A Battle of Wills

By Kyle Rowland on December 4, 2013 at 9:15a
Can Braxton Miller and Ohio State break through Michigan State's defense?

Fun? Well, not exactly. Tom Herman doesn’t take joy in knowing what lays ahead – the nation’s top-ranked defense. But if any offense can crack Michigan State’s dominant unit, it’s the Ohio State offense that Herman coordinates. 

“It’s miserable,” Herman said of preparing for the Spartans. “Have you watched that tape? They are really, really good.”

Those comments were made tongue-in-cheek, though the message is understood. Even with a group of players that are among the best in the Big Ten and putting up historic offensive numbers, the Buckeyes will have to be at their very best to advance to their destination of choice.

The contrasting stats give Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game the look of significant conference title games from recent years played in the south. The teams are a combined 23-1 and one team moves the ball at will while the opponent yields nary a touchdown.

The Spartan defense allows the fewest yards in the nation (237.7), the fewest rushing yards per game (64.8) and the fewest yards per rush (2.23). Countering that is the sixth-best total offense (530.5), second-ranked rushing attack (321.3) and best yards per rush average (7.1). Indeed, it will be a good old-fashioned slobberknocker.

“It’s the game we want to be in,” Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough said. “It’s what we talked about months ago in camp. It’s the spotlight.

“They haven’t lost a game in two years. So for me to sit here and tell you they’re not our biggest challenge, or they’re not our biggest test, would just be lying to you.”

That glare will be brightest when the Ohio State offense and Michigan State defense share the field. The Buckeyes have fared well this season against top-10 defenses. They gained 390 yards and scored 31 points against the sixth-best unit (Wisconsin) in September and one month later put up 495 yards and 34 points against Iowa’s ninth-ranked defense.

In recent weeks, Ohio State has relied heavily on Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller’s legs. It goes against the philosophy of Urban Meyer and Herman, which like an even 50/50 run-pass game plan. But Herman said the recent surge in run plays is a product of how well the Buckeyes have been able to move the football. It’s also a direct result of Ohio State’s 85th-ranked passing offense.

“Balance is being able to win the game either way dependent on what the defense is trying to take away,” Herman said. “I think we are a balanced offense right now. In the case of the game up in Ann Arbor, we were having success running the football, so it would have been probably against better judgment to stray away from that.”

In describing the Ohio State offense, Mark Dantonio used the words “great” and “tremendous.”

“They have a big running back. They have great skill players. The quarterback is a game-breaker,” he said. Miller is the piece of the puzzle that keeps Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi up at night. Making something out of nothing is most worrisome. 

“He’s going to be able to create numerous times throughout a football game,” Dantonio said. “The key to our success will be being able to contain the quarterback in those broken situations.”

Collapsing on the ball carrier is a Michigan State staple as evidence by the less than four yards they allow per play. That’s both running and passing. Stats like that are why Narduzzi believes the Spartan defense isn’t just one of the best since he’s been the coordinator, but one of of the top ever seen in East Lansing.

However, matching up with a combination like Miller and Hyde has never been part of Narduzzi’s game prep. Meyer believes it’s the best quarterback/running back combination he’s ever had – and he’s been the proud coach of several dynamic duos.

“I know if I was a defensive coordinator, I’d be thinking a lot about those two,” Ohio State senior left tackle Jack Mewhort said. Fellow lineman Corey Linsley believes the Buckeyes can find running lanes against anyone.

Click to enlarge
Strength on strength. [Enlarge]

“I mean, that’s the way we prepare. We’re going to do our best to do that on Saturday,” the senior center said. “We obviously can’t get too overconfident with that. But it’s nice to know that when we cannot block a guy sometimes Carlos will just run them over or Braxton will make them miss.”

Aside from talented players, what makes Michigan State so solid defensively, according to Herman, are 11 players in-sync with one another that know exactly what they’re doing and do it well. They’re as sound a defense as you’ll see, he said.

The praise and admiration oozed from Meyer and Herman.

“It’s as good of a defense as I’ve seen,” Meyer said.

Said Herman: “They are like fine wine. They get better with age.”

Monday night’s release of the All-Big Ten teams featured five offensive players for Ohio State and five defenders for the Spartans. Herman said he didn’t know if Michigan State had a first-team All-American or not. Now he knows how many all-conference players he has to plan for.

“At the end of the day, there are only a few reasons to live this crazy life that we do,” Herman said. “I say it all the time, bankers don't get to do this. They don’t get to go compete in Indianapolis against the No.1 defense in America and say, ‘my guys did that.’

“That's fun. It really is.”


Comments Show All Comments

Buckabroad's picture

Thanks for a great article. I am glad this is fun for Herman. I am starting to hyperventilate already!
Go Buckeyes!

"The minute we stop expecting greatness, we become Wisconsin."

Doc's picture

I'm feeling ya.  My nervous system might not make it until Saturday night.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

rekrul's picture

I felt like Oliver Twist when I hit the end of the Article.


Out Work, Out Think, Out Play!!!

jccesner's picture

"Nothing cleanses your soul like getting the shit kicked out of you."

Woody Hayes

Baroclinicity's picture

First one to 20 wins this weekend?

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

stevebelliseeya's picture

"We are eternal. All this pain is an illusion." - Tool

Earle's picture

I remember how great Wisconsin's and Iowa's defenses were before they played Ohio State.
Clearly, the Sparty D is the best of the bunch, but let me refer you to Remy's "Ohio State Effect" posts for those other games if you are really worried about Sparty shutting down the Buckeyes' offense.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

RunEddieRun1983's picture

Honestly, I don't feel like enough is being made of the improvements MSU made on offense, and how they're more than likely going to pose a large test to our defense that as of late has resembeled something of a swiss cheese.

I don't always downvote, but I do always downvote a Michigan fan trolling the Buckeye boards.

Nutbuck1959's picture

Improvements yes, but they hung 14 on Purdue?

RedStorm45's picture

With a defensive touchdown.

RunEddieRun1983's picture

The only thing the Michigan game showed me is that you CAN gameplan for what our defense is able to do, and you CAN scheme around it.  MSU's defense isn't fancy, it's in your face, and up your nose, that's it, but they're FANTASTIC at it.  Just saying what they're bringing to the table on defense is better than what we're bringing, so I'm hoping our defense is up to snuff and can stop a god damn WR screen, or a drag route to a TE.

I don't always downvote, but I do always downvote a Michigan fan trolling the Buckeye boards.

BeijingBucks's picture

Ironically Michigan has better playmakers than MSU with the ball in their QB and receivers. they have just been uninspired and undercoached.  Somehow the B1G even thinks they have the greatest O lineman since Pace.  but I digress.
MSU has Bollman inspiring their offense.  Shall I repeat that?  Not belittling them because he served the Bucks well for many years and has a steady hand.  However, do words like 'explosive' and 'speed' and 'shifty' and 'untacklable' come to mind when you think of MSU on offense?  not so much.
Do those terms come to mind when we look at the OSU squad.  abso-Marcus-Hall-deuces-lutely!

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

Buckeye06's picture

As of late you mean last week? Because the week before they basically shut out a top 20 offense.
They are inconsistent yes, but Michigan exploited a new angle, overpursuit.  Not everyone can rally to the ball to make tackles, so we saw more missed tackles as well.  It isn't like Michigan lined up in their traditional offense and ran over OSU. 

Seth4Bucks's picture

I feel confident that OSU can get enough points on offense to win the game. The question in my mind is if OSU's defense can keep it low scoring and then I start getting nervous agian because I felt confident about the UM game.
FYI for the graphic, Philly only has 50 catches.

omahabeef1337's picture

I love 11W and all the content here, but a word of advice: Don't distort images from their original proportions. (The one used here got squished.)

Furious George 27's picture

I don't like to play the transitive property game, but they improved on offense like we improved on defense... By playing bad teams.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

acBuckeye's picture

Aside from talented players, what makes Michigan State so solid defensively, according to Herman, are 11 players in-sync with one another that know exactly what they’re doing and do it well. They’re as sound a defense as you’ll see, he said.

Are you listening, Luke?

Buckeye1004's picture

11 players in-sync with one another that know exactly what they're doing and doing it well. 
Luke can't make that happen.  He can talk about it, yell about it, cuss about it, but it's they players that have to get in-sync, it's the players that have to know, it's the players that have to do it well. 
IMO, It's time for the players to step up, not just the leaders, ALL the players!
Go Buckeyes!

HYDEYOKIDS's picture

Losing Bryant certainly didn't help in that department.

Seattle Linga's picture

This game is going to be so much fun. 
No elements to deal with
Saturday can't get here anytime sooner
Our strength vs their strength
Our weakness vs their weakness
Go Bucks - ruin the national media and their agenda

RedStorm45's picture

Quietly, Braxton has regressed a bit passing.  30 of his last 61 in the last 3 games, but much of that was due to the elements.  Won't be an issue Saturday, but Sparty's secondary will be.  That is going to be huge in this matchup.

Doc's picture

Hopefully the indoor venue will help him with the passing.  It should be warmer and a whole lot less windy.  Braxton doesn't seem to like the cold.  I rewatched the AACC game last night on BTN and there were shots of him on the sideline with big mittens on and he wore gloves the entire game.  Gardner on the other hand didn't wear gloves on the field at all.  I'm hoping this will help the passing game.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

nm_buck's picture

All of it was due to the elements.  That game in Champaign was brutal.  It killed his stats.  His throws were obviously impeded by the gloves last week.  Braxton will be on target Saturday... my concern is our receivers' ability to get separation.  Really hoping they play-action a lot... and utilize the mismatches that Heuerman will create.  That will force the secondary to adjust... and hopefully make it easier for Philly, Evan and Devin.  
Having Wilson out there occasionally will help throw off the bull rush, and I would love to see some formations that utilize Braxton and Sweet Jazz.  
Keep them guessing... best thing we can do.

"The future is bright at Ohio State."  - Urban Meyer 1/1/15

3GB's picture

Keep in mind that Urban called a couple of Braxton's throws to Heuerman in the Indiana game as perfect as it gets.  That said, I did think his timing seemed off against TTUN and his deep throws left a bit to be desired, but I'm in the camp that he has struggled in part due to the wintry weather.
I have full confidence that he'll be on point this Saturday in the dome, where "the gloves come off".

ABrown07's picture

I'm a banker and I would give anything in the world to quit and coach football. I've played all my life at various levels and won at all of them and I would love the opportunity to do what they do for a living, money isn't even the issue, I'd do it for the love of the game.

I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people.

-Woody Hayes

ibuck's picture

How about your local high school?

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

I think we all know that MSU's defense will have some success in stopping us on various possessions but won't be able to shut us down every time. We will score enough points to win the game. The crucial piece will be our defense!!! We just need to stop them more than they stop us!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

bigbill992001's picture

"The crucial piece will be our defense!!!!"   Does MSU have a tight end?   They do?   Shit, we're doomed.

jccesner's picture

I am currently living in New York City and it is refreshing how the SEC bias hasn't really become part of the psyche of people here. College sports aren't followed very closely in NYC, so most of my friends and coworkers that were born and raised here don't know the difference and just appreciate wins and straight domination. They see OSU dominating week in and week out and OSU players all over the NFL, so to them it translates to a great program. 
As for the game, it's nice that regardless of what the "college football world" thinks of us, this game determines who will be in the BCSNC and everyone will be watching. You got Mike Slive campaigning on Mike & Mike this morning because he knows that the SEC will probably get locked out if we win on Saturday. Not gonna lie, hearing the desperation in his voice put me at half staff. 

"Nothing cleanses your soul like getting the shit kicked out of you."

Woody Hayes

bigbill992001's picture

I believe Sheelhaase played in the same elements, right?   Brax has just plain lost his mojo throwing the ball.   Inconsistent.   Great throws followed by terrible throws.

IGotAWoody's picture

Sheelhaase was playing at HOME, in elements he plays in regularly. Familiarity makes a huge difference. Brax plays most of his games here, where the weather, in particular the wind, is QUITE different.

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” ~Carl Rogers

Brutus's picture

I'm figuring someone more resourceful than myself has already looked into this, but I'm wondering how the MSU defense has fared against the better offenses it has played.  Has the MSU defense kept good offenses well below their season averages? I'm assuming that's the case, but I guess the real question is what good offenses has MSU faced?  I respect the #1 total defense ranking, but are the numbers skewed because of the level of competition?  The media gives OSU sh*t about the level of competition all the time so the argument should cut both ways. 

humble0ne's picture

I also believe the weather has a lot to do with it.  Braxton does not seem comfortable throwing with gloves.  The great thing is the Buckeyes have a "two car" offense.  When there is snow on the ground you pull out the 4x4 (Hyde and Braxton running) and when the weather is clear, you pull out the sports car (passing game, Dontre, etc.).  If the defense can make Michigan State work for their points, I think the Buckeyes offense will carry the day.

"It is foolish to expect a young man to follow your advice and ignore your example." --Don Meyer Hall of Fame NAIA Basketball Coach

ABrown07's picture

The B1G title game is indoors, weather won't be a factor...

I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people.

-Woody Hayes

zhamilton05's picture

I've read several stories for this game along the lines of "one side's gotta give" in the clash between tOSU's offense and MSU's defense.
Doesn't it make more sense that both sides buckle somewhat in facing dominant opposing units? For MSU to be happy with their defensive effort, they'd need to hold the Buckeyes under 100 yds rushing. For the Buckeyes to be happy with their offensive effort, they'd need close to 300 yards on the ground. But I think it's more likely that Ohio State fights and claws for 175-200 yards rushing? In that scenario, both sides would have "given" more than they wanted.
I just think in this particular battle, MSU's rushing defense and tOSU's rushing offense fight to a draw, and the game will have to be won elsewhere.

MattyBeingMatty's picture

Dear Tom,
Watch the 2007 NCG Game and take notes on the offensive strategy UF used against one of the nation's best defenses.  Coach Meyer should have the tape lying around somewhere.

“Not everybody’s the perfect person in the world, I mean everyone kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me, whatever. I think that people need a second chance, and I’ve always looked up to Mike Vick." -TP

alust2013's picture

I see Hyde still in bulldozer mode and Miller getting back to his solid passing game. I think our defense will shut down their running and make them rely on Cook, which could be interesting. 

...and Michigan still sucks.