Michigan State Week Mic Check: Ground and Pound

By Chris Lauderback on November 7, 2018 at 3:05 pm
Ohio State needs a big game from J.K. Dobbins on Saturday against Michigan State.

© Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

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Using the open week to install some different looks and largely eliminate RPOs from the run game, Urban Meyer's squad racked up 229 rushing yards on 5.7 yards per attempt against Nebraska, easily its best outing since early September. 

The resurgent effort gives Ohio State something to build on as it gets set to take on Michigan State's top-ranked rushing defense in the country this Saturday in East Lansing. 

Of course the burning question what portion of the success was truly the result of the braintrust's adjustments and which portion was due to Nebraska generally sucking at stopping the run (No. 81 nationally)? 

Meyer talked about the state of the running game as he met with the assembled media on Monday: 

Q. Do you feel the running game now is in a place where you can replicate the success you had against Nebraska the rest of the season?

COACH MEYER: That’s what we’re working on right now. Obviously you’re facing the number one rush defense in the country coming up this next week. But our offensive line played very well and our backs, that was their best pad level game as far as dropping their pads and getting through those holes.

Q: Mike Weber and Isaiah Prince both said after the game that you guys really didn’t call any RPOs on Saturday, but it was more traditional runs. What kind of made this past week the time that you guys decided to change to the more traditional running scheme?

COACH MEYER: That was part of the hours and hours and hours of how do we get those two guys involved in the game and let them drop their pads and go do what they do best, and that’s run the ball. I don’t know if that’s exactly true. But the majority of them were direct hand-offs, like you just said.

Q. Do you think what worked against Nebraska is sustainable going into a game like this with such a tough rough defense?

COACH MEYER: It has to be. A lot of what you see schematically will change because a completely different defense. That was a Bear zero, 3-4 look, and this is going to be a 4-3 look. Schematically, it’s different. But the mentality has to be the same.

Meyer's offensive line helped pave the way for a 163-yard rushing performance out of J.K. Dobbins which was just the third 100-yard rushing day by a Buckeye this season and the first for Dobbins since he went for 121 against TCU back on September 21. 

Mike Weber logged the first outing of 100+ rushing yards this season in the opener with 186 against Oregon State. 

If you're keeping score, the three times this year a Buckeye running back went for at least 100 rushing yards came against rushing defenses currently ranked No. 126, No. 120 and No. 81 in the country. 

But make no mistake, Saturday's performance was a welcome sign of progress from a playcalling and execution standpoint and it comes just in time knowing how tough Sparty has been against the run so far this season. 

MICHIGAN STATE'S RUSHING DEFENSE STATS BY GAME
OPPONENT OPP RUSH OFF RANK RUSH ATT RUSH YDS YPC RUSH TD
MARYLAND 26 29 26 0.9 0
PURDUE 80 13 62 4.8 1
MICHIGAN 30 53 183 3.5 1
PENN STATE 34 32 205 6.4 1
NORTHWESTERN 93 20 8 0.4 1
CENTRAL MICHIGAN 106 22 63 2.9 0
INDIANA 78 32 29 0.9 0
ARIZONA STATE 49 29 44 1.5 0
UTAH STATE 33 25 25 1.0 3

As illustrated in the chart, Mark Dantonio's defense has given up more than 100 rushing yards just twice this season and Michigan's 183 yards aren't all that impressive when you see they took 53 carries to get there, good for just 3.5 yards per carry.

It's also worth a note that Michigan ranks No. 29 in yards per carry at 5.0, or 1.5 yards less than they were able to average against the Spartans. 

Only Penn State has enjoyed any major success against the Spartans as Miles Sanders went for 162 yards on 17 carries (9.5 per) aided by a 78-yard burst. 

An offensive line, all of its members which graded out as champions last week, will have to create a push against defensive end Kenny Willekes (13.0 TFL, 7.0 sacks), interior stud Raequan Williams (8.0 TFL) and fellow run stopper Mike Panasiuk. 

When Weber and Dobbins do get to the second level, they'll have their hands full trying to shake a trio of experienced linebackers headlined by Joe Bachie (68 tackles, 6.5 TFL). 

It will take more than just an effective running game to win on the road this Saturday but it sure feels like a reversion back to a sub-100-yard rushing attack would spell doom in East Lansing. Another sturdy performance, however, would go a long way toward sealing victory and propelling Ohio State's confidence into another gear with The Game looming just over the horizon. 

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