Last Call: Gameday Thoughts, Questions and Predictions Before Ohio State Plays Michigan State in East Lansing

By 11W Staff on December 5, 2020 at 7:30 am
Pete Werner vs. Michigan State in 2018

Ohio State was able to make its road trip this week.

After last week's game against Illinois was canceled due to COVID-19 cases within the program, Ohio State will be back in game action today at noon, when the Buckeyes will face Michigan State in their final road game and fifth overall game of this most unusual of regular seasons.

While we still don't know exactly who will be available to play for the Buckeyes today – we'll learn that around 10:45 a.m. – and we might have some different thoughts going into today's game once we learn that, we share some of our final thoughts, questions and predictions going into gameday right now.

Final Thoughts

Don't sleep on Michigan State's big-play passing ability

By several statistical measures, Michigan State's offense has been the worst in the Big Ten this year, averaging just 18 points per game. And Rocky Lombardi is inconsistent, making it just as likely that he will make mistakes that allow Ohio State's defense to make big plays as it is that he will make big plays himself.

But one stat that shouldn't be ignored going into this game is that Michigan State currently leads the Big Ten with seven passing plays of 40-plus yards and ranks second in the conference with 10 passing plays of 30-plus yards (behind only Indiana) this year. Given how much trouble the Buckeyes had with allowing big plays through the air against the Hoosiers, Michigan State is capable of exploiting the flaws in Ohio State's pass defense if the Buckeyes haven't tightened things up over the past two weeks, so that will be an area to watch in today's game.

– Dan Hope

Ohio State has to avoid turnovers

Justin Fields threw three interceptions the last time he took the field as a Buckeye. You might've heard about it. On Saturday, it'll be important for him and his Ohio State teammates to minimize Michigan State's opportunities to score off of their own errors. As long as they control the ball, one would imagine they'll control the game.

A statistic to note: The Spartans rank 115th out of 127 teams in college football with a turnover margin of minus-1.2 per game. They've recorded five interceptions and four fumble recoveries through five games. The Hoosiers, for what it's worth, are second in the country with a plus-1.5 margin, and the Buckeyes are 12th with a plus-1 margin. Even without the presence of Ryan Day – who, like his predecessor Urban Meyer, always preaches the importance of eliminating turnovers – on the sidelines, winning this category will be key to winning the game.

– Colin Hass-Hill

This feels like a “Justin Fields, Go Off, King” kind of game

After all of the fair criticisms Fields took after his three-pick game against Indiana, this feels like a game where he’s going to obliterate Michigan State’s defense.

The game against the Hoosiers was the worst of Fields’ career, and he still scored four total touchdowns with more than 300 yards passing.

Maybe the absences of Ryan Day is going to hurt here, but I think this could be a game where Fields says “eff it.” As I said in this week's roundtable discussion, I think he’s likely to net five total touchdowns but maybe more.

– Zack Carpenter

If *this* offense gives Ohio State trouble, there are real problems

The Buckeyes have now had two weeks to make adjustments after Indiana abused the defense in the second half, and they now meet an opponent that has the worst offense in the Big Ten by several measures.

I know Michigan State has shown big-play potential, but if *this* offense can come out and consistently move the ball against Ohio State's defense today, the Buckeyes are in real trouble going forward.

– Kevin Harrish


How noticeable will Ryan Day's absence be?

Because Day is still in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19, Ohio State will be without its head coach and lead offensive play caller on Saturday. Will that have a negative impact on the Buckeyes in Saturday's game? Given that it's the first time since 2011 that Ohio State will have someone other than Day or Urban Meyer calling the shots in a game, it's a valid question.

That said, my guess is Larry Johnson will do just fine as acting head coach, with plenty of experienced coaches around him to lean on as needed. Day has been integrally involved in Ohio State's game planning this week even though he's been away from the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, so I don't think the Buckeyes' preparation for Saturday's game should be hurt by his physical absence. I think he will be missed as an offensive play caller, since he is the architect of the offense and won't be able to communicate with the team during the game, but it certainly helps that play calling was already a collaborative effort between Day and Kevin Wilson, who has plenty of experience calling offensive plays himself.

– Dan Hope

Will Ohio State look good enough to stay ranked in the top four of the CFP?

Maybe that seems a ridiculous question to ask as the Buckeyes play a bad Michigan State team. But I think it’s fair. Even with everything the program has had to deal with the past two weeks, and even if there’s a significant number of players out (aka, the players who are out are of significant stature), a 35-24 win or a 38-28 victory over these Spartans still wouldn’t be a good look.

I have the final score as 42-21, which based on the score alone would almost certainly be enough to keep them in that top four. But if 2020 Second Half Ohio State emerges today, maybe the committee starts to rethink its stance and thrusts Jimbo Fisher or Dan Mullen’s crew into the Buckeyes’ spot.

– Zack Carpenter

What does the defensive backfield look like?

There are a lot of questions, and more will pop up once Ohio State releases its status report at around 10 a.m. Saturday to detail who will and will not play. But to get specific, I'm especially interested to see if this secondary looks different, and if so, in what ways is it changed.

Before Ohio State put the program on pause, Day said the Buckeyes were looking at "other combinations" in the defensive backfield. Does that mean more Josh Proctor at deep safety? Somebody else spelling Marcus Hooker? Extra opportunities for the freshman cornerbacks? An adjustment in the scheme? There are a lot of way Kerry Coombs could go with this one.

– Colin Hass-Hill

Who is out, for how long, and how will it impact the team?

All preseason, we heard Ryan Day harping on how the team would need depth at every position this year in case a COVID outbreak sidelined some players for a few weeks. Well, it's now happened.

We'll know who the Buckeyes will be without when the status report is released before the game, but we'll have to wait until during the game to see how it actually impacts the team. Ohio State would probably like to think it has enough depth to deal with any absences, but we're going to see for sure today.

– Kevin Harrish


Garrett Wilson will tie Cris Carter's record

Wilson has topped 100 receiving yards in all four of Ohio State's games this season, and if he does it again against Michigan State on Saturday, he'll tie Cris Carter's school record and become just the second player in school history with 100 receiving yards in five straight games. As long as Wilson is healthy, since we know Justin Fields is healthy, I think he will.

No one has come close to slowing down Wilson this year, and in a game where the Buckeyes could potentially be without some other offensive pieces, I think Wilson's role as Fields' go-to target will only increase against the Spartans, setting him up to hit triple digits for the fifth game in a row.

– Dan Hope

Ohio State won’t cover the spread

I’ve taken the Buckeyes to cover the spread in all four of their games this season. That includes an embarrassing callout that Ohio State would “easily” cover the spread against Indiana.

Thought that was looking pretty good there in the third quarter. I’m not taking that 24-point spread this time with Ohio State shorthanded and without its head coach and with Michigan State coming off its best performance of the year.

So congrats, Ohio State, on your 63-0 win today, I guess.

– Zack Carpenter

The defensive line gets after it

Before any of the most recent events that led to the Illinois game cancelation, the defensive lineman already had eyes on getting more sacks. That was a stated desire by them. 

With Larry Johnson as acting head coach, they might not get as much one-on-one work with him on Saturday afternoon as usual, but they will certainly want to show out for their position coach as he steps into a bigger in-game role. I'm guessing that their focus on more sacks combined with their inevitable goal of playing well enough for Johnson to pay most of his attention to the entire team rather than a single position will lead to a big game from the D-line.

– Colin Hass-Hill

Michigan State doesn't hit double digits

The Ohio State defense is looking for a bounce-back performance against an absolutely atrocious Michigan State offense, and they're going to get it.

The Buckeyes had some things to work out defensively, but they're nowhere near as bad on that side of the ball as they showed last time out. On the flip side, the Spartan offense is every bit as bad as it has shown the past five games.

– Kevin Harrish

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