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Michigan State’s path to beating Ohio State, requires Kenny Willekes, Brian Lewerke to bring their A-game

Never, and I mean NEVER, sleep on Michigan State.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the last couple of years, and the fact that the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes are 20-point favorites at home on Saturday, OSU fans should still get a little nervous with the Michigan State Spartans come to town. Forever engraved in our memories is Michigan State’s 17-15 walk-off victory in 2015 — the day MSU crushed our hopes, our dreams, and our playoff chances in the pouring rain.

While the Spartans aren’t exactly the Mark Dantonio-led powerhouse that they once were — they put up one touchdown against Arizona State at home and couldn’t stop Indiana from putting up 31 points — we all know that MSU teams show up to play Ohio State with guns blazing.

In true Dantonio and Co. fashion, MSU’s best chance of keeping this a close game will come from their top-rated defense. The unit ranks seventh in the nation in yards allowed per game (253.8) and sixth in the nation in yards allowed per play (3.93).

Ohio State’s offensive line has been taking care of business thus far, and there’s no reason to believe that they won’t continue to do so this Saturday, however MSU’s All-American and Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Kenny Willekes won’t make it easy for the big guys.

In just five games, the redshirt-senior defensive end has recorded 34 total tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and 11 quarterback hurries. Against Ohio State last season, Willekes recorded 13 tackles, including 3.5 for loss and a sack.

Willekes finished the 2018 season as MSU’s team MVP and the Big Ten’s Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year after recording 78 tackles, 20.5 for loss, 8.5 sacks, 12 quarterback hurries, and one fumble recovery. He broke his leg during their 6-7 loss against Oregon in the Redbox Bowl, but you wouldn’t know it. He’s picked up the 2019 season right where he left off.

Michigan State isn’t nearly as explosive on the other side of the ball (see Arizona State score), however quarterback Brian Lewerke leads the Big Ten in passing yards thanks to his offensive line who has only allowed four sacks — a number that will likely increase if Chase Young has anything to say about it.

During their 26-6 loss against Ohio State last year, the senior quarterback, who was battling a shoulder injury, completed 11 of 28 passes for 128 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. This performance more-or-less summed up Lewerke’s entire 2018 season, which he ended with a 54.3 pass completion percentage, eight touchdowns, and 11 interceptions.

It’s a new year, however, and Lewerke is a new quarterback, returning back to the form that he showed in 2017. He has 1,325 passing yards (compared to Ohio State quarterback Justin Field’s 1,092 passing yards), has completed 59.8 percent of his passes, and has thrown 10 touchdowns and one interception. He is the light in what is an otherwise fairly dim Michigan State offense.

Lewerke, Willekes, and the rest of the Spartans will have to bring an A+ performance in order to keep up with — let alone beat — the Buckeyes, who have been continuously described as “the most complete team in college football.”

But, Sparty’s done it before, to a defending national champion Buckeye team, no less. Luckily, Ohio State is coming off an electric win against Nebraska, a record of near-perfect play calling (unlike the 2015 Game That Shall Not Be Named), and rolling into a “Black Out the Shoe” homecoming game. It’s the perfect recipe to send the Spartans back to East Lansing with a 4-2 record.