Big Ten season is upon us and it starts off in a BIG way.
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):
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.
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?