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Preview: Ohio State at Michigan State
Preview: Ohio State at Michigan State
If there weren't so much at stake in the matchup between Ohio State and Michigan State on Saturday, they could celebrate Old Home Week. The 12th-ranked Buckeyes and the 20th-ranked Spartans will match identical records (6-1, 3-0 in the Big Ten) in a key conference game which is also a reunion of old friends, as MSU head coach Mark Dantonio faces his mentor Jim Tressel for the third time since he left OSU after the 2003 season.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Ohio State vs. Michigan State
Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Michigan
Kickoff 3:30 p.m. (EDT)
If there weren't so much at stake in the matchup between Ohio State and Michigan State on Saturday, they could celebrate Old Home Week. The 12th-ranked Buckeyes and the 20th-ranked Spartans will match identical records (6-1, 3-0 in the Big Ten) in a key conference game which is also a reunion of old friends, as MSU head coach
faces his mentor Jim Tressel for the third time since he left OSU after the 2003 season.
Even closer to home is the relationship between Tressel and another member of the Spartan coaching staff. MSU linebacker coach
is the nephew of the Bucks' head man, and the son of OSU running backs coach Dick Tressel. Mike worked with Dantonio at U. of Cincinnati (2004-2006), and joined his staff at Michigan State when Dantonio got the Spartan job before the 2007 season.
But all the family niceties will be over by kickoff time, when both coaches try to pin the first conference loss of the season on the other. The Spartans are on a roll of six consecutive wins since an opening day loss to Cal, while the Bucks will be gunning for their fifth victory in a row, and their seventh in a row over Michigan State. The Buckeyes lead the all-time series between the schools, 26-12, and they are 12-5 in games at Spartan Stadium.
Ohioans in Green
In order to continue their recent dominance over the Spartans, Ohio State will have to stop MSU senior running back
, an early-season Heisman candidate who has bolted from the gate in 2008 with 1,112 yards and 14 touchdowns with the season barely half over. Ringer (Dayton Chaminade) is just one of several Ohioans playing key roles for the Spartans this season.
Also in the Spartan offensive backfield is quarterback Brian Hoyer, a senior from St. Ignatius, who is having a solid season running Dantonio's offense. Rocco Cironi (Warren Harding) starts at left tackle on offense, and Greg Jones (Cincinnati Moeller) is their best linebacker and leading tackler. Helping out in the secondary is Akron Buchtel's Johnny Adams, a promising true freshman.
Ringer has had an impressive campaign so far, but the Buckeyes' Chris Wells has just as valid a claim to being the conference's best running back, and the matchup between the two should make for a compelling side story to the game on Saturday. Wells is averaging 120 yards per game, but has missed three games with a toe injury. Ringer is averaging 158 yards and two touchdowns per game...hence the Heisman talk.
Wells had one of the best performances of his career against the Spartans, running over and around them for 221 yards on 31 carries, as the Bucks ran out to an early 24-0 lead in Columbus. By contrast, Ringer had just 49 yards on 18 carries, for a 2.7 yard average, while the OSU defense gave up just three of the Spartans 17 total points. Michigan State jumped back into the game with two third quarter touchdowns off of OSU turnovers, (and for the first time in memory, I found myself wanting to get the OSU defense back on the field so the other team would stop scoring.) The final score, 24-17, was closer than the actual game had been.
Grabbing the Inside Track
Saturday's winner will be in the best position to take on Penn State for the Big Ten title, as both schools have yet to play the Nittany Lions, who made believers of most remaining doubters
(including this one)
with their 48-7 thrashing of Wisconsin last week. And if the Spartans have any advantage other than home field coming into the game, it would seem to be a level of confidence in their play that has been elusive for the Buckeyes for most of the season.
In Dantonio's second year at MSU, he is trying to reverse a recent Spartan trend of fast starts followed by late-season collapses. Last year they were 5-2 when they came to Columbus, which started a string of three consecutive losses, and it was starting to look like the trend would continue. But Dantonio capped the regular season with a win at Purdue and a surprising 35-31 victory over Penn State to get the Spartans into a bowl game (a tight 24-21 loss to Boston College). All six of their 2007 losses were by a touchdown or less, including two in OT, so they legitimately felt that they were in every game, and thus came into 2008 feeling good about themselves.
The fast start in 2008 looks good at 6-1, but the schedule is back-loaded again for the Spartans. Their three conference wins are against some of the weaker teams in the league (Iowa, Indiana) and a surprising Northwestern team, and Purdue looks like the only lightweight left on their slate. The Buckeyes are coming off of an unimpressive 16-3 win over the aforementioned lightweight, and have staggered more than strutted to their 6-1 mark.
The Buckeye struggles this year have been marked by some inconsistent play from some of the seniors who were expected to lead the team to a third straight conference title, at a minimum. Most conspicuous among them has been QB Todd Boeckman, who has lost his starting job to Terrelle Pryor, but names like Boone, Laurinaitis, Robiskie, Rehring and Person have also appeared on that unwritten list at one time or another this season.
The offensive line has been playing better in the last few games, as freshman Mike Brewster has taken over at center and Jim Cordle has moved from center to left guard. Alex Boone has picked up his game too, and Laurinaitis has put together a string of strong performances, as has the defense as a unit.
Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins is one senior whose play has not been short of expectations. He had a big game against Purdue, and continues to prove why he is a favorite to be named an All-American and taken in the first few picks of the NFL Draft.
After the lackluster offensive showing last week against Purdue, a game in which the only OSU touchdown was scored by the special teams, fans and players alike moaned about the conservative approach taken by Coach Tressel with his offense. Chris Wells and tight end Rory Nicol both suggested in media interviews that the team has to throw the football in order to open up the running game for Wells and Pryor. And fans reacted like this was news to Coach Tressel.
But regardless of how anyone feels about it, Tressel places a high premium on protecting the football, and once he got a 10-0 lead after one quarter, he opted to play it safe with his freshman quarterback, and prevent any big play mistakes in the passing game. As a result, the Purdue defense stacked the line and made it difficult for Wells or Pryor to do much on the ground. The same kind of approach will certainly not work this week against an MSU team that can score some points (29.7 ppg), and Tressel will surely have to open it up on offense in order to win a tough road game against a quality opponent.
MSU on Defense
The Spartans are giving up only 16.7 points per game in 2008, which is pretty good considering the 362 yards per game in total offense surrendered by this defense, a total nearly 100 yards per game more than the OSU defense allows. They give up 227 yards per game in passing yardage, and 135 yards per game on the ground. Opponents average 4.5 yards per rush against them, a stat that should have Beanie Wells smiling. It has been tough to score against the Spartans on the ground though, with only six rushing touchdowns against them so far in 2008.
The secondary got off to a fast start this year, as strong safety Otis Wiley racked up four early interceptions, but that pace has slowed as the Spartans entered conference play. The leading tacklers for MSU are linebackers Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, followed by safeties Wiley and Dan Fortener. They brought in DE Trevor Anderson as a transfer from Cincinnati, and he has been the principal pass rushing threat for the Spartans with 5 sacks on the season.
Dantonio will field a disciplined and creative defense, but one that doesn't look to be much improved from the group that gave up 221 yards to Beanie and two TD passes by Boeckman last season. If Tressel's offensive game plan involves more than simply not fumbling or throwing interceptions, the Buckeyes should put up more than 20 points.
MSU on Offense
The Silver Bullets were able to contain Ringer last year, and have been able to hold most of the better backs they have faced this year under their season averages (P.J. Hill, Kory Sheets), but Ringer is a special player, and he'd like nothing better than to go off against his home state team. He has seemed to get stronger as the games go along, but he is averaging an incredible 35 carries per game, a workload that is likely to catch up to him eventually as the season grinds on.
Hoyer has been a steady and efficient performer at QB for the Spartans. The senior's numbers are not eye-popping (86 for 171 passing, for 1,314 yards, with 6 TD's and 3 interceptions) but he has averaged 7.7 yards per attempt and 15.1 yards per completion, the former a good stat, and the latter an outstanding one. He uses the threat of Ringer to set up some effective play-action throws, and his young group of receivers is getting better as the season goes along. Mark Dell is becoming a favorite target with 20 catches, and B.J. Cunningham is second on the team with 19 grabs.
They will be facing an OSU defense that is missing defensive end Lawrence Wilson, lost for the season in the Purdue game with an ACL injury to his knee. Look for Rob Rose to get more playing time at Wilson's end spot, with Cam Heyward also possibly moving back outside after playing most of the last several games at defensive tackle.
The OSU cornerback play has been at a very high level in recent games, with Jenkins playing like an All-American, and Chimdi Chekwa refusing to relinguish the other CB spot after starting the season in place of the suspended Donald Washington. If the OSU safeties can continue to improve, and do an effective job against the MSU tight ends, I believe Hoyer will have a tough day passing the football, and Ringer will not be able to carry the offense by himself.
Confidence, momentum and home field count for something in the Spartans' favor, but the Buckeye offense has something to prove after getting blistered all week by fans, media, and (one hopes) coaches, and the better defense in this game will be in Scarlet and Gray. I look for a Buckeye victory by something like a 27-20 score.
OSU Athletic Dept. Game Notes
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