Sure, both teams are ranked and both teams are sitting about where most people thought they would be at the opening of conference play. Ohio State(4-0)comes into this game having cleaned up at home against four unranked opponents, and even those tasks weren’t accomplished too smoothly at times. Michigan State(3-1)opens up Big Ten play at home with their sole loss this year coming at the hands of #10 Notre Dame. On the surface one might think that this would be a contest between two very good teams, but only if one hadn’t been paying much attention thus far. Ohio State was expected to struggle some this season as they tidy up the house and install the schemes of the much celebrated Urban Meyer. Michigan State was expected to perhaps struggle some in the passing game while starting a new set of receivers and a new(albeit thoroughly prepared)quarterback. It’s difficult to tell just how much OSU has progressed given their foes this year, and MSU played its worst game of the season last week against what should have been a grossly outmatched Eastern Michigan squad. There have easily been more questions raised than answers given through the first four weeks on the part of both teams, so this week should if nothing else help to define each of them more clearly.
Ohio State has one of the more dynamic athletes in the country playing quarterback for their team, and job one for the Spartan defense will of course be to coral Braxton Miller and not allow him to break the game open. Although MSU has plenty of experience defending dual-threat types at quarterback, between Miller’s unquestionably expansive skill set and Urban Meyer’s impressive game plans this will be a particularly tall order. Look for State to attempt to hem Miller in and force him to throw quickly. If they can pressure him and not allow him to get outside of the pocket too often then I believe the defense will be able to largely contain the Buckeye attack and keep the game close. Miller is a good passer(60-98, 754 yds., 7 TD, 2INT)on top of having well over 100 yards rushing in each of his first two games this year. Regardless of who else the Buckeyes suit up on offense, this guy is easily the key. The Spartan Dawgs must play HUNGRY this week.
The above photograph illustrates what cannot happen this week. In addition to the drops and numerous other problems afflicting the passing attack, MSU can’t afford to have Maxwell looking up from his backside most of the day. Notre Dame came in with their 3-4 alignment and employed a solid strategy which confused the Spartan front and left Maxwell having to deal with guys pouring down on him unblocked. Sure, Ohio State likely can’t match the personnel that Notre Dame has on defense but they easily can bring a pressure look on defense and force MSU out of their lone comfort zone known as giving the ball to Le’Veon Bell. There really is no reason for OSU to do anything other than challenge the Spartans to throw the ball long, since MSU has shown little ability to do so. As incredible and powerful as Bell is, the Spartans will not be able to ride him to victory against Big Ten competition. There will be no easy way out of this game as there was against Eastern Michigan if the passing game doesn’t materialize. Maxwell(81-143, 869 yds, 3 TDs, 3 INTs) and company have struggled most in the first half(all of his INTs came in the first half of games)and, not surprisingly, on third down and 7 or more to go. If ever there was a time for receivers to start catching the ball, it is now.
Aside from TE Dion Sims, there hasn’t been much reliability in the receiving corps. Heck, the wideouts have been about as flashy and reliable as a Yugo, let’s be honest. One of the few bright spots this season was the game Bennie Fowler had against Central Michigan. Eight receptions, 100 yards, and a touchdown. Against EMU, you ask? Hey, he still led all wide receivers, but sadly it was with 4 catches for 19 yards. If not for Sims and his productive day(6 rec., 112 yds., 1 TD)the Spartans would have been almost completely and utterly grounded. However, if there is to be a spark out of the receiving crew it will most likely come from Fowler at this point. He is as elder a statesman as MSU can muster among all the youth at the position and hopefully will be the first one to recover from the butter-finger virus.
I paint a lovely portrait, don’t I? Nothing would please me more than to tell you that Michigan State is going to destroy the Buckeyes today, but one can only look through the battered green and white goggles for so long before he must remove them for a less obscured view. This will be a hard fought game between two teams trying to make a statement about where their seasons are heading. If the Spartans can manage to be even respectable through the air then I feel as though victory shall be theirs. Conversely, if the same old Keystone Kops routine is on display then I don’t see any chance for MSU to pull this one out. Three yards and a cloud of dust isn’t going to get it done.