Ohio State football: What to watch for vs Michigan State

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 14: Footballs for the Ohio State Buckeyes before the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium on October 14, 2017 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 14: Footballs for the Ohio State Buckeyes before the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium on October 14, 2017 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images) /

Ohio State is looking to rebound this week against a tough Michigan State squad. What should we watch for on Saturday?

There’s always been something about Michigan State and Ohio State where the games are close and the bigger the stakes, the tighter the score. After being taken to the woodshed against Iowa, the Buckeyes need to bounce back to keep their Big Ten championship hopes alive in a crowded Big Ten East.

What should you be looking for against Michigan State?

Will offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson remember that J.K. Dobbins still plays for Ohio State?

That was a topic of conversation in this week’s media availability with Wilson and it isn’t without merit. As we mentioned on Monday:

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To start the year, Dobbins carried the ball 29 times for 181 yards. Since then, he hasn’t had more than 14 carries in a game and has averaged only 11.25 carries per game. He’s had two games of six carries. This is a runner averaging a league best 7.7 yards per carry.

Dobbins only has 119 carries on the entire season and is still the second leading rusher in the Big Ten. For reference, Ezekiel Elliott had 289 carries in 2015 and 273 in the national championship season in 2014, an average of 281 carries per season.

At Dobbins’ 7.7 yards per rush, that’s 2,163 yards if Dobbins got the ball that often.

That number might be a little higher than what is realistically achievable for Dobbins. If he were a true workhorse, maybe he averages only 6.0 yards per carry, which is still a projection of 1,686 yards.

With Michigan State very stout against the run with the Big Ten’s best rushing defense, Dobbins has to get moving to open up the rest of the offense.

Are the Buckeyes going to stop the pass at all?

There’s nothing positive to say about the pass defense against Iowa, where the Silver Bullets allowed five passing touchdowns; All of which went to tight ends and running backs.

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The Spartans’ Felton Davis has 45 catches, 586 yards, and eight touchdowns on the season as far and away the most lethal weapon on the outside for Michigan State. Where Ohio State has had issues is with secondary receivers (see Iowa and Indiana), but also with big receivers.

Felton stands 6’4, presenting mismatches with Denzel Ward and Damon Arnette size wise.

Quarterback Brian Lewerke must have watched film of J.T. Barrett‘s performance against Penn State heading into his own test against the Nittany Lions. He threw for an even 400 yards and two touchdowns last week, which came after a 445 yard and four touchdown performance against Northwestern.

While Lewerke isn’t leading the league in any meaningful categories, he’s an efficient thrower, with a 4-1 touchdown to interception ratio and a 134.0 quarterback rating. For comparison’s sake, Lewerke is averaging over 30 yards more per game than Iowa’s Nate Stanley while completing a higher percentage of his throws.

You better believe Mark Dantonio watched film of how Iowa attacked the middle of the Buckeye pass defense. I’m sure he saw linebackers lost in coverage and anyone not named Ward unable to cover anyone.

For Michigan State to move the ball, they will need to pick up chunks through the air so they can keep the defense honest for L.J. Scott on the ground. After all, this is an offense that only trails Wisconsin in time of possession in the conference with 33:54 of time.

Third down conversions could be a story

The job of any defense is to get the ball back in the hands of the offense. For Ohio State, it’s been a tale of two teams.

The defense has struggled against upper tier teams like Penn State, Iowa, and Oklahoma. Michigan State is a good, well-coached team. Greg Schiano’s group will need to rebound and that starts by limiting what Michigan State can do on third down.

Sparty is third in the conference in third down conversions at 43.3 percent, which is actually just behind the Ohio State rate of 47.7 percent. As we mentioned earlier, Michigan State tends to dominate time of possession.

Ohio State Buckeyes Football
Ohio State Buckeyes Football /

Ohio State Buckeyes Football

Getting the Spartan offense off the field quickly does not allow their offense to gain momentum, get settled, and grind down the clock.

It’s also not just the defense that needs to step up on third down. Michigan State is holding opponents to a third down conversion rate of just 30.8 percent, which is also second in the conference.

Ohio State was 4-10 on third down against Iowa and will need more opportunities to convert against Michigan State, even if they lead the conference in total first downs. With the way Michigan State stops the run, there is a potential for third and long situations to happen frequently.

The Buckeyes need to move forward in the early downs to not play into this strength of the Spartan defense.

Erase history against Michigan State

Would it surprise you that Urban Meyer is only 3-2 against Michigan State during his time in Columbus? Would it surprise you even more that of those three wins, two of them came by a single point (2012 and 2016).

Michigan State is also responsible for two of the most painful losses during Meyer’s tenure at Ohio State overall. In 2013, Michigan State beat Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship. In 2015, Michigan State beat Ohio State on a late field goal and gave us this stupid kicker running around the field to celebrate.

In case you forgot, the 1998 Ohio State team was loaded. In Columbus, there was supposed to be no way lowly Michigan State would beat the Buckeyes. Instead, arguably the worst loss in a generation occurred. John Cooper would actually beat Michigan that year, but he then went 14-10 the next two years and was fired.

For the 2017 Ohio State team, ghost of both the recent and distance past need to be exercised. Michigan State has been difficult to deal with both for Meyer and the program as a whole. There’s just something about playing in Columbus that gives Michigan State a boost.

Either way, Ohio State needs to brush off their shaky past with Sparty and their dreadful trip to Iowa last week. If the Buckeyes can’t erase history and get past it, it’ll be a long afternoon in the Horseshoe.

Game Prediction:

When Sparty comes to Columbus, it’s always a tough afternoon. While Ohio State should bounce back after a humbling loss to Iowa, it won’t exactly be a blow out.

Look for Dantonio to borrow a lot of Kirk Ferentz’s game plan and attack the soft middle of the Buckeye defense often. In addition, he should try and force Barrett to throw the ball all over the field.

Next: Toughen up Buckeye fans

I believe Wilson when he says he needs to get Dobbins more involved. He should see 20 carries for the first time since week one. This one is going to be tight all the way to the end. Final Score: Ohio State 24, Michigan State 21.