What to Watch Against Michigan State

Oct 29, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) warms up before the game against the Northwestern Wildcats at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 29, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) warms up before the game against the Northwestern Wildcats at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports /

Five things to watch as Ohio State looks to keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive against a disappointing Michigan State team.

Ohio State travels to East Lansing to avenge the only blemish on their 2015 record. As the Buckeyes continue to roll and Sparty looks like a shell of itself, what should we keep an eye on for Saturday’s noon kickoff?

1. The weather…again

Last year you could make a case that it was the weather that caused more problems for the Buckeyes than the Michigan State defense. The rain and cold weather altered the game plan, one which kept the ball on the ground and between the tackles. That played right into the hands of Mark D’Antonio, who was able to unleash a dominant front seven in a game that was decided by a late field goal.

The forecast for Saturday in East Lansing? A high of only 39 degrees, 20-30 mile per hour winds, and a rain/snow mix. It’s easy to dismiss the Spartans, who have lost six of their last seven as perhaps the most disappointing team in the country. But much like the trip to Penn State and the home loss to these same Spartans in 2015, awful weather just seems to be the Buckeye equivalent of stealing Jobu’s rum.

2. J.T. Barrett back where it truly began

Flash back to 2014. Barrett was still playing with a balky knee after spraining his MCL in an overtime win against Penn State. Sure, he had won a bunch of games and performed pretty well, but the 2014 trip to East Lansing was Barrett’s first major road game, let alone a  first against a top-10 opponent. Ohio State had only crazy dark horse hope of making the playoffs. Then, Barrett announced to the college football world that he was just getting started on breaking records.

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300 passing yards, 86 rushing yards, 5 total touchdowns and a near perfect passer rating later, Barrett and the Buckeyes walked out of East Lansing with a big win to vault them into the playoff picture. This season hasn’t been the greatest year for Barrett, but the last few weeks show that the Buckeye offense is hitting their stride. He’s gone for 543 passing yards and 6 touchdowns the last two weeks and scored twice on the ground last week against Maryland. This comes after not scoring a single time against Northwestern, the first time he had been kept out of the end zone all year. Barrett could be hitting his peak again in East Lansing.

3. Michigan State to Play Spoiler

Sparty won’t be bowling this year, but if there is a coach who can get his team ready to play with nothing left to play for, it’s Mark D’Antonio. Are there any Buckeye fans that really think the former Ohio State assistant isn’t going to coach up his team this week?

After giving Michigan all they could handle until the final moments last week, Michigan State should be feeling pretty good about their chances against Ohio State. Remember, it’s Michigan State under D’Antonio that has given Urban Meyer two of his three Big Ten losses. With little to lose, expect Michigan State to pull no punches and bust open the playbook to make Ohio State earn every yard and point on the board.

4. Malik McDowell, the one that got away

McDowell’s recruitment came right down to the wire and even saw his Letter of Intent get held up by his parents. He could have been a Buckeye, but has nonetheless become exactly what Buckeye fans thought he could be, just in the wrong uniform. He’s been dinged up like every other Spartan defensive lineman, but McDowell is a force when healthy.

McDowell currently sits at number 10 in Todd McShay’s draft prospect ranking, all in spite of his struggles to put up the kind of numbers that suggests a player is top-10 worthy. Make no mistake, McDowell is everything Todd McShay thinks he is. He just has the misfortune of being the only real threat along the Spartan front line. He’s lined up all over the line, and not to create mismatches, but out of necessity.

5. Late Downs will be key

Ohio State is among the best teams in the country, let alone the Big Ten, on converting 3rd downs and 4th downs. The Buckeyes convert over 52% of their 3rd downs and over 68% of their 4th downs. They even hold opponents to 29% on 3rd down and 30% on 4th down. For Michigan State? Not so much.

Sparty is allowing opponents to convert on 42.6% of their 3rd downs and an incredible 64.7% on 4th down. On their own conversion opportunities, Michigan State only converts 39% of their 3rd downs and 50% of their 4th downs. Those tilted numbers suggests that if Ohio State can get into 3rd and manageable situations, the chance that it results in a 1st down is very high. Ohio State is averaging over 26 1st downs per game, so the numbers look like a leaky Spartan defense has its hands full with a suddenly dominant Ohio State offense.

Prediction: Ohio State 31, Michigan State 10

The weather will absolutely be a factor, but only so much as to keep Ohio State from putting up more points.

The Buckeye defense takes advantage of a Spartan offense that has been pedestrian at best this year and picks off two passes from quarterback Tyler O’Conner.

Next: Percy Harvin Was No Curtis Samuel

Barrett may not recreate his magic from 2014 due to the conditions, Mike Weber, Curtis Samuel, and the offensive line have themselves a big day on the ground en route to another Big Ten win.