Detroit Free Press
Published 1:20 PM EST Nov 8, 2018
Dissecting the Michigan State Spartans’ showdown Saturday against Ohio State.
Matchup: No. 24 Michigan State (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) vs. No. 8 Ohio State (8-1. 5-1).
When: Noon, Saturday.
Where: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing.
TV/radio: Fox, WJR-AM (760).
Line: Ohio State by 3½.
Out: WR Felton Davis III (torn left Achilles, season), P Jake Hartbarger (right leg, season); P Tyler Hunt (torn ACL, season), CB Tyson Smith (illness, season), TE Jonathan Brys (transfer). Questionable: RB LJ Scott (ankle), C Matt Allen (left foot), LG David Beedle (left arm); QB Brian Lewerke (right shoulder), FB Collin Lucas (uncisclosed), WR Laress Nelson (leg), WR C.J. Hayes (undisclosed), CB Josh Butler (undisclosed), CB Tre Person (undisclosed), DE Dillon Alexander (right leg), DT Mufi Hill-Hunt (knee), TE Noah Davis (undisclosed), LB Ed Warriner (undisclosed), LB Chase Kline (undisclosed), OL James Ohonba (undisclosed); Probable: CB Josiah Scott (left leg), WR Cody White (left hand), RG Kevin Jarvis (right leg).
Out: DE Nick Bosa (abdominal muscle, season), WR Austin Mack (foot), OL Brady Taylor (knee). Questionable: WR Cameron Brown (undisclosed), S Isaiah Pryor (undisclosed), CB Jeffrey Okudah (undisclosed), CB Sevyn Banks (undisclosed).
When MSU has the ball: The Spartans found life in their run game without starting RB LJ Scott and OL David Beedle and Matt Allen. MSU used the same offensive line in back-to-back weeks for the second time this fall, and it produced a season-best 269 rushing yards in a 24-3 win over Maryland. Connor Heyward showed why coaches like him at running back, flashing power between the tackles and breakaway speed on an 80-yard TD run that gave him a career-high 157 yards on 15 carries. MSU ranks 111th nationally in rushing offense. The Spartans’ passing game also continues to languish with QB Brian Lewerke’s ailing right shoulder. He is 16 of 45 for 153 yards, no TDs and an interception in his past two starts. It remains the biggest decision for MSU’s coaching staff: Go with Lewerke again, or start Rocky Lombardi after his heroics against Purdue? Dantonio stood his ground earlier this week and reiterated Lewerke remains his starting quarterback, even though the junior said at Maryland his throwing arm aches with every pass and that he is not 100 percent healthy. MSU’s 23.4 points per game ranks 110th out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, and its total offensive output (360.3 yards per game) is 110th.
The Buckeyes are pedestrian by Ohio State’s standard on defense, with their 397.3 yards allowed per game ranking 69th nationally. Urban Meyer’s young secondary especially has been gashed, yielding 243.9 yards per game through the air.
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When Ohio State has the ball: Last week’s return of CB Josiah Scott got the defense to full strength on the starting front for the first time this season, and it helped offset injuries to Josh Butler and Tre Person that cut into MSU’s depth at cornerback. The Spartans produced one of their best defensive performances since 2012, holding the Terrapins to 100 total yards. MSU’s secondary held its first opponent this year to under 100 yards passing, improving to 98th nationally in pass defense (253.4 yards per game). The Spartans’ No. 1 run defense limited Maryland’s potent ground game to a season-worst 26 rushing yards, their total defense now ranks 22nd in the nation (325.1 yards per game, and their 19 points allowed per game is 16th. MSU also is strong on third down, with its 31.8 percent conversion rate ranking 13th.
The Buckeyes have ridden Dwayne Haskins’ big arm and the legs of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber to become the No. 5 offense in FBS at 547.2 yards per game and No. 10 scoring team nationally at 42.2 points. Ohio State ranks third in passing offense at 369.1 yards per game, and55th in rushing at 178.1 yards. However, the Buckeyes have struggled in the red zone, converting 75.6 percent of their trips into points.
Know the foe
New weapon: Haskins took over for the departed J.T. Barrett and has elevated the Buckeyes’ passing attack. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound redshirt sophomore leads the FBS with 32 touchdown passes and has thrown six interceptions, completing 242 of 347 passes (69.7 percent) for 3,053 yards. He owns the OSU single-game school passing record with 470 yards, along with the third- and fifth-best games after throwing for 400-plus in three straight games.
Double trouble: Weber and Dobbins might be the best running back duo in the country, combining to average 143.4 yards per game with 10 touchdowns between them. Dobbins ran for 163 yards and three touchdowns, and Weber added 91 yards in last week’s 36-31 win over Nebraska. That snapped a streak of six straight games of less than 200 rushing yards for Ohio State. Weber, a junior from Detroit Cass Tech, had 162 yards and two TDs, and Dobbins ran for 124 yards in a 48-3 blowout of the Spartans last year.
Defensive downturn: Ohio State’s defense has looked mortal since the season-ending injury loss of DE Nick Bosa. The Buckeyes have given up 456.6 yards and 29.2 points per game in their past five outings, including a 49-20 beatdown by Purdue a week before the Spartans handled the Boilermakers, 23-13. Ohio State has given up 46 passing or running plays of 20-or-more yards this season. Purdue, in its upset win, gashed the Buckeyes for 539 yards.
Seeking atonement: MSU has last year’s blowout loss in Columbus on its mind. The Spartans gave up 532 total yards and the most rushing yards ever by a Mark Dantonio-coached team. The Buckeyes held MSU to 195 total yards, including 64 rushing, and collected six sacks of Lewerke and Messiah deWeaver. The loss to the eventual league champions essentially eliminated the Spartans from winning the Big Ten East.
Strong rivalry: Dantonio is one of six coaches who have multiple wins over Urban Meyer at Ohio State since he arrived in Columbus in 2012. MSU beat the Buckeyes in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game, then again in 2015 at Ohio Stadium. Three of the Spartans’ four losses to Meyer’s OSU teams have come by a combined 14 points, while last year’s 45-point beatdown was the largest margin of defeat ever for MSU against the Buckeyes.
Ohio State 24, MSU 20: The Spartans have yet to face a quarterback the caliber of Haskins, and he and his weapons at receiver get a late score to win and take advantage of a banged-up secondary with Josiah Scott still returning to full strength. MSU moves the ball on offense, but can’t finish in the final quarter.
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Contact Chris Solari: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari.
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