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Tucker won’t like it, but a ‘shootout’ is likely MSU’s best shot against the Buckeyes

Michigan State's offense is going to have to hum if the Spartans are to pull off the upset in Columbus

Mel Tucker may not want to hear about a “shootout” between No. 7 Michigan State and No. 4 Ohio State, but that’s probably going to be what it takes for the Spartans to pull off the upset this weekend in Columbus.

Tucker is a defensive-minded coach, through and through, and the thought of letting an opposing offense roll up and down the field leaves him feeling nauseous.

“A shootout – when I hear something like that it makes me want to vomit,” Tucker said. “I’m not in the shootout business. If it ends up being that, then it’s that, but that’s not the goal. We have goals on offense, defense and special teams that we need to hit. And those goals, defensively, don’t reflect shootout.”

That’s all well and good but, the reality is, if the Spartans are going to challenge or beat the Buckeyes on Saturday, Payton Thorne and the offense are going to have to score a lot of points.

Michigan State ranks dead last – 130th out of 130 – in college football in terms of pass defense, allowing a ghastly 329 yards through the air per game.

Ten games into the season, that’s not something that’s going to be fixed in 2021, and certainly not against one of the most lethal passing attacks in the sport.

Ohio State is No. 6 in the nation in passing offense, averaging 353.6 yards per game. The Buckeyes have an embarrassment of riches at the wide receiving position, highlighted by Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njibga.

All three have over 50 catches this season, all three average 13.9 yards per catch or better, and the three have combined to score 25 receiving touchdowns.

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“A lot of good players,” Tucker said of Ohio State. “Excellent quarterback. Great skill players. A lot of explosive plays, big plays, run and pass. Explosives. They can score quickly.”

And that’s the key for Michigan State’s defense on Saturday.

The Buckeyes are going to score often, that’s inevitable. What Tucker needs out of his defense is to limit explosive plays. Michigan State has to make Ohio State earn its scoring drives. Like they’ve done oftentimes this season, the Spartans need to stiffen in the redzone and force as many field goals as possible.

“We need to hold people to low numbers, that gives you the best chance to win, obviously,” Tucker said. “When you’re playing complimentary football, that’s our job as a defense to get the ball back to the offense, or score, or set up a score. Get the ball back. That helps with the time of possession, give the offense more possessions…field position. That’s all part of it because the score probability is big – where we start the drives and things like that.”

Tucker has been honest about the defensive struggles this season, but he’s not going to bash his guys on that side of the ball before this game.

He knows Michigan State is going to need to score often to keep up with Ohio State, and he’s got the horses to do it with the likes of Kenneth Walker III, Payton Thorne, Jayden Reed and others.

“On offense, we need to have a lot of first downs, move the chains and convert. Be efficient. Keep the defense off the field and score points,” Tucker said.

“We’re able to have balance on offense. We can run it and we can throw it. Payton’s done a really nice job taking what the defense gives him and throwing the ball to the open man. Our guys have been able to make some plays and win their one-on-ones and make some contested catches.”

The Spartan offense can’t win this game on its own. The defense has to make some timely stops here and there. If Michigan State can find a way to do that, they can go toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes.