The Ohio State Buckeyes are 4-0 entering their first Big Ten tilt against the Michigan State Spartans on Saturday.
Urban Meyer's crew hasn't faced a team this talented so far, but they have been tested. UAB and California have presented challenges in the past two weeks, highlighting a few potential weaknesses on the Buckeyes roster.
Ohio State has the talent to defeat Michigan State, but it won't be easy. Here are three keys to victory on Saturday.
Wrap 'Em Up
Ohio State's defense is supremely talented, but its struggled to wrap up ball-carriers in its first four games.
If those same issues continue against Le'Veon Bell and the Michigan State offense, the Buckeyes will be in for a long day. Bell has steamrolled his way to 610 yards and five touchdowns so far this season, using his powerful build to gash opponents consistently.
Speed isn't the problem for the Buckeyes, but discipline is. They haven't held their assignments well, leaving room for opposing offenses to gain more yards than they should.
The Spartans will give the Buckeyes a heavy dose of Bell. If they can't stop it, they won't win.
After allowing 224 rushing yards to California in Week 3 and 144 yards to Alabama-Birmingham in Week 4, how confident could Ohio State be?
Pressure Andrew Maxwell
The Spartans have the 104th-best scoring offense for a reason. Andrew Maxwell hasn't been ideal as Kirk Cousins' replacement, and Michigan State's offense has suffered accordingly.
Maxwell has over 800 yards and three touchdowns through the air this year, but he's also thrown three interceptions. Playing well against Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan is fine; playing poorly against Notre Dame and Boise State is not.
Ohio State needs to crank up the pressure on Maxwell every chance it gets. Expect the Spartans to lean on Bell, but they will have to throw the ball to keep the defense honest. That's when Meyer's crew must pin their ears back and attack.
Michigan State is capable of scoring with its one-dimensional offense, although it hasn't shown it so far this season.
If Ohio State pressures Maxwell, it won't show it again in Week 5.
The Buckeyes were down to UAB 6-0 at the end of the first quarter last week. They bounced back to win the game, but a slow start against a better opponent could doom them on Saturday.
Michigan State will try to control the clock with Bell, allowing its defense to win the game. Ohio State's frenetic attack must score early and put the Spartans defense back on their heels.
This is the first in-conference matchup for either squad this season. East Lansing, Mich. will be rocking as its team tries to prove its Big Ten credentials again this season.
Pride is on the line in this one, and a fast start for either team will provide a major advantage. Ohio State knows how it feels to start slow, and it must avoid doing so two weeks in a row.
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