If football games were played on paper — and thankfully they aren't — Saturday's primetime showdown between No. 14 Ohio State and No. 8 Michigan State might find a way to end in a tie.
That's how similar, at least statistically, the Buckeyes and Spartans are heading into enter their de facto Big Ten East title game at Spartan Stadium. The two teams rank near the top of the Big Ten in almost every statistical category and, thus, are the only two remaining Big Ten teams without a conference loss.
“This is one of the reasons why you come to a school like Ohio State or Michigan State is for a Big Ten matchup like this — night game in the big setting," Buckeyes linebacker Joshua Perry said Monday.
The defending Big Ten champion Spartans have long been known for their stingy defense and this year is no exception. Michigan State ranks third in the Big Ten and fifth nationally in total defense, allowing 279.4 yards per game. The Spartans are also sixth in the Big Ten and 22nd nationally in scoring defense at 20.3 points per game.
Michigan State leads the conference and is seventh nationally with 28 sacks on the year and it has also forced 22 turnovers, tops in the Big Ten and eighth in the country.
“They have earned my respect because they are so good at what they do defensively because they do the same thing over and over and over again," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "They say, ‘This is what we do, we’re gonna recruit and develop to this system, we’re gonna play this coverage and mix in this pressure with this coverage and that’s what we do and you guys have to do it better than we do it.’"
But where Michigan State has really improved is on the offensive side of the ball.
No longer are the days where the Spartans are a manage-the-game type team. They have an explosive offense.
|OhIO STATE (NATL. RANK)||Statistic||MICHIGAN STATE (NATL. RANK)|
|300.0 YPG (8th)||TOTAL DEFENSE||279.4 (5th)|
|19.9 PPG (17th)||SCORING DEFENSE||20.3 (22nd)|
|24 (18th)||SACKS||28 (7th)|
|+8 (11th)||TURNOVER MARGIN||+12 (3rd)|
|505.1 (14th)||TOTAL OFFENSE||515.3 (9th)|
|45.6 (4th)||SCORING OFFENSE||45.5 (5th)|
|169.3 (2nd)||PASS EFFICIENCY||160.3 (7th)|
Heading into Saturday's showdown with the Buckeyes, Michigan State leads the Big Ten in total offense and is ninth in the country, racking up over 515 yards per game. It is second in the conference and fifth nationally in scoring offense at 45.5 points per game.
Quarterback Connor Cook has emerged as one of the best in the country and the Spartans have weapons like running back Jeremy Langford and wide receiver Tony Lippett at their disposal.
“Obviously a very experienced quarterback. This time last year they were still trying to get their rhythm on offense and they certainly did and now they’re one of the best offenses in the country so that’s the biggest difference," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said. "… They’ve gone from being a good offense to a great offense.”
But while Michigan State's numbers on both sides of the ball are certainly eye-popping, the Buckeyes' statistics are impressive to this point, as well.
Ohio State is opposite of the Spartans in the sense that it has always had a potent offense under Meyer, but was always suspect on defense. So far this year, at least statistically, that hasn't been the case.
Offensively, the Buckeyes remain among the nation's elite. Ohio State ranks second in the Big Ten and 14th nationally in total offense at 505.1 yards per game, while leading the league and ranking fourth in the country in scoring offense at 45.6 points per game.
But where the Buckeyes have made their greatest stride is on the defensive side of the ball where they are fourth in the Big Ten and 17th nationally in scoring defense at 19.9 points per game and are giving up 300 yards per game — good for fourth in the Big Ten and eighth nationally.
“I think they’re extremely well-coached, I think their coaches ask their players to do the things that they do well," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "They’re extremely innovative in what they do. A lot of formations, a lot of different things that are going on with movements, etcetera. It’ll be a challenge.”
Even the two quarterbacks — J.T. Barrett for the Buckeyes and Cook for Michigan State — rank fourth and seventh in the country, respectively, in passing efficiency. Both were named semi-finalists Tuesday for the O'Brien Award which is given to the nation's top quarterback.
On paper, it has all the makings of a classic game much time the last time the two teams played. But games aren't played on paper.
"The two experiences I've had with Michigan State in 2012 and '13, I mean that's a sledge hammer," Meyer said. "This team can play at any level, any conference, anywhere. I'd like to think that the Ohio State Buckeyes can, too."