The Michigan State Spartans are all that stand between Ohio State and the BCS Championship Game. The Buckeyes have put together a dominant season for a second consecutive year. Michigan State, on the other hand, has quietly constructed a stellar defensive season, befitting of a Big Ten champion.
Ohio State last lost when Luke Fickell was roaming the sidelines. Urban Meyer hasn’t lost since he left the University of Florida. Despite dominating Big Ten play for the majority of the season, the Buckeyes have proven vulnerable their past few games.
Michigan State began the season with dominant defense, but anemic offense. After a four-point loss to then-No. 22 Notre Dame, in South Bend, the Spartans went on to run the table in the Big Ten.
It’s a sign of the times that an Ohio State team, with a 24-game win streak, receives such little media recognition.
Let’s take a look at some keys to the game.
Ohio State is an offensive juggernaut. They rank third in the nation, scoring 48.2 points per game; sixth in the country in yards per game; and have rushed for more yards, and own a higher rushing average than any FBS team. The Buckeyes are a big-play, opportunistic rushing team.
Michigan State is the national leader in rushing defense. The Spartans give up a paltry 64.75 yards per game, which is over 18 yards fewer than the next best team nationally. They also rank first in the county for total defense, and give up fewer than 12 points per game (fourth best in FBS). Michigan State has forged its season on stonewalling opponents.
This game is why people love football. It pits two philosophically different teams that impose their will on the opponent: Michigan State through its grinding defense, and Ohio State through its counters and dives until a big play opens. In order for the Spartans to win this matchup, they must remain patient. Their defense must limit Ohio State’s big plays, as well as spy Braxton Miller at all times.
Michigan State is not a team designed to come from behind. They rank 13th in the Big Ten in passing, and can not afford a large deficit early in the game.
If this game is close in the second half, watch for Urban Meyer to grab momentum through special teams. His best teams have excelled in the game’s third phase, and Meyer reads the pulse of a game better than, perhaps, any active coach.
The Big Ten Championship Game is shaping up to resemble a boxing match where both competitors trade body blows for 12 rounds. It should be an excellent contest in what can truly be considered Meyer’s first big game as Ohio State’s head coach.
It’s time to settle it.