After many had Ohio State on “upset alert” last week before their trip to Nebraska, the Buckeyes silenced the doubters with a 48-7 win over the Cornhuskers. Now Ohio State returns home to take on a Michigan State team that has been a thorn in their sides at times in the past.
Bucks are bashing
The win over Nebraska extended Ohio State’s winning streak to 11 games, dating back to last season. The Buckeyes gashed Nebraska on the ground on Saturday night, racking up 368 rushing yards, which was their highest total since they ran for 410 yards against Rutgers in 2016. The 41-point win is Ohio State’s fourth straight win of at least 40 points, which is a feat that hasn’t been accomplished by a Big Ten team since the end of World War I.
What has allowed Ohio State to coast through their schedule so far this season is their ability to put their opponents away early. The Buckeyes have outscored their opponents 173-18 in the first half this year. Ohio State has only trailed once this year for about seven minutes, when Miami (OH) led the Buckeyes 5-0 before Ohio State took the lead for good and rattled off 76 unanswered points in the victory.
Ohio State’s kryptonite
Now Ohio State turns their attention to Michigan State. The Buckeyes are 60-5 against conference foes since 2012, but two of those losses have come to the Spartans. Michigan State beat Ohio State in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game, which was Urban Meyer’s first loss at Ohio State. Two years later, the Spartans down Ohio State 17-14 in Columbus. The loss was Ohio State’s lone loss in 2015, but was enough to derail the College Football Playoff hopes of the Buckeyes.
Michigan State has had plenty of success over the years when taking on ranked Ohio State teams. The Spartans own 10 wins over Ohio State when the Buckeyes enter the game ranked in the AP Top 25. Five of those wins have come when Ohio State is ranked in the AP Top 5. The Spartans have had a decent amount of success in on the road, with nine of Michigan State’s 15 wins over the Buckeyes have come in Columbus.
The dark of night
Night games are nothing new for Ohio State, but night games in Columbus aren’t all that common. The Buckeyes have played 88 games that have started at 5 p.m. local time or later, but 20 of those games have been played at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State is 15-5 in the 20 night games they have played at home, with the last night home game coming back in 2017 against Oklahoma.
To add to the ambiance inside Ohio Stadium on Saturday night, the Buckeyes will be wearing their black uniforms, and are encouraging all fans attending the game to wear black in an attempt to “black out the stadium”. This marks the third time the Buckeyes will be wearing black uniforms. The first time came in 2015, when the Buckeyes beat Penn State 38-10 in primetime. Last year the Buckeyes wore the black uniforms for the Nebraska game. Even though Ohio State won 36-31, it didn’t have quite the same effect since the game kicked off at noon.
Justin Fields has continued to impress in his first season with the Buckeyes. Fields is the only quarterback in the country with a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown in each of the first five games this year. The sophomore has 23 total touchdowns so far this year, with his 138 points accounted for ranking second in the nation.
Complimenting Fields in the backfield is running back J.K. Dobbins, who is second in the country with 654 rushing yards. Last week Dobbins joined an elite club, becoming the 11th Buckeye to rush for 3,000 yards in his career. The 177 yards Dobbins rushed for last week raised his career total to 3,110 yards, which is 10th all-time in school history. The junior needs 89 yards to pass Carlos Hyde for ninth place and 91 yards to move past Keith Byars.
Climbing the Hill
Another Buckeye who has his sights set on some milestones is wide receiver K.J. Hill. The senior is 86 yards away from 2,000 career receiving yards, which would make him the ninth Buckeye to reach that mark. Hill currently has 164 career receptions, and needs just two receptions to pass Michael Jenkins for third all-time. If Hill is able to haul in five passes, he’ll move past Cris Carter on Ohio State’s all-time receptions list.
The Arkansas product leads Ohio State this year with 20 receptions, and sits behind Binjimen Victor and Chris Olave in terms of receiving yards this year. Hill now has a receiving touchdown in four straight games, tying him with Olave for the team lead. Add in Austin Mack and the Buckeyes have four receivers who have at least 10 catches, 100 yards receiving, and a touchdown this season.
Silver Bullets back
The difference between last year’s Ohio State team and this year’s edition is the Buckeyes have a dominant defense to go along with a powerful offense. Ohio State is second in the nation this year, allowing opponents just 223.8 yards per game. The Buckeyes have yet to allow any of their opponents to gain over 300 yards of offense in 2019.
The Ohio State rush defense has been especially stingy, allowing just 425 yards through five games, which is their fifth-fewest total through five games since 1950. The Buckeyes did give up 184 yards rushing to Nebraska last Saturday, but 113 of those yards came on the last two drives of the Cornhuskers, when Ohio State already had the result in hand and were playing many of their backups.
Ohio State has had plenty of players impress on defense so far this year, but none more than Chase Young. The defensive end has dominated every game this year, recording eight sacks, which is the most in the country. Young now has a sack in seven consecutive games dating back to last season. Along with all of the sacks, Young has also forced three fumbles this year.
What a difference a year makes
The addition of Al Washington as linebackers coach has completely changed the output of the unit. Malik Harrison is leading the team with 25 tackles this year, eight of which have been for a loss. Along with Harrison, Baron Browning is finally showing the potential he had coming out of high school that made him such a highly touted recruit. Browning has 21 tackles through four games, and is tied for third on the team with four tackles for loss.
Chase Young is leading the defensive line, while Jeff Okudah is creating waves at cornerback for the Buckeyes. After the junior had gone his whole Ohio State career without an interception, Okudah has picked off three passes over the past two games. Okudah isn’t the only Buckeye who has found the football this season, as Ohio State already has seven interceptions this year after picking off just 11 passes last season.
State’s season so far
Michigan State comes into this game at 4-1 on the season, with their only loss coming to Arizona State last month. Since then, the Spartans have rebounded from the loss with wins over Northwestern and Indiana. While the result against the Wildcats was never really in doubt, the Hoosiers took Michigan State down to the wire. The Spartans needed a 21-yard Matt Coghlin field goal with five seconds left to secure the win, and added a defensive touchdown as time expired to make the final score 40-31. The 31 points Indiana scored snapped a 16-game streak in which Michigan State held opponents under 30 points.
Plenty of Ohio State coaching connections
Not only does Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio have ties to Ohio State, be he brings a number of assistant coaches who worked for the Buckeyes in the past. Dantonio was a graduated assistant on Earle Bruce’s staff in 1983 and 1984, and returned to Columbus as defensive coordinator on Jim Tressel’s staff from 2001-03.
Michigan State’s offensive line coach is Jim Bollman, who was the offensive coordinator at Ohio State from 2001 to 2011. Bollman served as Michigan State’s offensive coordinator from 2013-18 before Brad Salem took over at the position and Bollman moved to offensive line coach.
A couple of Michigan State’s defensive coaches should be familiar to Ohio State fans. Mike Tressel, is the nephew of former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, and was a graduated assistant for the Buckeyes in 2002 and 2003. Paul Haynes is currently Michigan State’s secondary coach. Haynes was Ohio State’s defensive backs coach from 2005-10 and served as co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach in 2011.
Lewerke’s last stand
After a disappointing 2018 season that was marred by injury, Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke is leading the Big Ten in passing yards, completions, and has the second-most passing touchdowns in the conference. Last year Lewerke threw just eight touchdowns and was intercepted 11 times, but this year already has thrown 10 touchdowns and just one interception.
The fifth-year senior now has passed for over 6,000 yards and rushed for over 1,000 yards in his career, joining Drew Stanton as the only Michigan State quarterbacks to surpass those marks. With all of Lewerke’s success he has struggled mightily against, Ohio State though. In two games against the Buckeyes, Lewerke has completed just 29 of 64 passes for 259 yards and thrown three interceptions.
A solid start
It’ll likely be tough for Michigan State to get much going on the ground against Ohio State’s tough rushing defense, but the Spartans will likely use Elijah Collins when they hand the football off. The redshirt freshman is Michigan State’s leading rusher so far this season, rushing for 413 yards and three touchdowns. Collins’ best performance came against Western Michigan when he ran for 192 yards on just 17 carries.
One reason why Brian Lewerke is leading the Big Ten in passing is because of how often he has found Darrell Stewart so far this season. The senior is leading the Big Ten in receptions and receiving yards. So far this year Stewart has caught 35 passes for 556 yards. Along with Stewart, the Buckeyes will have to keep tabs on Cody White, who has caught 20 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns so far this year.
Once again, Michigan State is defined by a dominant defense. The rush defense is started off the year by forcing Tulsa into -73 yards rushing, and since then is fourth in the country so far this year with just 55.8 rushing yards per game allowed. Overall, Michigan State’s defense is seventh in the country with just 253.8 yards per game allowed.
The Michigan State defense is led by Kenny Willekes, who has 34 tackles, four sacks, and two fumble recoveries this season. Willekes was a force for the Spartans last season, registering 20.5 tackles for loss, and he went on to be named Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. Willekes’ 41.5 tackles for loss are the most among active FBS players.
Raequan & the Panasiuks
Willekes isn’t the only talented Michigan State player on the defensive line, as the Spartans have three other players who can make a big impact on the game. Defensive tackle Raequan Williams has 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble this year, and is joined on the inside by Mike Panasiuk. At the other defensive end is Jacub Panasiuk, who already has five tackles for loss and two forced fumbles this season.
Behind the Michigan State defensive line is one of the most active players in the country. Linebacker Joe Bachie leads the Big Ten with 47 tackles this season. For his career, Bachie has 260 tackles in 37 games, 23.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, five interceptions, five forced fumbles, and 11 pass breakups. Surprisingly Ohio State has done a good job at keeping Bachie in check, with the linebacker recording just nine tackles against the Buckeyes in two meetings.
Rounding out the defense is a pretty experienced secondary. At the corners are senior Josh Butler and junior Josiah Scott. Both cornerbacks have four pass breakups this year, with Scott also having one of the team’s six interceptions this season. At free safety is David Dowell, who is another senior. Dowell has seven career interceptions, which is the most among active players on Michigan State’s roster. The strong safety is Xavier Henderson, who is the youngest of the starters at defensive back, as he is a sophomore.
Despite all of the trouble Michigan State has given Ohio State over the years, the Buckeyes are nearly a three touchdown favorite in this game. When Michigan State puts everything together, they are one of the toughest teams in the Big Ten to beat. The problem with the Spartans is they are too inconsistent on offense. Michigan State sputtered at times in the season opener against Tulsa, and they were dreadful against a tough Arizona State defense.
Even though Michigan State has a strong core of defensive linemen and linebackers, the Ohio State offense presents a challenge that the Spartans might not be ready for. Kenny Willekes is one of the best defensive ends in the country, but Ohio State’s offensive line is playing at a high level right now. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Willekes put some pressure on Justin Fields’, but the quarterback has enough mobility to get away from the defensive end.
On the other side of the football, Brian Lewerke will have Chase Young getting after him all game, which will open things up for the rest of the Ohio State defense to make plays. Even with the mobility that Adrian Martinez possesses, the Buckeyes made the Nebraska quarterback look awful last week. More of the same could be seen from Lewerke this week.
With the atmosphere at Ohio Stadium on Saturday night, expect the Buckeyes to play with some extra fire. It’s hard to see J.K. Dobbins having a whole lot of success against Michigan State’s stout rushing defense, but Ohio State has so many other weapons of offense that they’ll be able to put some points on the board. If Indiana was able to put up 31 on the Spartans in East Lansing, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Buckeyes get at least that many points. Ohio State’s streak of wins by at least 40 points ends, but the Buckeyes look impressive before one of their bye weeks.