After a season in which the Michigan State Spartans and Ohio State Buckeyes seemed destined for a showdown, finally, that moment has arrived. The nation’s top defense and a high flying offense will do battle in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship.
It’s the Spartans second appearance in the championship game, while Ohio State is making their first trip. Both teams, undefeated in the Big Ten regular season, have been biding their time until this contest and trying not to look ahead. Now, it’s finally the right time for a long awaited standoff. How will Michigan State emerge victorious and take the Rose Bowl by force? What will help the Buckeyes send a Big Ten team to the national championship game? Spartan Sideline previews what figures to be a hard-hitting, tough affair.
How Michigan State Wins: Score early and force a few turnovers.
Ohio State makes a living off of jumping ahead of teams, staying ahead and applying pressure with more points. To combat this, the Spartans need to play Ohio State like the Michigan did, scoring early and forcing some turnovers. The Buckeyes had to play catch up most of the afternoon in Ann Arbor while collecting two turnovers, and it almost cost them. The Spartan defense has to force Braxton Miller into turnovers and be aggressive on defense, much like they did last season in East Lansing. Offensively, Michigan State must try to stun the Buckeyes with some quick touchdowns in the first half and try to play from ahead consistently. If that happens, the Spartans stand a fantastic chance of pulling the upset.
How Ohio State Wins: Establish Carlos Hyde.
Hyde has been a force all year on the ground, and against Michigan, he rushed for 226 yards and a score. Michigan State’s run defense is the best in the nation, only allowing 65.6 yards per-game. What will happen in this clash of the titans? Ohio State needs to keep Hyde going against a solid defense, which will help their passing game with Miller. If Hyde is running for over 200 yards, Ohio State will beat Michigan State in blowout fashion, considering what the Buckeyes’ passing game can do even without a solid running attack to fall back on. Hyde didn’t burn the Spartans last year withonly 49 yards, but Miller did. This time around, it must be Hyde doing the grinding against the Spartan front.
Hoover, a sixth year senior thanks to injury, is finishing off his Spartan career with a bang. After missing the Michigan game and being slowed by injury, Hoover made a huge play last Saturday, forcing a Minnesota fumble late in the game. How he plays in the middle of the field against Hyde and Braxton Miller will set the tone for the entire defensive line. If Hoover is able to get active and find himself in the backfield, that will help Shilique Calhoun, Marcus Rush and company get active.
Brown has been unimpressed with Michigan State’s so called “no fly zone” defensive secondary this week saying the Buckeyes “fly whenever they please”, and in order for Ohio State to win, he will have to be a play maker and make things happen down the field for Braxton Miller. The pressure is squarely on Brown to come up with a good game given his words. If he does and Hyde is running wild, the Spartans will be toast.
Most Important “State” Stat Of The Game: 316, the amount of rushing yards per-game the Buckeyes have collected in 2013. In order to win, the Buckeyes have to operate on the ground far better than anyone else has against the Spartans in 2013. The closest a team has come to running on Michigan State was Nebraska, who ground out 182 yards on the Spartan defense and scored a few big touchdowns. That game was at home, however, and was Michigan State’s worst effort of the year. The Spartans still won a shootout, carving up the Cornhusker defense. Clearly, the most important contest of the day will be the Michigan State run defense against the Ohio State ground attack.
Intangibles: Pressure of playing for a national title.
The Buckeyes have had their championship aspirations spoiled by Michigan State before, most notably in 1974 and 1998. There’s plenty of pressure on Ohio State to win, considering a victory likely sends them to the title game. All week, people have been talking about how much the Buckeyes need to win by in order to secure a championship birth. Lost in that, though, is the fact that the Spartans are a very solid team that has nothing to lose themselves. Many have suggested they’ll go to the Rose Bowl win or lose, adding to the danger they pose to Ohio State. Will the Buckeyes wilt under the intense pressure of playing a big time opponent with everything on the line? The Spartans are arguably in a better spot this time around than when they took on Wisconsin in the 2011 Big Ten title game.
Prediction: The Spartans are a very dangerous foe playing loose, confident football behind a defense which is tough to score on. The Buckeyes roll in with a fantastic offense, but a defense which was exposed a bit by the Wolverines. That will figure in on Saturday. There’s no question both teams are fantastic, but the variable which decides this one will be pressure. Michigan State has little, while Ohio State carries the weight of national title expectations on their back. That hurts them against the Spartans, who make a few surprising plays on offense and stun the Buckeyes on the way to the Rose Bowl. Michigan State 27, Ohio State 20
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax