East Lansing, MI – Ohio State sits atop the Big Ten East in a precarious position heading into Saturday's game against Michigan State.
The Buckeyes were forced to cancel last weekend's contest vs. Illinois due to several positive COVID-19 tests in its program, impacting their head coach Ryan Day, who won't be on the sidelines.
For Ohio State, merely playing in East Lansing holds significance because they need a minimum of six games to qualify for the Big Ten Championship Game.
With two contests gone, OSU can't afford another, or things could get interesting for the College Football Playoff selection committee considering on Dec. 1 the Buckeyes remained at No. 4.
Mel Tucker and the Spartans are coming off another upset victory over Northwestern.
In 2020, MSU has played well against ranked opponents and will relish attempting to derail OSU's season.
In recent years, under Mark Dantonio, that's precisely what Michigan State did, knocking off Ohio State in 2013 and 2015.
- 2019 Record: 13-1 (9-0 B1G)
- 2020 Record: 4-0 (Conference-Only Schedule)
Last Five Games
- Nov. 21, 2020 – Indiana, W 42-35
- Nov. 7, 2020 – Rutgers, W 49-27
- Oct. 31, 2020 – Penn State, W 38-25
- Oct. 24, 2020 – Nebraska, W 52-17
- Dec. 28, 2019 – Clemson, L 23-29
Saturday's game marks the 49th meeting between Michigan State and Ohio State, with the Buckeyes leading the all-time series, 33-15, including a 17-5 advantage in East Lansing.
In his second full season as head coach, Ryan Day is 20-1, having yet to lose to a Big Ten opponent and is searching for Ohio State's fourth conference title in a row.
Day is the first OSU coach in 40 years to be named B1G Conference Coach of the Year on his way to a College Football Playoff appearance.
Buckeyes To Know
- QB Justin Fields (6'3", 228, Junior): 90-for-113, 1,208 yards, 13 touchdowns, three interceptions, 42 carries, 135 yards, three touchdowns.
- WR Garrett Wilson (6'0", 193, Sophomore): 31 receptions, 513 yards, four touchdowns.
- WR Chris Olave (6'1", 188, Junior): 26 receptions, 389 yards, four touchdowns.
- LB Pete Werner (6'3", 242, Senior): 24 tackles (11 solo, 13 assisted), one sack, one forced fumble.
Ohio State had to sit on a hard-fought win over Indiana when the defense was put on their heels thanks to Michael Penix Jr.
It's time the Buckeyes release a lot of pent up energy, and unfortunately for MSU fans, it's against their beloved Spartans.
Justin Fields has thrown for 300 yards or more in the last three games while completing nearly 80% of his passes and only tossing three interceptions.
However, this contest might not be played under normal circumstances.
By now, it's something we are used to, but there are numerous examples of teams being short-handed due to COVID-19.
As previously mentioned, the Buckeyes were forced to cancel its matchup vs. Illinois due to an influx of people testing positive for coronavirus.
So, we don't know who will be available for Ohio State this weekend; they may be without multiple starters.
In the event this is true, OSU might resort to more conservative playcalling, attempt to control the clock by relying on the running game, and reduce the risk of turnovers without Day's presence.
How The Spartans Matchup
Fresh off a 29-20 victory against previously undefeated Northwestern, Michigan State is feeling good, and rightfully so.
The Spartan defense forced a season-high four takeaways (two interceptions, two fumble recoveries), topping the three turnovers they accumulated in week one against Rutgers.
MSU also limited NU to 63 rushing yards, a season-low for Michigan State, and the first time holding an opponent below the century mark this year.
It's not the prototypical suffocating defense we've seen from the Spartans, but the secondary has been consistent, picking off five passes and allowing four scores through the air (two came vs. IU when MSU was down three starters in the back end).
Michigan State's front-four is solid enough to create problems for an Ohio State offensive line who's allowed 12 sacks and 25 tackles for a loss.
MSU's offense has been inconsistent (rushing attack nearly non-existent), particularly through the air, and now they face the Big Ten's worst pass defense.
Yes, OSU is talented in the secondary, but the Buckeyes have allowed nearly 300 YPG.
And Michigan State's one pocket of success has come from passes thrown deep down the field.
Yet, the Spartans haven't shown an ability to keep up week to week; MSU can move the ball, but not well enough, especially if Ohio State goes up early.
That's my take.
If Michigan State wants to beat Ohio State, they need to make Justin Fields uncomfortable, which is entirely possible, and force him into making errant throws.
If OSU is without some offensive starters and they chose to alter its gameplan, the Spartans, at times, have proven to be able to stop the run when the front-four is clicking.
It all depends on what version of Michigan State shows up.
In 2020, MSU has shown flashes; it's a step in the right direction for a program in rebuild mode, but they are still too inconsistent.