Making the pick highlights the Week 5 matchup between #14 Ohio State and #20 Michigan State.
It goes without saying that the Big 10 conference has had a bit of a down year so far. And with the non-conference slate over for Big 10, there is really nothing that they can do to repair that perception until bowl season commences. So in turn that leaves us with this week’s Top 25 matchup between Ohio State and Michigan State. Both are the two highest ranked teams in the Big 10 and both possess 2 of the best non-conference victories for the Big 10. Michigan State opened up the season with a 17-13 win against #24 Boise State, which stood as the only Big 10 win over a Top 25 team during non-conference play. Ohio State beat a solid Central Florida team in week 2 31-16. Not exactly groundbreaking, especially since Boise State is in a rebuilding year (7 returning starters) and Central Florida while talented, is not exactly Florida State.
The strength of Michigan State’s 3-1 team is most certainly their defense. They return 8 starters from a team that was 6th in the country in total defense only allowing 277 yards per game. So far this year they are only yielding 233 yards per game. The main difference has been the lack of a pass rushing presence thru 4 games. MSU only has 3 sacks so far this season, and averaged 3.2 sacks per game last year. However, there is no need for panic since MSU only had 5 sacks going into the OSU game last year, then totaled a season-high 9 against the Buckeyes. DE/OLB William Gholston (14 tackles & 4 QBHs) is built perfect for this game given his versatility in the against both the pass and run. Also the Spartans possess one of the best MLBs in the country in Max Bullough (26 tackles & 3.5 for loss) whom is as sure tackling as they come. Additionally Senior CB Johnny Adams (12 tackles & 4 PBUs) is a playmaker in the secondary who will also come up in run support and is effective in press coverage.
There is no arguing that Michigan State’s strength is their defense. However, their offense has left quite a bit to be desired. The one bright spot is obviously Le’Veon Bell who is for all intense purposes the only meaningful offensive weapon that the Spartans possess. Of the 311 offensive plays MSU has ran, Bell has touched the ball 129 times (most in the country). His 610 yards rushing rank 2nd in the country. Consequently Bell has accounted for 41.7% of MSU’s total offense. Where Michigan State struggles is their passing game. The receiving corps was left depleted after the graduation of NFL draftees B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin. The best threat in the passing gamec currently is TE Dion Sims whom is an NFL prospect in his own regard, and leads MSU in receptions, yardage, and TDs. Now that leads us to the new signal-caller, Junior QB Andrew Maxwell who has the unenviable task of replacing 3-year starter and now Washington Redskins backup QB Kirk Cousins. Maxwell’s 110.4 QB rating is last among starting QBs in the Big 10 entering conference play. However, Maxwell does possess a strong arm but lacks mobility and hasn’t been helped by a large number of drops from his receivers.
While many suspected Ohio State’s defense would be their strength going into the 12′ season, in reality it has been a liability most of the time. Ohio State is surrendering 394.8 yards per game this year. Their saving grace has been their ability to force turnovers which is the antithesis of what the Buckeyes excelled at last year. They’ve already forced 9 TOs while only forcing 20 last year. The Buckeyes have experience, returning 9 starters from last year, and deploy some solid NFL prospects themselves. Potential Top 10 pick DT Jonathon Hankins (25 tackles) will be instrumental into stopping the Spartan run with his excellent run-stuffing ability. DE/OLB John Simon (13 tackles & 1 sack) is the heart of the defense, while LB Ryan Shazier (40 tackles) appears to be a future star. CB Travis Howard (3 INTs) has really stepped up and become a key playmaker. Another key for the OSU defense is their difficulty in not allowing big plays. This was best exhibited in the near upset loss against Cal when OSU let 3rd string RB Brandon Bigelow have 59 yard and 81 yard TD runs. Also keep in mind the Buckeyes only had 23 sacks last season, they already have 10 this year.
Offensively it really doesn’t have to be said, but the Offense revolves around QB Braxton Miller. Understandable since the success of the offense’s Urban Meyer deploys largely revolves around exceptional QB play We talked earlier about how much offense the Spartan’s Bell accounts for, Miller averages 298 yards of offense per game which is 70% of the Buckeyes offensive output. Also of their 21 TDs, Miller has had a hand in 14 of them. RB Carlos Hyde is said to be healthy for this game and Senior RB Jordan Hall is back healthy again after running for 105 yards last week. Both of these backs will be crucial in taking some pressure off of Miller. The receiving corps has been sometimes great and sometimes bad, where much like their opponent -they’ve had problems with drops. WRs Devin Smith (17 RECs, 272 yards, 3 TDs) and Philly Brown (20 RECs, 233 yards, TD) are the favorite targets, while TE/WR Jake Stoneburner (3 TDs) is a solid red zone threat.
The pick to win Saturday’s Top 25 matchup is Ohio State. Both teams will share similar defensive philosophies by loading the box and forcing the opposing team to beat them with the pass. The difference is simply Braxton Miller. Unlike Maxwell, Miller’s athleticism and ability to make people miss in space allow Ohio State to have more propensity for success on Saturday. Also, OSU plays well in East Lansing owning a 6-1 advantage over the Spartans that includes being the winners of 3 straight there. Michigan State does have an excellent defense that will more than likely be the toughest that Ohio State faces all season by a large margin, however, Michigan State’s anemic offense in combination with Braxton Miller’s playmaking ability is where the difference in this game enlies.We forecast this game as a low-scoring defensive struggle that should be close all the way to the end.
Highlights from last years game…