Preview: #14 Ohio State at #20 Michigan State

By Kyle Rowland on September 28, 2012 at 1:00p
The Michigan State offense.
Ohio State Buckeyes #14 Ohio State 4-0, 0-0 Big Ten Roster | Schedule 3:30 PM ET - ABC —— Spartan Stadium East Lansing, MI Michigan State Spartans #20 Michigan State 3-1, 0-0 Big Ten Roster | Schedule

The rankings tell you Ohio State-Michigan State is the game of the week. So does ESPN College GameDay’s presence in East Lansing. After all, Ohio State is 4-0 and ranked 14th in the country, while Michigan State is 3-1, its lone loss coming to resurgent Notre Dame, and ranked No. 20.

Closer inspection reveals that the jury is still out on both teams. The Buckeyes welcomed Urban Meyer as their new head coach, but transitional years are never easy, regardless of how good the coach might be.

Ohio State was 2-6-1 in Wes Fesler’s first season as head coach in 1947. Woody Hayes’ tenure got off to a rocky start when Ohio State completed a 4-3-2 campaign in 1951. John Cooper’s 1988 Buckeyes were 4-6-1, and, in 2001, Jim Tressel’s first season, Ohio State finished 7-5. All told, it adds up to 17 wins, 20 losses and four ties. Everyone except Tressel lost to Michigan in that first season.

The outlier in the equation is Earle Bruce, whom Meyer served under as a graduate assistant in the 1980s. Tasked with replacing the legendary Hayes, Bruce went 11-0 in the regular season in 1979, but lost in the Rose Bowl to USC with the national championship on the line.

Meyer is going for the Bruce route. So far he is walking in those same undefeated footsteps, though he knows better than to think it’s all gravy from here till November. The too-close-for-comfort non-conference slate is over. Now comes Big Ten season and, with it, added importance.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Meyer said. The Buckeyes have struggled offensively and defensively in all or parts of the season’s first four games. Special teams, Meyer’s crown jewel, also looked out of sorts in Ohio State’s 29-15 win over Alabama-Birmingham last Saturday.

The Michigan State defense has lived up to its billing – it ranks sixth nationally in total defense – but replacing quarterback Kirk Cousins has been a chore. Andrew Maxwell backed Cousins up for two seasons and soaked up information from the three-year starter. But it hasn’t translated on the field yet.

Maxwell has just three touchdowns on the season and the same amount of interceptions while completing 56.6 percent of his passes. This past weekend, Maxwell and the Spartans had all they could handle from lowly Eastern Michigan before finally pulling away for a 23-7 victory.

“It's frustrating,” Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said. “I think it’s very important that we play with great confidence in whatever we do. I felt like that was lacking a little bit. We need to get back to be able to do that.”

To help make sure the team’s focus is where it needs to be, Dantonio shut down all media access this week.

“I felt like we needed to do that because we needed to come closer together as a football team,” Dantonio said. “Has nothing to do with the press as much as it does with how we handle ourselves, our team, what we need to be dealing with and thinking about. I sometimes think that media talk and pressure sort of gets them thinking in different directions. I wanted to close our group and concentrate on us.”


Following the winningest two seasons in program history, Michigan State had high hopes for 2012. Despite back-to-back 11-win seasons, the ultimate goal – the Rose Bowl – still wasn’t accomplished. On Saturday, the trail to Pasadena begins for the Spartans.

But it will be more difficult than previously expected. Maxwell has not performed as well as many thought he might and the new corps of wide receivers has been underwhelming. It’s resulted in the team not being as dominant as predicted. Michigan State struggled against a Boise State team that lost 17 starters and Eastern Michigan. Notre Dame won 20-3, but the issues in that game lay mostly with the offense.

“I think Andrew Maxwell can throw the ball very effectively,” Dantonio said. “I think our offensive line has experience. I think we got a great tight end in (Dion) Sims. So we have some things. We just have to put it together and play more confidently and allow things to sort of flow.”

One part of the offense that is just fine is running back Le’Veon Bell. He’s averaging more than 150 yards per game, third-most in the country, and has made himself a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. Bell rushed for 217 yards against Boise State and a career-high 253 yards against Eastern Michigan.

A good chunk of Ohio State’s defensive problems relate to tackling. Bell, 6-foot-2 and 244 pounds, doesn’t sound like he’s easy to bring down. The trick this season has been gang tackling. Notre Dame had success after the initial hit on Bell by having multiple defenders there to finish the job.

“(Tackling against UAB) was not a finished product by all means, but it was much better than it was the week before,” Meyer said. “The aggressiveness of our back end of our defense right now is a little bit of a concern, and that's being discussed. And we have some thoughts on that for this week because you have to.”

Michigan State’s defense has been the unit keeping the team afloat. It ranks atop several statistical categories in the Big Ten – total defense, rush defense, pass efficiency defense and scoring defense. The Spartans have yielded just three offensive touchdowns in four games.

Almost everyone returns from last year’s unit that completely overwhelmed then-freshman Braxton Miller in Ohio Stadium. Michigan State had nine sacks, limited Ohio State to less than one yard per rushing attempt and held the Buckeyes scoreless for 59 minutes, 50 seconds.

“I think we’ve seen some good defenses in my career,” Meyer said, “and this is one of the best.”

William Gholston, a cousin to former Buckeye Vernon Gholston and best friend of current Buckeye and high school teammate Johnathan Hankins, is the man who leads the defensive line. Gholston can get to the backfield effectively. The All-American candidate has 14 tackles, including one sack, on the season. Marcus Rush is the other end. He, too, can create problems for the opposing line.

The linebackers are one of the best groups in the country – Max Bullough and Denicos Allen lead them. Bullough has distinguished himself as one of the nation’s top linebackers. Already, he has a team-leading 26 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. Allen, an Ohioan, has 17 tackles and one sack. Chris Norman, who fills the “star” position, has 19 tackles.

There’s no dropoff when you reach the secondary. Akron native Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard are two of the finest cornerbacks in the conference. Adams’ season statistical sheet is already stuffed. He has 12 tackles, including three for loss and one sack, an interception and four passes broken up. Dennard is the Spartans’ third-leading tackler with 20 tackles.

“I think Adams is a very good player,” Meyer said. “It's no secret what they're doing. They walk up on you and say, 'I got you,' and the other guys go stomp something else. So the challenge will be there again, and that's for us to move the ball on offense. That's going to be a big part of what we have to do.”

Buckeye Breakdown

It has been talked about all week, and it remains the biggest storyline for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde are finally healthy at the same time, meaning the backfield could be a so-called three-headed monster.

With Hall and Hyde in the game together, the Michigan State defense will be on its heels not knowing what Ohio State may have in store for them. Creativity could be needed to trip up the conference’s best defense. When Meyer was at Florida, he was known for keeping the playbook conservative against “lesser” opponents and then opening it up when needed. Saturday is one of those days where the full set of plays will be needed. 

“We have a big challenge this weekend with the skill that Ohio State has, the formations, the different things they do, the schematics, the no-huddle offense,” Dantonio said. “It's up-tempo. They're speed it up, be on the ball in 10 seconds, 15 seconds. There's a lot of different things we have to look at relative to them. But it will be a great challenge for us.”

The expectation is that Michigan State will use a lot of man coverage while loading up at the line of scrimmage. That will force Miller to be accurate, not necessarily his strength. Factor in the Spartans’ stout secondary and Miller could be forced to deal with a repeat of 2011. The Buckeyes are 99th in passing yards, averaging less than 200 per game. But Devin Smith has shown a propensity for appearing at the right moment in big games. Corey “Philly” Brown and Jake Stoneburner are also reliable targets.

Urban Meyer's first road game could be treacherous.

Getting a lead early on the road is always an objective because it takes a hostile crowd out of the game. Ohio State hopes to do that with Spartan Stadium’s 80,000 occupants on Saturday.

“I think going on the road is sometimes overrated,” Meyer said. “Going on the road against a team that you're far superior, that's not a big deal. Going on the road against this outfit, this is a significant challenge for us.”

Another factor is forcing Maxwell to play from behind. He’s been inconsistent throughout the season, but against Notre Dame, a game Michigan State trailed a majority, Maxwell could not put together sustained drives. Earlier this week, Dantonio shouldered the blame, saying he went away from the run – the Spartans’ bread-and-butter – too quickly.

Ohio State is 1-5 in its past six games when allowing a 100-yard rusher. On the other side, Michigan State is 20-1 since 2010 when outrushing its opponent. When they rush for 200 yards or more as team, the Spartans are 16-2 since 2007. Ohio State owns the 33rd-best defense against the run, surrendering 118 yards per game. 

The dominant Ohio State defensive line – or so everyone was told – has not been so intimidating through four games. Now they will go up against an offensive line that has opened up holes the size of Crater Lake. Meyer said he felt like Michigan State’s offense was a better-suited opponent for the defense because of its power style.

Ohio State will be in its base defense much of the day. Storm Klein and Curtis Grant could each play, but the expectation based on the past two weeks is that Klein will get a majority of the snaps at middle linebacker.

The Buckeye corners will play more man-press coverage this week, which should limit the number of short-yardage passing gains. That was something that plagued the Ohio State defense the first four games. Whether it was screens or dinking and dunking their way down the field, opponents have been able to gash the defense on short-yardage pass plays.

“I think our defense is kind of built for this,” Meyer said. “It’s not built for sideline to sideline and dinking and dunking.”

How it Plays Out

Spartan Stadium can get loud when it wants to, but it’s not known as one of the loudest or toughest venues in college football. That is beginning to change. Michigan State has won 16 of its past 17 games in East Lansing, the loss coming to Notre Dame two weeks ago, snapping a 15-game home winning streak.

It’s still early in the season – we aren’t even to October yet – but it has the feel of a must-win for each team. Without a bowl game, the first loss immediately changes the complexion of the Buckeyes’ season. Yes, they can win a Leaders Division trophy, and that accomplishment would be meaningful, but an undefeated season is the clear goal. Another loss for the Spartans, dropping their record to 3-2, could signal the panic button on a much-anticipated season. Depending on how the game plays out, faith also could be lost in Maxwell.

Throughout the week the focus has been on Ohio State’s defense vs. Bell and the dominance of Michigan State’s defense in Columbus last season. Obviously, Miller is a completely different player than he was in that game, which was just his second career start. Maxwell, however, is in a similar position to the 2011 Miller. Bell could beat Ohio State by himself, but the chances are not very good. At some point, Michigan State will need Maxwell to make a completion (read: something with the game on the line).

The past three seasons, Michigan State has posted a 10-1 mark in games decided by 10 points or fewer. The only loss came against Wisconsin last season in the Big Ten championship game. That mark will grow to 10-2 this weekend.

Ohio State 21, Michigan State 20


Comments Show All Comments

kr66osu's picture

Thank goodness for a non-noon kickoff
I'm begging you defense, please just turn in an avearage performance at least! We can't keep giving up 400+ yards when we start to play better teams.

Culp's Freaking Hill's picture

Love the 3:30 slot.

Twitter: @conquestnorman

WC Buckeye's picture

Bell can't win it by himself. Here's hoping that the Silver Bullets put a good stick on him the first couple of times he totes the pigskin. An early fumble would be really nice.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

osu07asu10's picture

I think the offense gets off to a quick start and the defense holds on. osu 27 msu 13

CJDPHoS Board of Directors // Best friends with Homey Hache

The 0 is silent.

Doc's picture

I hope the defense and the offensive line show up. I'm thinking we have a good chance against Sparty.  Come on Bucks prove me right!

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The Official DDS of 11W

Sgt. Elias's picture

I'm starting to get nervous. 

"Okay -- I've got an El Camino full of rampage here." 

jthiel09's picture

I have a feeling our defense will look much better this game, as Meyer said our defense is more suited for this. With almost everyone healthy on all the defensive fronts and that three headed machine of a running threat present for the first time all season this could be a glimpse as to what's in store for teams for the rest of the year.
By the way what is Corso's record when he picks Ohio State? For some reason I thought it was relatively good, I could be wrong.
Go Bucks!


buckeyedude's picture

what is Corso's record when he picks Ohio State? For some reason I thought it was relatively good, I could be wrong.

Although I like Lee, his predictions are not based on logic, they are based on which school has the best looking mascot head.




JJB's picture

I'm excited to see the "Hyde-ra".

It has been talked about all week, and it remains the biggest storyline for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde are finally healthy at the same time, meaning the backfield could be a so-called three-headed monster.


Squirrel Master's picture

I totally believe OSU is the better team. Now who is the most ready team, that might be MSU. We'll see. I say Maxwell makes the mistake of the game and allows OSU to win it by a touchdown or less.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

nickma71's picture

Paul Brown, the true father of the "west coast offense" knew that it is easier to get that 7 yard pass than a 7 yard run.

Ethos's picture

Not to sound sarcastic, but have any of you ever actually picked AGAINST the buckeyes on here?  
I just don't see us pulling this one off.  I hope they prove me wrong, but so much has gone wrong over the last 4 games that I feel like we don't have it put together just yet to win in someone elses stadium, let alone MSU's.  He's had 4 games to show some kind of offense, and it feels to me like we've won in spite of our troubles instead of because of our offense.  You never know, but somehow I feel like tomorrow's game is going to be either wake up call to show us how good we actually are, or a wake up call to the rest of the country to watch out for the new empire.  Hopefully it's the latter.  My pick, 24-21 MSU

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

Alex's picture

I had 21-17 Sparty FWIW....I do truly believe if the defense starts to gel and bring it together and the offense is clicking fluently that this could get ugly for Dantonio and the boys...even if the D isn't "on key", Sparty can't outshoot us...I personally think this is OSU's offense vs Sparty defense...winner of that battle wins this game

Ethos's picture

Yes I agree with the battle, but I feel the majority of the "picks" so far have been more hope then reality.  Again, hope i'm wrong of course.
I haven't seen anything out of the linebacking corp minus you know who and that is who you need to stop a runner like Bell.  A guy like AJ Hawk who is awful as pass defense, but is basically a cement wall for the run game.  Just don't have that guy.  We also don't have an offensive line that seems to be able to stay still for longer then a few seconds.  UAW was ALL OVER Miller, and that is not a good sign.  I feel like Gholston is licking his chops.  I just don't have a good feeling about this game.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

buckeyedude's picture

I feel the majority of the "picks" so far have been more hope then reality.

College football IS my escape from reality. It's my drug. And it's legal.
Go Buckeyes!



Maestro's picture

MSU didn't lose a home game in '10 or '11, but this season they have squeaked out a win over Boise, lost to ND, and had a 9-7 lead on Eastern Michigan in the 4th quarter.  Home field is always a good thing, but I don't think this is not the same MSU team that we saw the past 2 seasons.

vacuuming sucks

Ethos's picture

Sure, and this is probably just the worry buckeye in me, but we haven't exactly impressed vs our lower opponents either.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

Maestro's picture

nice double negative by me edit button fail.

vacuuming sucks

buckeyedude's picture

I don't not give "up votes" for grammatical and spelling errerz.



BuckGuy003's picture

I dont usually pick against them unless its bama. They can come out and be fantastic it just depends which team shows up ya know? plus i dont like picking against my bucks

bigbill992001's picture

You're right.    Every game is THE game that the Bucks are gonna put it all together and kick ass.    Hasnt happend yet.    All 4 games so far have been pretty much carbon copies.    The issues we had in the 1st game are still with us.    Is the Urbmeister sandbaggin'?    I sure hope so.    Undefeated season?............get real, people.

RBuck's picture

I think we're going to see an OSU offense totally different than what we've see so far this season. / fingers crossed.

Long live the southend.

hodge's picture

This.  The difference between last year and this year is that our offense has proven that it has the potential to be a great unit, as opposed to the grinding and predictable Walrusball unit of a year ago.  Every time our offense sputtered, I got the feeling that Meyer and Herman were stubbornly trying to establish different, non-Braxton parts of the game, so that those functions--which would normally be abandoned after one drive against a solid opponent--were abandoned quickly.  I think that Meyer opens up the playbook a lot more this week, and we see Miller doing whatever he can do advance the ball downfield (where he has been hesitant in a lot of ways since that Miami game).
The Cal game showed me that when OSU's feet are to the fire, Braxton can will this team to points.  I think/hope we see that offense all day tomorrow in East Lansing.

cajunbuckeye's picture

What Hodge said.

An angry fan...rooting for an angry team...led by angry coaches

OSUBias's picture

I am always able to convince myself when the Buckeyes look lethargic or subpar that they are holding something back (post Florida debacle it was even "So much of the gameplan depended on Ted Ginn" for a couple of weeks. SMH at myself). Now that Ross is on the bandwagon saying the same thing about the offense, I'm substantially more confident of that perspective. That being said, I don't think it's all or nothing, even when they open it up. I think we'll be pleasantly surprised at the variety of the playcalls and less 3 and outs. We'll be able to move the ball more effectively, but not at will. This is still a work in progress and a good defense. I do not think we're going to be perfectly polished and score 50 points. I think the game is close, but not low scoring. OSU 35-27, aided by a defensive or special teams score for us. I think we lose the TOP battle fairly large, by 5 minutes at least, and that allows the intermediate passing game to take some pressure off of Bell and their offense (tired LB's = bad coverage).

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

Maestro's picture

I think you are onto something with the TOP.  They average more than 5 1/2 more minutes than OSU per game.

vacuuming sucks

Idot08bojangles's picture

I REALLY hope that the playbook opens up this week. Not sure if I am delusionally optimistic, but I always think they really keep things closed down for the OOC schedule. 
Man I hope that is right. Otherwise = Sparty 35 Bucks 9

Scarlet and Grey until the day I die.
idotter: September 27, 2008. OSU vs. Minnesota

BUCKfutter's picture

i tend to buy what urban is saying about the D...we are equipped to stop the inside run. as far as passing, this is the 5th best offense we have faced out of 5 weeks. if the offense can avoid turnovers, i think we win a puntfest. 27-17 bucks

the kids are playing their tail off, and the coaches are screwing it up! - JLS

Jdadams01's picture

I think Meyer takes a bigger role in defensive game planning this week. We will see changes in the coverages and blitzing. Whether this translates to better tackling also, who knows.
The O doesn't worry me as much because every team that Sparty has played has been able to find weaknesses in the Sparty D. Also, I get the impression Meyer and Herman have been planning for this game since summer.

southernstatesbuckeye's picture

Remember too, that Meyer is well known for keeping a closed playbook unti conference play. I believe there will be enough new stuff that a confused Michigan State defense becomes frustrated enough to produce the mistakes that lead to a Buckeye win. Hang in there, all ye who fear.

I like cookies.

buckeye76BHop's picture

"When Meyer was at Florida, he was known for keeping the playbook conservative against “lesser” opponents and then opening it up when needed. Saturday is one of those days where the full set of plays will be needed."

I've been saying ^this^ all week to colleagues and really hope it's the case.  It could go either way IMO.  OSU wins because they unleash like they did against Miami OH by running 85 plays on offense and defense plays like they should and WRAPS for heaven's sake. Or...Bell runs for somewhere between 150 and 200 and the offense looks like this.  Which will result in a tough close lose to Sparty.  One stat that's interesting is this (and I realize is back in the Tressel era, but OSU has won most of the visits to East Lansing since except with Cooper in 1999 which they lost to an eventual 10-2 team.  Actually they've won every trip since  that lose in 1999).  GO BUCKS!

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

WiliestBuckeye's picture

We have all the tools necessary to beat the Spartans. Its just a matter of execution.

"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment."

dvalentine7's picture

@Wiliestbuckeye is right on point... The talent is there we just haven't been executing the ball at all and it showed when we couldn't move the ball against UAB

buckz4evr's picture

As long as we get it together by The Game, I am okay.  We have enough talent to pull us through most of the other games.

BuckeyeInOrlando's picture

How do you kill Heisman hopes?
Le'Veon Bell's Heisman dreams die Saturday.

buckeyedude's picture

I'm more nervous about the fact that this is our first road game. Maybe it will be good for the players. It seemed like they were sleep walking through the first four games. Time to wake the F@&K UP!



wjpalumbo's picture

It seems like the Bucks can move the ball down the field at will when they take the "black no hit" shirt off Braxton.  His athleticism should force Sparty to stop blitzing as much otherwise Miller will have a big day throwing and running.  I'm also hoping to see the old silver bullets running around gang tackling Bell.  If they figured out how to tackle this week I don't see Sparty scoring more than 6 points.  All that being said........tOSU  27  MSU  9.



buckeyedude's picture

Is that some kind of racist comment?...kidding. ;)