As we get deeper into the college football season, we will begin to see more and more marquee matchups each week. One of the premier contests in Week 5 sees the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes travel to East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans.
These matchups have provided us with great battles over the years, and three of the last four meetings have been decided by 10 points or less. While the Buckeyes are banned from postseason play this year, the team will certainly have a say in who competes in the Big Ten Championship Game.
This is expected to be a tight game—like last year’s 10-7 meeting was—and will be a big step for a team such as Michigan State that is very much alive in the Big Ten race.
When two ranked teams square off, it's generally expected to be one of the better games of the weekend. However, here are five reasons why the Buckeyes should have no problem beating the Spartans this time around.
Like most teams coached by Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes are scoring a lot of points and moving the ball effectively early on. The team is producing nearly 38 points per game, is averaging more than 420 yards and has the second-best rushing attack in the Big Ten.
While the majority of the offensive production is coming from quarterback Braxton Miller, the running back tandem of Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall looks to be one of the best in the conference as well. The only problem is both have suffered injuries and have yet to be on the field at the same time.
When one was in the rotation, the other was sidelined with an injury.
In this game, things should be different. Hyde is expected to play alongside Hall for the first time this season, according to Sporting News.
Hall has gotten off to a terrific start, averaging more than five yards per carry and scoring a pair of touchdowns, while Hyde played well in a limited role before suffering a knee injury in Week 2.
Having two experienced running backs in the backfield for this game will take some of the pressure off the sophomore quarterback. He won't have to make every play for the offense.
This is what Meyer envisioned this offense looking like during the offseason, and it is finally beginning to come together for this football team.
We saw quarterback Braxton Miller's potential last season, but I'm not sure anybody thought he would grow up so quickly. He is making much better decisions with the football, has increased his completion percentage by seven percent and already has produced seven plays of more than 25 yards in the air.
By comparison, he only completed 15 pass plays of more than 25 yards in all of last season.
The most impressive thing is that the sophomore quarterback is actually looking to throw the football.
There were many times last season when he looked lost on the field and would take off before the pressure even got to him.
This season, Miller has looked to throw the football and only make plays with his feet when there is an opening or when it is a designed run.
As a result of his improved decision-making, Miller has become a better all-around quarterback and much more dangerous to opposing defenses.
In last year’s meeting, Miller was still splitting time with quarterback Joe Bauserman. This weekend, the Michigan State defense will get a full dose of the dark-horse Heisman candidate.
One of the main reasons the Buckeyes lost last year was because of the brutal play of their offensive line.
Michigan State was constantly generating pressure up front, and it resulted in nine sacks, which was the most the Spartans had in any game last season.
This year, the Buckeyes offensive line is more experienced and seems to be coming together better than it was a season ago.
Former tight end Reid Fragel is becoming more comfortable at the right tackle position, and Marcus Hall has settled in nicely in his full-time role at right guard.
Meanwhile, the front seven of the Spartans hasn't exactly been making impact plays so far in 2012.
Right now, Michigan State is ranked dead last in the Big Ten with only three sacks through the first four games of the season. The pressure is getting there, but creating game-changing plays by sacking the quarterback is an area in which this team has lacked.
This is a unit that finished third in the country last season with 45 sacks on opposing quarterbacks.
Since 2010, five of the Spartans' six losses have occurred when the team has produced less than two sacks.
Now that quarterback Kirk Cousins is backing up Robert Griffin III in the NFL, the Spartans offense has taken a turn for the worse. If running back Le'Veon Bell does not move the chains consistently, this offense is simply not going to score points.
Bell has been a breath of fresh air for this team. He is averaging more than five yards per carry and has scored five touchdowns. Michigan State has picked up 85 total first downs, and the senior running back is responsible for 31 of them.
Quarterback Andrew Maxwell has been beyond horrible, which is why Bell has had to carry the ball 117 times through the first four games. His 117 touches are the second-most of any running back in the country, in fact.
With Maxwell completing less than 57 percent of his passes, it is the running game that will produce the points for this offense. While that may work against smaller defenses such as Boise State and Central Michigan, it won't work against a bigger defense such as Ohio State's.
In last year’s meeting, Bell was held to under four yards per carry on 14 touches.
Right now, Ohio State is allowing less than six first downs per game on the ground and less than four yards per carry on average. The physical front seven of the Buckeyes won't allow Bell to beat them by himself, which will force Maxwell to make plays with his arm.
Good luck against a ball-hawking secondary that has already produced seven interceptions.
Was there a more frustrating game for Ohio State last season than the loss to the Spartans?
When you add everything up, the Buckeyes really had plenty of chances to win the game. The defense did a great job of keeping everybody in check and holding the Spartans offense to only a 21 percent conversion rate on third down. They also forced three turnovers and forced solid field position throughout the game.
The problem was the team kept shooting itself in the foot. The Buckeyes allowed nine sacks, picked up nine penalties, rotated quarterbacks and couldn't convert on third down.
However, even with all of those miscues, the game still was only decided by a field goal.
This season, Michigan State is no longer a balanced offense, and Ohio State has better offensive weapons. Furthermore, many of the key offensive players for the Buckeyes were still suspended due to the tattoo scandal during last season's matchup.
You can expect a cleaner game from Urban Meyer's troops and an overall better performance from the Buckeyes, which should result in a victory this year. Losing a close game when the opportunities were there to seal the deal must have left a bad taste in this team's mouth.
Michigan State has not won back-to-back games over the Buckeyes since 1998-99, and that streak likely will continue.