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Expect to see … Ohio State edition

Big Ten season is upon us and it starts off in a BIG way.Denicos Allen made highlight reels with this sack against Ohio State last year. The MSU defense will look to bottle up Braxton Miller again. (US Presswire Photo)

College Gameday is coming to East Lansing, as are the Ohio State Buckeyes.

The Spartans took last year’s game in Columbus 10-7 behind a dominant defensive performance — nine sacks.

This year’s game could look a lot different, with Braxton Miller established as the Ohio State quarterback and Urban Meyer at the helm. Michigan State also is a different team, but can it still take down the Buckeyes?

Here is what to look for Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC):

1. Tackling

The team that tackles better will have a big advantage in this game.

For the Buckeyes, stopping Le’Veon Bell well is their key to the game. Few have brought down Bell easily this year, and Ohio State has had troubles with tackling to this point — so if MSU can exploit that with Bell, it will be a big leg up.

For the Spartans, not letting Braxton Miller get into space will make a big difference. Notre Dame’s Everett Golson broke contain on both plays that led to Irish touchdowns, and Miller is a much better runner and much more elusive. So, the Michigan State defense has its work cut out for it.

Don’t let Miller make big plays — and get some big plays with Bell.

2. MSU try to go to the air

The run game will be the focus — as usual — and the Spartans need to stay focused on that, and not go away from it like they did against Notre Dame. But, to win this game, the Spartans will have to beat the Buckeyes through the air.

Ohio State, which ranks last in the Big Ten in total defense, ranks second to last in passing yardage. Andrew Maxwell ranks third in yards per game in the conference — and leads it in passing attempts.

Bell will carry the Spartans, but Maxwell needs to give that extra lift if they want to win.

3. Third downs

Michigan State has allowed just three third-down conversions in the past two games (in 28 attempts). Stalling Ohio State’s drives will make a big difference in this one and keeps the ball out of Miller’s hands.

Ohio State just allowed UAB to convert 7-of-18 third-down conversions. But, TheOzone did more research into those numbers. Ohio State allowed UAB to go 10-of-12 passing for 103 yards on third downs and 52 rushing yards on six attempts. The average yards to go? 7.9. The averaged yards allowed per play? 8.6.

Maxwell is 21-of-41 passing on third downs this year, and has thrown two of his three touchdowns then, too. He has to find a way to be effective — more effective on third and long — for Michigan State to really take advantage of Ohio State’s recent struggles on third down.

Staying in third and short situations could go a long way, too. Heck, at The Only Colors, explains why:

“On 3rd down and 3 or less, the 10 running plays attempted have gained 6 yards per carry and converted 6 first downs (a conversion rate of 60%).

On 3rd and 3 or less, the 8 passing plays attempted have gained 6.75 yards per attempt and converted 5 first downs (a conversion rate of 62.5%). …

On 3rd and 6 or less, the 16 run plays attempted gained 4.8 yards per carry and converted 7 first downs (a conversion rate of 43.8%).

On 3rd and 6 or less, the 17 pass plays attempted gained 7.4 yards per attempt and converted 13 first downs (a conversion rate of 76.5%)”

So, the Spartans should look to pass on Ohio State on third down, as it seems to be effective for the Spartans and the Buckeyes aren’t effective at stopping it.

4. Misdirection from Ohio State

If there is one thing that Notre Dame did best, it was use the aggressive MSU defense against itself. The Irish used throwbacks and misdirection constantly to exploit the MSU defense and found success.

The talk from Ohio State this week is that running backs Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde will be used together in the backfield plenty, and misdirection makes a lot of sense with that personnel group.

Not to mention, Miller can run very well and will test the MSU defense.

5. Two key matchups — Simon vs Burkland/France, Stoneburner vs MSU cornerbacks

John Simon is one of the best pass rushers in the conference — as is his linemate Jonathan Hankins — and Skyler Burkland and Dan France have not inspired a great deal of confidence this year. In fact, pass blocking in general has been a struggle. This game will test the mettle of the MSU offensive line greatly.

Meanwhile, Johnny Adams has struggled a little bit this year and has been beateen by bigger players a couple of times. Jake Stoneburner is an Aaron Hernandez-type tight end in the Urban Meyer system. If they get matched up, it could be to Ohio State’s advantage.

Michigan State needs to win those matchups in this game, especially in blocking Simon and Hankins.

Prediction

Ohio State’s offense is going to test MSU greatly, but the bigger test is can the Spartans offense stop stalling and find a way to take advantage of the Ohio State defense.

If the wide receivers can make plays, and Maxwell can convert the big throws, MSU has a great shot in this one. Unfortunately, neither has instilled enough confidence for me to pick them in this one. I hope I’m wrong.

Ohio State 14, Michigan State 10

 

What are your keys to this game? What is your prediction?

Expect to see … Ohio State edition

Welcome to the battle for first place in the Big Ten. When Michigan State (8-3 Big Ten) travels to Columbus to play Ohio State (9-2) on Saturday, it will decide who sits atop the conference and who holds a slight edge over the rest of the competition.

This game is huge for both sides because if the season ends in a tie between MSU and OSU — the winner of this one will have the leg-up (for now) in the tiebreaker. Here’s my prediction about what Michigan State will have to do to beat Ohio State:  

1. Body up Sullinger The Buckeyes big man has been nothing but trouble for any team the Buckeyes have played. But no other team has had a player who matches him physically, like Derrick Nix.

Sullinger averages 17.4 points per game and 9.0 rebounds and is listed at 6-foot-9, 265 pounds. Nix (6-9, 270) can guard him and test him defensively in ways Sullinger is unfamiliar with. Nix must stay out of foul trouble in order to be effective on Sullinger.

Last season, Sullinger had 11 points and two rebounds in the lone meeting with the Spartans, MSU lost by 10, but expect them to employ a similar gameplan to shut down the Buckeyes big man: Get him in foul trouble and keep him neutralized. Adreian Payne will have to find a way to be effective on Sullinger to keep Nix fresh and to make Sullinger work against height and length. As usual, their tag team effort

2. Pick your poison The Buckeyes feature known offensive weapons in Sullinger, Aaron Craft and William Buford.

But, other Buckeyes can be the downfall of opponents — and have been, at times, this season. Deshaun Thomas has scored in double figures in all but three games, and has the ability to go off at any time. Lenzelle Smith Jr. even has shown he can do major damage, such as a 17-point game against Michigan.

As point one illustrated, the Spartans likely will body up Sullinger and work to shut him down. Draymond Green will be on Buford, and Keith Appling will be on Craft. Thomas and Smith COULD have big games, and that’s just a chance the Spartans are going to have to take with Ohio State.

3. No bad stretches — consistency After the 20-point win against Penn State on Wednesday, Tom Izzo described the performance as “bad, good, bad, good, bad, good, good.” MSU cannot afford these bad periods against Ohio State. The Buckeyes are too good and too talented to take a few minutes off against. Forty minutes of consistent basketball will go a long way for Michigan State. This means you Brandon Wood and Payne.

4. Control the pace Keith Appling, as in most games, will be essential to the success of the Spartans. Craft is a top point guard, but he doesn’t have the athleticism and quickness of Appling. Appling needs to control the pace and push the ball in transition, keeping out in front of the Buckeyes.

Getting easy buckets is big in any game, but especially against a top team — you take them as often as you can. Also, Appling is at his best when he is out in transition and getting to the hoop. That has been his bread-and-butter this season and it reflects when he is in his element.

Hopefully, Spartans fans see Appling getting to the rim and finishing early and often. This falls to Brandan Kearney, Wood and Austin Thornton, too. All of them will be responsible for pushing the ball. Frankly, it falls to Payne and Nix as well to get the ball to those guys quickly off the rebounds.

5. Get your RPI up with a top signature win This is the kind of signature win every team wants. No. 3 team in the country in its arena. While it still is a ways away, and this should by no means be a thought for the players themselves, it is a reality about this game for MSU. Get a win and get yourself in even better standing for a higher seed come tournament time.

 

This is a hard one to pick. It’s a road game, but it is in Value City Arena — which is one of the least intimidating arenas out there, even though OSU has won 39 in a row at home. It’s one of the nation’s top teams, with one of the nation’s top players. But it has seemed at times that Michigan State down to its competitions level, but also up to its competition. This game will be a great indicator of where this team currently is, but I don’t know if it quite has it for this one. Michigan State loses 70-64.