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Three Things To Watch from Michigan State

The Buckeyes make their first road trip in 2022 versus the Spartans.

Minnesota v Michigan State Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

Ohio State will finally see what life on the road is like in 2022, as the Buckeyes will travel to East Lansing, Michigan, to take on their long-time B1G rival, the Michigan State Spartans. Michigan State is coming off three straight losses (at Washington, Minnesota, and at Maryland), and will be desperate to try to turn their season around.

This is somewhat of a first experience for Ohio State head coach Ryan Day. Day has been with the program since 2017, but he has never been to East Lansing as Ohio State’s head coach. Day was supposed to be on the sidelines against Michigan State in 2020, but was diagnosed with COVID and forced to watch his team from the comforts of his home. Ohio State, led by defensive line coach/associate head coach Larry Johnson, defeated Michigan State, 52-12.

Ohio State is a prohibitive favorite, and has not lost in East Lansing since 1999, when some guy named Nick Saban was the head coach of Michigan State. I wonder whatever became of that guy... Anyway, below are Three Things To Watch from Michigan State when the game kicks off on ABC at 4:00 p.m. ET.

  1. The Ohio State passing game vs. The Michigan State secondary

It would be charitable to say that Michigan State’s secondary is struggling. The Spartans rank 115th out of 131 teams in pass defense heading into this contest, and Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud has a lethal arsenal featuring wide receivers such as Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, and Julian Fleming. That is not even counting the emerging threat in recent games by tight end Cade Stover.

Will Michigan State attempt to play a deeper coverage, to minimize the damage of Ohio State’s passing game? It was a strategy used, to varying levels of success, by Ohio State’s earlier opponents this season. No matter what Mel Tucker and his defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton come up with, it will bear watching.

2. The Michigan State passing game vs. The Ohio State secondary

Ohio State’s secondary is not struggling statistically like Michigan State’s, as the Buckeyes rank 7th in pass defense efficiency. Ohio State’s struggles have come as a result of an accumulation of injuries that have forced inexperienced players into the lineup. Those players have performed well, but it is a cause for some attention, if not outright concern.

Michigan State’s Jayden Reed is arguably the Spartans’ most effective offensive weapon, and will likely be targeted by Spartans quarterback Payton Thorne throughout this game. The player I am intrigued to see in this game is Ohio State safety Ronnie Hickman, who is equally effective versus both the run and the pass. While I do not expect Hickman to draw primary coverage versus Reed, I do believe Hickman will be called upon to negate any deep plays that the Spartans may attempt versus the Buckeyes.

3. What role will special teams have in this game?

Both Ohio State and Michigan State suffered through some special teams miscues last week. Emeka Egbuka fumbled a punt early in the first quarter that led to Rutgers eventually scoring seven points, while Michigan State suffered through a missed field goal, a blocked field goal, and a botched extra point in their 27-13 loss at Maryland.

Special teams are that part of the game that fans usually overlook, until something drastically bad happens to draw their attention to what just happened on the field. Here is to hoping that Emeka Egbuka will no longer be attempting over the shoulder punt returns, as this could be the type of spark the Spartans are looking for to gain some momentum in their game versus the Buckeyes.

On our latest Silver Bullets Podcast, Michael Citro and I welcomed in our guest Ryan O’Bleness to discuss how we believe this game will turn out. Ryan was not overly optimistic, believing that Ohio State may dominate the Spartans as easily as they did last year in Columbus. It remains to be seen, but I believe Ohio State will be able to handle whatever Mel Tucker and Scottie Hazelton concoct defensively, and I have it Ohio State 56, Michigan State 7.