The Ohio State Buckeyes have started the 2012 season with a perfect 4-0 record. Unfortunately, things get much tougher with the start of the Big Ten season.
In its first conference matchup, the team must travel to East Lansing to take on Michigan State. The Spartans come into the contest ranked No. 20 in the AP Poll. Only the Buckeyes have a higher ranking within the Big Ten at No. 14.
This game will undoubtedly be the toughest road game for Ohio State this season and will likely be the first chance for this young team to stumble.
Bovada lists Ohio State as 2.5-point underdogs, but the Buckeyes can pull off the upset if they follow these keys to victory.
Stop The Run
There are plenty of talented players on offense for Michigan State, but the team runs through Le'Veon Bell. The running back is currently second in the nation with 610 rushing yards and has over half of the team's touchdowns through four games.
The junior has two 200-yard games already this year, but was limited to 77 yards and no touchdowns against Notre Dame. The result was a 20-3 slaughter by the Fighting Irish.
This shows how important Bell is to the offense. If he is shut down, the entire offense suffers.
Ohio State has struggled at times against the run this season. California was able to keep the game close thanks to a total of 246 yards from its top two running backs. UAB and UCF were forced to pass more often, but each team still had plenty of success on the ground against this defense.
If the Buckeyes cannot defend Bell, it will be a long game.
Make Safe Passes
Braxton Miller is a better runner than passer, but he will need to do it all if he wants to score against this tough defense.
Michigan State has tortured opposing quarterbacks this season. Not a single player has completed more than half of his passes against the Spartans, and they have allowed only two touchdowns to three interceptions.
Miller has completed 61.2 percent of his passes this season. He needs to make sure he continues that accuracy in order for his team to sustain drives. That would certainly be easier for him than running for long plays all game by himself.
Win the Turnover Battle
In the Week 4 matchup, UAB finished with more yards than Ohio State, had more first downs and was more efficient on third down. However, the Buckeyes were able to leave with a two-touchdown victory by holding onto the football and forcing the Blazers into two turnovers.
The Buckeyes were even in turnover differential in the two close games against Cal and UCF. However, the Miami (OH) game turned into a blowout after the team was able to get plus-three in the turnover margin.
Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell has not turned the ball over since Week 1, but that game featured three interceptions as the Spartans needed an amazing effort from Bell to secure the win over Boise State.
Ohio State needs to secure the football against the Spartans. Also, the defense must force turnovers to give the offense a short field against this tough defense.
While winning the turnover battle does not always guarantee success, it is often the biggest indicator for success in close games like this one.
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