"We got stuffed a couple times against Maryland and we may have over-evaluated some things because of that."
-Offensive coordinator Tom Herman (via Cleveland.com)
Every Ohio State fan keenly remembers the sting of that failed 4th-and-2 in the B1G Championship game last season. The 2013 Buckeyes were built to succeed on short yardage, with the ridiculous combination of Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde punishing opponents on rushing downs all year. For any number of reasons, the Buckeyes seem to have lost that part of their identity this season. Cleveland.com's Doug Lesmerises profiles some of those reasons here, including the one cited by Coach Herman. Ohio State has not been great on short yardage this season, and according to Lesmerises, that might doom the Buckeyes to a second straight defeat at the hands of the Spartans.
Michigan State's front seven are going to be relentless on Saturday, and that could spell trouble for a team that hasn't done a great job moving the ball with the box stacked against them. The Buckeyes certainly have weapons in open space, so if the coaching staff does decide to abandon the push-the-pile approach completely on short yardage, there are other options. Quick-hitting screens to the speedy playmakers at Urban Meyer's disposal might be one way to move the chains against teams defending the run. Barrett is almost never under center, but play-action calls from that formation could also provide a chance to succeed by using a look that other teams really haven't seen from Ohio State.
Lesmerises picks the Spartans to beat the Buckeyes again this season, for several reasons (the first being the short-yardage woes). Others include the dominant Michigan State offensive line (which will be less willing to let Joey Bosa wreak havoc in the backfield), the connection between QB Connor Cook and WR Tony Lippett (especially given the play of OSU's secondary this season), the destroyer of worlds that is MSU defensive end Shilique Calhoun, and Mark Dantonio's penchant for pulling out trick plays to bury his opponents.
"According to the Predictalator...Michigan State wins over Ohio State 61.2% of the time and by an average score of 30-22."
-Wall Street Journal's Prediction Machine
Along with Lesmerises, the WSJ isn't high on Ohio State's chances this weekend, either. Their analyses show that the Spartans definitively have the upper hand heading into Saturday's contest--not surprising, given the respective rankings and opponents of each team. The WSJ is even kind enough to outline how you might bet on this game given the models they've run, if you're into that sort of thing.
One area highlighted by the model that is kind of surprising is the fact that the Buckeyes, for all of their talent at rushing the passer, are actually allowing sacks at almost the same rate as they are creating them. This is probably an inevitability when playing a spread offense with a mobile quarterback, but in context it makes the Spartans look much better in the pass rush overall, since they create a lot of sacks but have only allowed 5 all season. Still, MSU has yet to face a pass rusher of Joey Bosa's caliber, so it remains to be seen whether that line can continue to hold up at its current level of play.
"Smith's frustration grew so great that he briefly contemplated leaving the team. Again, he leaned on his family to get through it."
-Bill Rabinowitz, The Columbus Dispatch
The Dispatch's BuckeyeXtra blog put out a cool profile of senior WR Devin Smith this week that's definitely worth a read. Smith, who caught what was to be the deciding touchdown against Michigan State in a Buckeye victory in 2012, has been Ohio State's most reliable deep threat since he first set foot on campus. His ability to play that role became most evident when, as a freshman in 2011, he caught a Braxton Miller touchdown bomb in the final minute to upset Russell Wilson's Wisconsin team. It's been an up-and-down journey since.
This is the first season in Smith's career that he has a lot of competition for the marquee grabs in games. It's been a difficult transition for Smith. To go from the go-to guy to someone sharing the load is never easy, especially when it comes in a senior season and the touches are being ceded to freshmen. J.T. Barrett is also much more of a short-to-medium range passer, a skill-set that doesn't take advantage of Smith's vertical game the way Braxton Miller's did.
Smith has utilized his family as a support system to get through the tough times he's had in Columbus of late. Rabinowitz points to Smith's family being the first people he found in the stands after the TD in that Michigan State victory, as well as them being one of the things that helped Smith get past the psychological scarring from a frightening car accident he was in over the summer. Give the full profile a read.
"The increase moved Meyer's basic annual compensation from the school to nearly $4.5 million and likely puts him among the five most highly paid public-school football coaches."
-Steve Berkowitz, USA Today Sports
It's probably not surprising that Urban Meyer is now one of the best-compensated coaches in college football. He's got one of the most impressive résumés among active coaches, with an outstanding win-loss record and plenty of hardware. His current salary comes after his pay was raised by about a third of a million dollars following the 2013 season. Meyer received the raise on the recommendation of AD Gene Smith, though it had to be vetted by a number of school officials before approval.
This reflects about an 8% increase in his annual pay. Meyer's salary puts him among Alabama's Nick Saban, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Texas' Charlie Strong, and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin in the top tier of highly-paid coaches. This seems about right, given that the other names on that list also represent some of the biggest and most visible programs in college football. Meyer will receive an additional $750K if he's the Ohio State head coach on January 31st, 2016. Here's hoping he collects that check and many more to follow.