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It’s almost time. We’ve dissected and analyzed the matchup between Ohio State and Michigan State a thousand different ways at this point. Tomorrow, they’ll put the football down and play it out on a television or streaming device near you and add some clarity to the Big Ten East division and College Football Playoff picture.
The oddsmakers have the Buckeyes as an almost three-touchdown favorite, and that seems pretty outlandish to be honest. With two top-ten teams doing battle, that’s really unheard of.
However, there are reasons to believe that the Spartans could make this a game. If you’ve been watching football this year, you’ve no doubt seen what Mel Tucker has done with this bunch, and if the Buckeyes believe they’ll just roll their helmets out there and win going away, they’ll be in trouble.
With that in mind, and based on what we’ve seen so far this season, here are three reasons why Michigan State could cause some issues for Ohio State Saturday afternoon in the ‘Shoe.
The ground game
Oct 9, 2021; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back Kenneth Walker III (9) carries the ball past Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive lineman Ifeanyi Maijeh (88) during the first half at SHI Stadium. Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
We saw it against Michigan, and the Spartans will try to replicate it against Ohio State. If you watched the game, you know what I’m talking about. Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III had himself a day, scoring four touchdowns and allowing the Spartans to control the line of scrimmage.
In that one, the Spartans came from behind, but Mel Tucker and company have the ability to set up a game plan to maximize possession and limit the time the explosive Ohio State offense is on the field. If Michigan State can have success and move the chains on the ground, it’ll probably be in this game until the end.
Bend but don't break defense
Michigan State’s Xavier Henderson, right, celebrates a stop with Quavaris Crouch during the fourth quarter in the game against Michigan on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. Credit: USA TODAY Sports
Lost in the stat that seemingly everyone wants to point to head into this one is one that might be even more important. Yes, it is indeed true that Michigan State has the worst pass defense in the country when you look at yardage surrendered. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Despite giving up more air miles than a business executive’s frequent flyer program, the Spartan defense has actually not surrendered that many points. In fact, Michigan State is only allowing 22.5 points per game, which isn’t bad at all in this day and age. That’s only two points more per contest that Ohio State is giving up.
Look for Michigan State to give up underneath yards then tighten things up inside the red zone like we saw with Nebraska, Oregon, and Penn State. That’s the plan anyway. We’ll see if the MSU defense can pull it off.
Michigan State Spartans linebacker Quavaris Crouch (6) tackles Michigan Wolverines running back Hassan Haskins (25) during the second half Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. Credit: USA TODAY Sports
You look at the stats across the board for Michigan State and you start wondering how it has put up a 9-1 record. There isn’t one thing that stands out as something the Spartans really hang their hat on, but more or less, everything is a little above average across the board.
What we’ve seen from MSU this year under Mel Tucker more than anything though, is a belief in the process, belief in each other, and a belief that if the team just keeps playing through adversity, things will more often than not work out.
And work out it has so far. Aside from the Purdue game, the Spartans have been the tougher team that’s been able to outlast other teams because of a belief that’s grown as the season has progressed. You can bet that the same mindset will still exist when the green and white step off the bus and head through the tunnel into the venerable Ohio Stadium Saturday afternoon.