In a classic matchup of great offense against great defense, the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan State Spartans square off on Saturday for the Big Ten title. Ohio State won't stumble with a shot at the BCS National Championship on the line, even against the mighty Spartans defense, but MSU has the tools to keep things close.
The Buckeyes have the second-ranked rushing attack in the nation at 321.3 yards per game, and the 48.2 points per game they average is third-best. Quarterback Braxton Miller has been incredible this season. The Heisman candidate has thrown for 21 touchdowns to just five picks and rushed for eight more TDs on nearly 900 yards.
Miller completed just six passes against Michigan last week, but he still threw for two TDs and ran for three more. Miller will be a focus for the defense, but so will Ohio State's yeoman runner Carlos Hyde. He's rushed for 14 scores and 1,290 yards with a hefty 7.8 yards per carry, and not to mention 226 yards last week.
The Spartans' excellent secondary is led by Darqueze Dennard, a Jim Thorpe Award finalist. He can help limit Miller through the air, but it will be up to the front seven to decipher Miller's bag of tricks in the backfield and bottle up the formidable ground game.
Despite the Spartans' fantastic defense, they have not faced an opponent as potent as the Buckeyes this year. Saturday will be a can't-stop-only-hope-to-contain effort, and Michigan State is certainly used to being stingy.
The Spartans are ranked first in total yards allowed, and the fact that opponents only average 64.8 rushing yards against them is slightly hard to comprehend. That's more than 250 yards under Ohio State's average rushing total per game. The Spartans also allow only 11.8 points per game, fourth in the nation, which is about five TDs off the Buckeye's typical pace.
Michigan State's last game against a ranked opponent was a 29-6 win over Michigan on Nov. 2. For comparison, that is the same Michigan that very nearly nipped Ohio State 42-41 in nail-biter.
Overall, the Buckeyes are no slouch on defense either; they give up just 20.3 points per game, 18th in the country. They will come in against Michigan State determined to put forth a better defensive effort. Wolverines QB Devin Gardner accounted for five TDs in all last week as Michigan hung 41 points on them and nearly won on a late two-point conversion attempt.
The storyline for the Big Ten title clash is about strength versus strength, OSU scoring vs. MSU D, but Michigan State's only shot at victory is to victimize the Buckeyes defense as the Wolverines did. The Spartans will limit Ohio State, but they won't shut down that offense.
Though Michigan State's offense doesn't get as much ink as the D, there are weapons on that unit too. Jeremy Langford has been a workhorse this season, rushing for 1,210 yards on 245 carries and finding the end zone 16 times. Quarterback Connor Cook has completed just 58 percent of his passes, but he's thrown for 17 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
However, it's hard to believe that a Michigan State team which lost 17-13 to Notre Dame on Sept 21 can keep pace with Ohio State's 48-points-per-game offense. MSU has only scored more than 30 points four times this season and never against a defense as talented as they will face on Saturday.
The scare against Michigan last week should be just the jolt that the Buckeyes needed. The offense will be eager to show it is worthy of a national title shot, and the Spartans just don't have enough firepower to hang with them despite their menacing defense.