Big Ten Championship Game 2013: Biggest Keys for Michigan State and Ohio State

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Big Ten Championship Game 2013: Biggest Keys for Michigan State and Ohio State
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Michigan State and Ohio State both were tested a bit more than each would have liked in Week 14, but it still remains that they'll face off in the Big Ten title game with only one loss between them.

Urban Meyer's defense was exposed more than it has been all season long in the Big House on Saturday, with archrival Michigan coming one play away from giving the Buckeyes their first loss in two seasons. They have plenty of issues to iron out before their date with Sparty next weekend.

And it's not all promise in East Lansing, as the Spartans were tested by Minnesota. They got out with a 14-3 victory, but faced their fair share of struggles in the process.

Here's a look at what each team needs to do to crash the BCS party.

 

Ohio State

Stop the Bleeding on Defense

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Ohio State showed signs of having a porous defense in stretches during the season, but it got downright embarrassed by a questionable offense on Saturday.

Michigan entered the game losing three of its last four, behind Devin Gardner's struggles. He failed to surpass 226 yards through the air in those four games and became non-factor with his feet.

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The Buckeyes made them look like stars. Gardner threw for 451 yards and and four touchdowns on 32-for-45 passing and Jeremy Gallon added 175 yards receiving with a score. Gardner was hobbling around and unable to scramble for big gains, but it made no difference.

Gardner's biggest throws came when the game was on the line, and he made all but one of them—the two-point attempt interception that ended up losing the game. The Buckeyes looked lost at times in the secondary and were carved up in the process.

It's hard to give Luke Fickell and company a pass and say that they stepped up when it mattered most, especially when Michigan was an extra point attempt away from sending the game to overtime.

But thanks to that fateful interception by Tyvis Powell in the end zone, the defense will get a chance to redeem itself in the Big Ten title game. If it wants to keep Ohio State's national title aspirations alive, a much better performance must be brought. 

 

Ride Carlos Hyde as Far as You Can

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Besides one Heisman hopeful Andre Williams at Boston College, there isn't a back in the country running better at the moment than Carlos Hyde.

After being suspended for the first three games, Hyde was a man on a mission when he returned to action. He has 1,290 yards rushing in nine games, passing the century mark in his last seven games and averaging an epic 7.8 yards per carry. 

He posted his second 200-yard performance of the season against Michigan on Saturday. Although he was a workhorse with 27 carries and one catch, he rushed for 226 yards and moved the chains on most of those carries.

Simply put, Ohio State would have been overpowered by Michigan in that fourth quarter if it weren't for Hyde. His hot hand sustained many of the Buckeyes' scoring drives, including 21 yards on four carries and the eventual game-winning touchdown just one drive after fumbling and giving the Wolverines a chance to tie the game. 

Other than his untimely fumble, Hyde played a perfect game with the most at stake for Ohio State since the Jim Tressel days, and you have to reward that with more carries against Michigan State.

 

Michigan State

Convert 3rd Down, Extend Drives

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Michigan State may have gotten out of its regular season finale unscathed, but it was in spite of the team's dreadful performance on third down.

The Spartans were an abysmal 0-for-8 on third downs against the Golden Gophers, and that offensive lethargy would have bitten them if Minnesota would've scored any more than three points.

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Quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford have shown the ability to light it up offensively when their team needs it. The offense has surpassed 40 points three times this season, two of which came when Sparty surrendered 28 points—the most this season. 

In two of Michigan State's biggest wins—versus Michigan and Nebraska—it converted 50 percent of its third downs and that allowed the offense to sustain drives. Against Ohio State, the Spartans will need to have similar success.

This team might be able to score 10-14 points and rely on the defense to cruise against eight-win teams like Minnesota, but they will get blown out with that mentality against the Buckeyes.

 

Get out to Early Lead

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This may seem not only simple but inconsequential. However, it could decide the game.

Michigan State's defense may be the best in the Big Ten and one of the best in the country, but it also hasn't faced anything near the capacity of Ohio State on offense. That's not to say the defense can't keep Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde at bay, but it will need all the help it can get from the other side of the ball.

As has happened in many of their games, the Buckeyes' two-pronged rushing threat of Hyde and Miller wore down Michigan on Saturday. Ohio State started slow on offense, but it didn't last long as it racked up 393 yards on the ground by the final whistle.

Eventually, Hyde got going (226 yards on the game) and started bustling for 15-yard gains over and over. Once that happened, Miller was able to pull on the read option and that resulted in 153 yards and three scores for him. 

The Spartans' offense won't be able to win if Ohio State has the ground success that it did against Michigan. Getting out to an early lead and forcing Miller to pass is the best way to prevent that. 

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