Ohio State-Michigan State: Tastes Like a Preview

Buckeye CommentarySenior Analyst IOctober 17, 2008

What the Interweb is saying: Bullet points–

They have television on the Interweb now:

The Ringer that got away

Ohio State Run Offense vs. MSU

I know what you are thinking, “Michigan State’s defense is not very good so the Buckeyes should be able to score this weekend.” Well, that was the same thing you said last weekend and that netted the Buckeyes' nine offensive points.

I know Beanie had the flu, but I am getting tired of the offensive excuses. There is no reason that Pryor and Beanie should not be averaging 200 yards rushing per game. Where is the designed quarterback draw?

Ohio State does not need to be fancy or overly varied in play calling. They just need to execute a handful of basic running plays.

Beanie shredded the Spartan defense this season, and with Pryor alongside him, I cannot think of one reason why the yards should be any more difficult to come by.

Sure, Dantonio is going to come up with run blitzes but MSU is not a sack machine and a few missed tackles will dry up those blitz packages.

The running game is even more important for Ohio State because of the time of possession correlation to victory. Despite Brian’s loathing of this statistical category, there is a very real link in Big Ten football.

Michigan State is tops in the league in TOP, which gives them a 77 percent chance of winning based on last season’s data. Ohio State has to win this category, not only because of the statistical consequence, but also because they are not a quick strike team.

Nationally speaking, TOP means very little, but in this game, it could be everything.

Ohio State Pass Offense v. MSU

It is hard to watch the OSU pass attack right now. I know the Spartans rank ninth in the conference but Purdue’s defense was giving up similar numbers going into last week’s game, and Ohio State is dead last in passing.

Worse than Michigan. I repeat, Steven Threet leads a more dynamic passing offense by the numbers.

Aside from better line play, which does not seem to be in the cards this season, I am not totally sure what can save this portion of the offense. But I can tell you what is not helping: those ridiculously underblocked WR screens and swing passes.

I have not seen one of those work all year. And, for once, it is not the line’s fault. I die a little each time they run that play or the down-the-line option.

Honestly, the success rate is less than 20 percent, at best. I would say that they should throw down field more, but Robiskie seems allergic to using two hands and Hartline only runs routes of less than 15 yards.

The only answer to the passing game is a dominant running game opening up the deep routes. What are the odds of that?

The best you can hope for is Pryor’s improved decision-making by throwing the ball away instead of taking a sack.

Michigan State Run Offense v. OSU

You already know that Ringer leads or is near the top in several categories nationally. He’s good. But you would probably be surprised to learn that MSU has gained 134 first downs this season (seventh in the league) and they are split evenly between the run and pass (61 each; 12 by penalty).

I do not have the splits in front of me, but this leads me to believe that Michigan State often runs on first and second down, ends up in third-and-short, and runs play action.

This theory is also bolstered by the fact that MSU has attempted more third downs than any other Big Ten team, although some teams have only played six games. Their third-down conversion rate: 36.6 percent for eighth in the conference.

What should you glean from this? That first down will be huge for the Buckeyes’ defense. Well-placed run blitzes will force MSU out of their run-run-pass rhythm and cut down on that pesky TOP stat I previously mentioned.

If Ohio State is going to win this game, it has to be on defense and that means stopping the run. The problem with that is the OSU defensive line just lost its best player after not being terribly productive with him.

I am sure the coaches will talk about rotating players (blah, blah, blah) but it seems to me a more dramatic solution is necessary. Maybe they should line up in a 3-4 alignment with Hines roaming around.

Allow Terry and Gibson to play from a two-point stance all game to cover the flats when necessary and sending Homan and Laurinaitis up the middle.

I remember that fourth quarter against Wisconsin and I can easily see a repeat this weekend, with or without Wilson in there. The defensive line makes me very nervous.

Michigan State Pass Offense v. OSU

With MSU’s run-heavy approach in mind, the Buckeyes will get to line up in man-to-man coverage most of the game and put eight men in the box.

Brian Hoyer is not great, but he is not horrible (unfortunately). Hoyer has 14 pass plays longer than 25 yards this season and actually improves as the games go along (his completion percentage is 53 percent in the second half, 48 percent in the first half).

Another interesting stat for Hoyer is his completion rate gets worse as their field position gets better:

The Redzone interceptions are especially alarming if you are a Spartan fan. On the positive side, only one of those interceptions has been in the second half.

Still, can the Ohio State defensive line force Hoyer into bad throws?

Special Teams

Michigan State may have the best kicker in the league, or at least the most consistent. They lead the league in punt return average, while their coverage units are in the middle. Like most games, special teams will make a big difference if there is a big mistake.

Ohio State blocked their first kick of the year against Purdue on what seemed like their first block attempt all year.

Whether that will encourage them to go after more punts remains to be seen. Lamaar Thomas was a positive influence on the return game last week, so let’s keep our fingers crossed but more of the same this weekend.

In contrast, punt returns for Ohio State have become a liability. Jenkins had one notable return last week, but Ray Small has totally disappeared after a great first two weeks.

Imbue yourself with unearned confidence if:

  • Pryor throws the ball away instead of taking a 20-yard loss
  • Someone…anyone…steps up on the offensive line to provide leadership
  • Curtis Terry earns a starting spot on the defensive line

Become unnecessarily upset with amateur athletics if:

  • Each time Ohio State settles for a FG in the Redzone
  • Ringer averages more than 5 ypc
  • Todd Boeckman plays

Irrelevant stat of the week

Penalties cost you games. Doc Saturday makes this point very well on a national level. The same can be said for Michigan State.

They are currently eighth in the league in penalty yards per game. Three of the four most penalized teams in the Big Ten (MSU, Illinois, and NW) are a combined 14-5.

By contrast, Iowa, Purdue, and Wisconsin are three of the least penalized teams in the conference.

Three possibilities for me to look stupid
1. Robiskie looks like he knows what he is doing
2. Hoyer throws a TD pass in the Redzone
3. The Ohio State defensive line plays well

The laws of the universe and blog ownership require me to predict

Michigan State 21, Ohio State 20

[HT: mgoblog, Dr. Saturday]


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