A complete domination of visiting rival Illinois was a perfect tuneup for this weekend, when Ohio State heads to East Lansing for the first time since the 2012 season. The Buckeyes have won six consecutive games and will be looking for their biggest win of the season on Saturday night against the top 10 ranked Michigan State Spartans. The last time these two teams met was last year in the Big Ten championship game, where the Spartans knocked the Buckeyes out of the national championship and snatching the rights to the Big Ten title, with a 34-24 upset win. With new faces leading the way on offense, Ohio State is looking to avenge their disappointing loss and return the favor to Michigan State.
The Spartans have only one loss, Oregon, this season and because of the difficulty of that game, they have been able to rise back up and have been a consistent top ten team all season long. Led by an improved Connor Cook, Michigan State is already known for their balanced offensive attack while still maintaining a tough defense. The Spartans have rolled through the rest of their schedule, although have had a few close calls against Nebraska and Purdue.
We give you five things to look for on Saturday night when Ohio State takes on Michigan State:
J.T. Barrett ready to go
According to head coach Urban Meyer, the talented redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett has healed up from his sprained knee that he suffered against Penn State two weeks ago in a double overtime win. Against Illinois, Barrett played the entire first half and it was no surprise that by the second half, Cardale Jones checked in to replace him, to keep Barrett healthy and fresh for the Michigan State game this weekend.
This season, Barrett has thrown for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns (to 7 interceptions) while completing 65% of his passes. The youngster has been phenomenal in filling in for the injured senior quarterback Braxton Miller, and will try his best to lead Ohio State to an upset win over the Spartans. Look for Barrett to play cool and collected, much like he has all season.
Secondary looking for redemption
While some of the players in the secondary moved on to the NFL, much of the same team that allowed 304 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air remains. Players like Doran Grant and Tyvis Powell know what it felt like to lose that way, and I'm sure the younger guys like Eli Apple and Gareon Conley can appreciate that. If Ohio State wants to win Saturday night, they'll have to be laser sharp against Connor Cook and wide receiver Tony Lippett.
Ohio State's defense has improved since that 2013 team, but will face another huge test against Michigan State. Along with the aforementioned Cook and Lippett, the Buckeyes also have to prepare for running back Jeremy Langford, who put the nail in the coffin last year in the Big Ten championship game, slicing through the middle of the defense to put the Spartans up 10. Look for the Buckeyes to be focused and pumped up tomorrow night.
Passing of the torch
Last year, Ohio State senior running back Carlos Hyde was a man among boys on the football field, carrying the ball 208 times and rushing for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns. Hyde also averaged 7.3 yards per carry. Against Michigan State, Hyde got 18 carries and turned it into 118 yards and averaged 6.6 yards per carry when he went head-to-head with one of the nation's best defenses.
Now, it's Ezekiel Elliott's turn. The sophomore running back has had a great season, with 709 yards and five touchdowns on just 126 carries. He's played a huge part in keeping defenses honest and has been successful running against tougher defenses as well. It will be up to the coaching staff to keep his touches consistent and not go away from the running game early.
Level playing field
You would be hard pressed to find two more similar teams than Ohio State and Michigan State, statistically speaking. Looking at national rankings, the Buckeyes rank 55th in passing offense, 14th in rushing offense, 4th in scoring offense, and 17th in points against. The Spartans match up very well by ranking 44th in passing offense, 17th in rushing offense, 5th in scoring offense, and 22nd in points against.
Just looking at those numbers is fairly surprising to me. I hadn't been aware that the two teams were so even. Both teams have one loss on the year and both are looking to keep not just their Big Ten championship dreams alive, but also their only chances at making the first ever College Football Playoff. Look for a great game from two tough teams on Saturday night.
It's finally here. No more pizza.
I don't care how much Ohio State players (and even the coaches) say that they haven't been looking ahead at all, this is a gigantic game for the Buckeyes and has been ever since their loss to the Spartans last season. While there are some new faces in leadership roles, the goal remains the same and that is to beat Michigan State to keep Ohio State's hopes alive of making the College Football Playoff.
Head coach Mark Dantonio has, apparently, guaranteed a win over Ohio State this season which should make things even more interesting. Coach Meyer and his staff were simply outcoached last season, with the Spartans having an answer for everything Ohio State threw at them. Look for coach Meyer not to be eating Papa Johns tomorrow night.