup so hard to get a read on is both team's balance offensively. If one aspect of the offense isn't working, both teams are certainly capable of utilizing the other to work their way to a victory. This will be the best defense that both teams have faced so far this season so it is anybody's guess as to just how efficiently both of the high-powered offenses will be able to operate.
What gives Michigan State the slight edge in this matchup is the home field that they'll enjoy on Saturday night. The Spartans might be a little more battle-tested than the Buckeyes as well, having not only hung with Oregon for three quarters in Eugene, but also taking down Nebraska a month ago. Ohio State's toughest test so far on the road this season was at a struggling Penn State team, and there is the albatross of the Virginia Tech loss that becomes more and more puzzling each week. Either way, college football fans should be in for a great game on Saturday night when these two teams take the field.
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