The No.3 Ohio State Buckeyes have their first opportunity to impress the college football world on this season. Despite having the longest winning streak in the nation, the defending national champions haven’t received the proper respect all year. However, that can all change this weekend.
The Buckeyes welcome the No.9 Michigan State Spartans in what can amount to an elimination game for the College Football Playoff. The Spartans lost an earlier game to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, but already have a victory over the Michigan Wolverines. If they are able to pull off the upset against the Buckeyes, the Spartans will be a strong candidate to conquer the Big Ten East.
Although the Buckeyes have been dominant, they haven’t been pretty. Currently, the defense holds opponents to 13.8 points per game, but it’s an afterthought when thinking about the Buckeyes on offense. However, the Buckeyes already have 30 sacks this season, and they’ll be looking to get after Connor Cook and company.
Defensive end Joey Bosa maybe the No.1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, but he’s not the lone threat to cause havoc. Right now, Bosa leads the defense with 15 tackles for loss. He’s also third on the team with four sacks. Meanwhile, Tyquan Lewis is setting the pace with 6.5 sacks this year.
Overall, the Buckeyes give up 126.8 rushing yards per game. Opponents also average 38 rushing attempts per game for 3.3 yards per rush. Those numbers alone cause opposing offenses to become reliant on the passing game. Unfortunately for the Spartans, Ohio State only gives up 171.6 yards per game through the air.
Due to Spartans’ Cook suffering from a shoulder injury, it won’t be clear if he’s able to make a splash in the passing game. Coming into the game, Cook has completed 174 of 310 passes for 2472 yards, and 21 touchdowns. Cook also has four interceptions this season. For the most part, he’s been great with the ball, but the Spartans will need him to make plays on Saturday.
The Spartans have the receivers to challenge the Buckeyes’ secondary. Aaron Burbridge has 64 catches for 1011 yards, and six touchdowns this year. Teammates R.J. Shelton and Macgarrett Kings Jr. have combined for 66 catches and eight touchdowns. All three players have the ability to score from anywhere on the field, so they’ll need some explosive plays early on.
If the passing game gets on track, the Spartans should be well equipped to run the ball. Although they don’t have a dynamic running attack, the Spartans’ running game is tough enough to pound at the Buckeyes’ front seven. Whether they are successful or not, the Buckeyes must key on the ground attack. In addition, it should help the Spartans win the turnover margin. Remember, the Spartans average less than one turnover per game.
Still, the Buckeyes will be in search of a few momentum plays early in the game. Coming into the contest, the Buckeyes have 10 interceptions. Taking advantage of a few miscues will be key for the entire game.