After a painful loss to Oregon in the second game of the season, Ohio State has since rattled off eight-straight wins, including most recently an impressive 59-31 win over No. 19 Purdue in its last time out. The offense, while having its fair share of speedbumps, has looked completely unstoppable at times — like it did on Saturday — and the defense, while still not exactly playing at an elite level, has certainly improved over the course of the year. The Buckeyes now face their stiffest test yet, as they will match up with No. 7 Michigan State this week in a game that has huge ramifications on the Big Ten East race.
Garrett Wilson missed the team’s game against Nebraska with an undisclosed injury, reportedly being placed in the concussion protocol. It wasn’t certain during the week if he would be good to go against Purdue, but all signs pointed to him suiting up against the Boilermakers. Not only did Wilson return after a one-game hiatus, but he absolutely showed out in perhaps his best game at Ohio State. The junior wide receiver caught 10 passes for 126 yards and three touchdowns on the afternoon, while also adding a 51-yard rush for a fourth score.
As has been the case all season, this Buckeye wide receiver core is the best in the country, and is simply unguardable when operating at its peak. Next to Wilson, Jaxon Smith-Njigba put up a casual nine catches for 139 yards and a TD, while Chris Olave caught nine passes for 85 yards and a TD. Against a pretty good Boilermaker defense, C.J. Stroud was able to carve up the secondary to the tune of 361 yards and five TDs with zero turnovers, propelling himself up to No. 2 spot in the Heisman betting odds at +240 (behind only Bryce Young at +180). Add TreVeyon Henderson’s 98 yards rushing and two scores and you have yourself one of if not the best offense in the nation.
Things were not so great on the defensive end, where Ohio State allowed 31 points as Aidan O’Connell threw for 390 yards and four TDs himself. The Buckeyes have had a huge problem at safety this season since losing Josh Proctor to injury, and guys like Bryson Shaw and Sevyn Banks have continued to struggle in the secondary. The decision to play some of the team’s more run-oriented linebackers in Tommy Eichenberg and Teradja Mitchell over guys like Steele Chambers and Cody Simon against a pass-heavy Purdue team later in this game also did not help matters. David Bell went for 103 yards on 11 receptions, as he is one to do, but Ohio State’s pass defense simply must be better.
I don’t think it could possibly hurt to try some different personnel on defense — especially on the back end. I know this isn’t really the time to switch things up, but with how poorly Shaw and Banks have played, would there really be any downside to trying out some combination of guys like Kourt Williams, Marcus Williamson, Ryan Watts or even freshmen Jordan Hancock and JK Johnson back there? The worst possible outcome is that those guys play bad, which the current starters are already doing anyway! Regardless, for as good as Ohio State played against Purdue, especially in that first half, I think this team could be even better if they tried some new things.
Ohio State vs. Michigan State: Week 12 betting lines
(All odds courtesy of the DraftKings Sportsbook)
Spread: Ohio State -19.5
Mel Tucker deserves all the credit in the world for what he has been able to do with this Michigan State team. Many people, myself included, picked this team to finish at the very bottom of the Big Ten this season. Instead, they are now in a position to potentially win the Big Ten East if they are able to knock off Ohio State. The Spartans have already beaten one Top 10 opponent this season when they defeated Michigan a few short weeks ago, but going on the road and taking down the Buckeyes would be by far the biggest win in Tucker’s early tenure at the helm of the program.
A ton of Michigan State’s success this season can be attributed to the play of Kenneth Walker III, whom Tucker snatched from the transfer portal by way of Wake Forest. The FBS’ leading rusher has racked up 1,473 yards and 18 total touchdowns on the year, and has shined in some of the team’s biggest games. He has twice eclipsed the 200-yard mark this season, but one of his best performances came in the aforementioned win over the Wolverines, wherein he scored five times with 197 yards on 23 carries in the Spartans’ 37-33 come-from-behind victory, including the go-ahead touchdown with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Tossing the rock for Michigan State this year has been Payton Thorne, who has thrown for nearly 2,500 yards with 21 touchdowns to only eight interceptions. The passing attack has been headed by the talented wide receiver duo of Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor. Reed is the team’s leading receiver with 829 yards and seven TDs, while Nailor is right behind him with 587 yards and six TDs. Unfortunately for MSU, Nailor has missed the team’s last two games after suffering an injury in the Michigan game. It is unclear whether he will be able to return in time for this weekend’s matchup.
The real issue for the Spartans in this one, however, is how badly they’ve struggled against the pass this season. Ranking 111th in FBS overall in total defense, Michigan State ranks dead last in the country in passing defense, allowing a whopping 329 yards per game through the air. Against a team with wide receivers like Ohio State’s, that is a huge glaring issue, and likely a big reason why the line for this game is what it is. Tucker’s guys will probably be able to put up some points in this game, but it won’t matter all that much if they are unable to do anything to slow down the three-headed monster of Wilson, Olave and Smith-Njigba.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.