The top teams in the Big Ten meet in a marquee battle that lured ESPN's "College GameDay" to East Lansing.
The No. 20 Michigan State Spartans (3-1) are hosting the No. 14 Ohio State Buckeyes (4-0) and aiming to get another win over a ranked opponent. The Spartans defeated No. 24 Boise State in Week 1 but fell at No. 20 Notre Dame in Week 3. A second consecutive win over the Buckeyes would also go a long way toward let Urban Meyer know that the Spartans intend to be one of the perennial contenders programs during his tenure. Ohio State has yet to play Top 25 program this season and the early returns -- all wins -- haven't exactly been convincing.
"We've got a long way to go," Meyer told The Associated Press after the Buckeyes sweated out a 29-15 victory over lowly UAB last weekend. "The fact is we're a bend-and-break defense, which is painful to watch. And then we're not a methodically dominating offense. I mean, we're not a very good offense right now."
In order to get the better of a Michigan State team yielding just 11.8 points per game, Ohio State will have needed to make its offense more "methodically dominating" during the past week of practice. As noted by Mike Singer of CBSSports.com, Michigan State is near impossible to beat when it controls the time of possession, meaning that methodical may be just the ticket to defeat them.
Can Spartans quarterback Andrew Maxwell be his team's X-factor? Or will Braxton Miller lead the Buckeyes to a big road win?
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No. 14 Ohio State Will Defeat No. 20 Michigan State
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So far 2012 has been an emotional rollercoaster for Buckeye faithful. Throughout the first four games of the season, Buckeye fans have been forced to suffer through long stretches of frustration only to be followed by moments of brilliance and glimpses of the Ohio State Buckeye team that everyone is waiting to see under Coach Urban Meyer.
Take for example last week's outing against UAB. The Buckeyes slogged through an entire half of mistake ridden football only to score two touchdowns in two minutes before heading to the locker room. Just as frustrating is the lack of answers as Meyer tells us that the three things that concern him most are, "Offense, defense and the kicking game."
As the Buckeyes head to East Lansing to meet the Michigan State Spartans, the time has come for Ohio State to "play angry" as Meyer called it at the beginning of the season. Now that Michigan has proven to be, well, Michigan and Wisconsin finds themselves struggling the Ohio State/Michigan State Big Ten season opener could be the most important conference matchup of the season.
Michigan State demonstrated weakness in their passing game against Notre Dame and again in their struggles against Eastern Michigan. And while the Buckeyes have had their problems in the secondary, they have also forced seven turnovers so far this season which could play big in this game.
That leaves Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell and it's not like Ohio State defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers haven't spent the week (if not the entire season) preparing for him. Their ability to not only contain Bell but wrap him up and bring him down (a problem in past games) will be a huge factor. Expect the Buckeyes to put all efforts into stopping the Spartan running attack forcing Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell to prove himself in the air.
If the Buckeyes can contain the Spartan ground game and force them to pass, it could be a long day for Michigan State.
So far this season the Ohio State offense has centered on the play of quarterback Braxton Miller. He's provided a much needed spark and turned the game around on more than a few occasions. Miller's total carries has actually become a point of controversy among Buckeye fans. Concern over his 27 carries against UCF was met by criticism that he wasn't getting enough touches in games that followed. Whatever the case, stopping Miller will be a primary focus for the Michigan State defense.
Miller won't be the only threat coming out of the backfield though as Carolos Hyde is expected to return from injury. For the first time this season, both Hyde and Jordan Hall will be available to handle ground duties. So far this season Michigan State has done well against the run and they will be looking to make Ohio State face a formable secondary.
Early in the season the receivers were a problem for the Buckeyes but since then they have come of age. Michigan State will be the first true test as they face off one on one against an effective Spartan secondary. Go to man Devin Smith has already earned his spot on the highlight reels for the season with an amazing one-handed touchdown catch in the season opener against Miami. If he can establish confidence early, expect big things from him in this game.
Corey "Philly" Brown is also establishing himself in the receiving corps and look for Jake Stoneburner in the short game as Meyer looks to move the ball around.
Offensively for Ohio State, it may come down to the high pressure, quick attack passing game that the Buckeyes have been working to develop since Meyer came on board. Expect short, quick scoring drives in an attempt to put the Spartans on their heels early and keep them there.
Although the Buckeyes have been up and down so far this season, they know the gravity and importance of this game. Practice time is over and Meyer has made it perfectly clear what is expected and what it will take for Ohio State to come out on top. If the Ohio State football team lives up to the potential Buckeye fans know it can produce, Michigan State is in trouble.
Prediction: Ohio State 24, Michigan State 17.
Prediction: Ohio State 24, Michigan State 17.
Jim Lodico is the owner of The Buckeye Blog where he share his incredibly biased analysis of the Ohio State Buckeyes and the college sporting world. When he's not blogging Buckeyes he's a freelance writer and content marketing consultant.
Well, here come the Buckeyes again, whom the Spartans are lucky enough to beat maybe once a decade. Maybe this year it isn't luck that will lead Michigan State to a pair of victories over Ohio State in the same number of years.
Let's get right to it. In all honesty, the story of this game really boils down to whether or not the Spartan receiving corps can catch. The receivers, led by butterfingers Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett, have proven once and for-all that wide receivers can doom a team all by themselves. Dropping a dozen passes in a game just won't cut it. Even Spartan coaches are exasperated by the poor performance. It is the biggest weakness on the squad, bar none.
The Spartan defense leads the conference in half-a-dozen or more categories, and gave up a season-high 300 yards to Notre Dame. The Spartans defensive front is plugging holes, giving up just 69 yards per game and 2.5 yards per carry on the ground. The defense ain't one-dimensional, as the pass defense is also doing its job, allowing just 48 percent pass completions and only 24 percent third down conversions. This defense is LOADED with talent, experience, great coaching, and even better play-making.
On this team, the doubt is at wideout. It is these numbskulls who keep dropping passes, especially on third down or in the end zone; they're killing drives; they're eliminating any opportunity for Le'Veon Bell to really break out for a killer of a game. OK, against Eastern Michigan, the coaching staff just gave up and decided to just run Bell like crazy. But, against decent teams, there has GOT to be some balance on offense with the pass, and that rests... ummm.... in the hands of the receivers. Youngster Andrew Maxwell has been more than serviceable at QB, and hasn't been perfect but he has been more than adequate. When you hit a guy in the hands, and it is his position description to catch footballs, and he drops them over and over and over again... well it leads to the boo-birds at half time and the torching of the offensive playbook.
The Spartan defense will be able to handle every offense the rest of the way, including the Buckeyes -- they are that good, and that deep. The Buckeye's QB, Braxton Miller, attracts mistakes, and it is mistakes that are exposed and exploited by the Spartan defense. Michigan State's defense will be ready and will come to play. But, the question is... will MSU's offense do its part?
Only if the receivers hang onto the ball. Dion Sims, a giant of a man at tight end, has soft hands and is the go-to guy. But, how often can you depend on a 6-8, 280-lb man whose main task is to bore holes for LeVeon Bell? If the wideouts, those speedy, lanky guys, can hang onto the ball then the playbooks is opened up, drives are extended, gives Bell will have a 100+ yard afternoon. If receivers drop passes.... It will be a LONG day.
At the end of this discussion, the ES, coiffing a pint, listens to an old favorite at the Peanut Barrell and finalizes this conundrum via the prophetic rants of Tom Waits:
Sing along to 'Bad Liver and a Broken Heart' by Tom Waits:
I got a Bad Liver, and a Broken Heart
Them Spartans can't catch though the line plays hard
And, we don't have a passing problem, except when we can't catch a pass
Wish we had BJ and Kirk, they were quite a pair,
They were automatic; now we need a prayer
So welcome to this problematic saga, as Game Day comes to town
We are slumped, chumped, and pissed off at our receiving tools
So let's get these fools off the field, it's our defense that stars
With all our D-linemen and backers, yet we haven't been sackin'
It might be our epitaph, if we can't catch, yeah we have our path but come on and CATCH
Maxwell's a thrower, but he has no great aura
No, the Spartan D is grizzly, it's intimidating as hell,
And some guy's trying to bet on the Bucks,
ES told him to drink to the bottom of a bottle of bargain Scotch
We got us a defense and a team, it's a mountain of a dream,
You can name your offense, go on ahead and try to crack us
I ain't sentimental, being a Spartan is a perma-frost and its purgatory
And hey, what's your Urban story, well I don't even care
'Cause I got my John L and Bobby Williams stories to bear
So, I will see your Hudepohl, and I'll raise you one more.
And you can praise your Braxton Miller, I just can't take no more,
Gholston will douse Braxton's flames... fanned by Buckeye dames,
It ain't like dotting the I
At the end of the day, the Buckeye defense makes us say "who?"
After Le'Veon Bell smashes its line into two
Wiping away tears, the ES sez: Receivers catch a few, enough to move the chains, for the first time this year. Spartan Receivers 16, Buckeye's Braxtons 10.
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