Big Ten Championship 2013: Complete Game Preview for Ohio State, Michigan State
A Big Ten championship and a trip to Pasadena, Calif. will be on the line when No. 2 Ohio State and No. 10 Michigan State meet in Indianapolis this Saturday.
The Buckeyes (12-0) boast the Big Ten's most explosive offense, averaging 531 yards and 48 points per game, both of which rank inside the top six nationally. A victory over the Spartans all but guarantees Ohio State a spot in the national title game on January 6.
The Spartans (11-1) have the Big Ten's most dominant defense, allowing just 237 yards (first nationally) and less than 12 points per game. Beating the Buckeyes will send Michigan State to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1988.
Will Urban Meyer's vaunted spread offense get the job done, or will Mark Dantonio's defense spoil Ohio State's perfect season?
Here's everything you need to know about the Big Ten Championship Game.
Date: Saturday, Dec. 7
Time: 8:17 p.m. ET
Place: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Spread: Ohio State is favored by six points, according to Vegas Insider
Ohio State Keys to Victory
Keep Braxton Miller on His Feet
The Spartans have one of the most disruptive defenses in the country, averaging nearly seven tackles for loss per game.
Ohio State's offensive line, which boasts three All-Big Ten first team seniors in Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell and Corey Linsley, will need to play its best game of the year to keep Braxton Miller on his feet.
The Buckeyes' signal-caller will also need to stay healthy. Ohio State's offense runs through Miller, whether it's the zone read or the passing attack, so it will be important to limit the hits he takes.
In last year's matchup, Miller was briefly knocked out of the game on the first series before Kenny Guiton came in and capped a touchdown drive. Miller returned, of course, and finished with 23 carries for 136 yards to complement 179 passing yards and a touchdown.
This will be an incredibly physical game, and protecting Miller should be one of Ohio State's top priorities.
If Ohio State replicates the defensive effort it put forth against Michigan last week, it will be a long night for the Buckeyes in Indianapolis.
The Spartans aren't an offensive juggernaut by any means, but they have a defense that has shut out five of their last six opponents in the second half. Points will be hard to come by, so Ohio State can't afford another disastrous defensive performance.
Michigan State, however, runs an offense that the Buckeyes are better suited to stop.
The Spartans boast a power rushing attack that sets up play action in the passing game, similar to what Wisconsin and Penn State run. Against the Badgers and the Nittany Lions, Ohio state played well, allowing an average of 19 points.
It will be pivotal for Ohio State's secondary—namely Bradley Roby and Doran Grant—to play well in one-on-one matchups when the Buckeyes load the box to stop the run.
Michigan State Keys to Victory
Contain the Run
Without question, the game within the game will be played between Michigan State's powerful run defense and Ohio State's vaunted rushing attack.
The Spartans allow just 65 rushing yards per game, which is first in the nation by a wide margin. They will be facing their toughest test of the season this Saturday, though, as the Buckeyes are averaging 321 rushing yards.
Whichever team wins the battle in the trenches will likely win the game.
Stopping Ohio State's rushing attack is easier said than done, especially as Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde continue to hit their stride. That two-headed monster is averaging more than 356 rushing yards per game over the last three weeks.
Of course, it's easier to run the ball against Illinois and Indiana—two of the worst defenses in the country—but Michigan boasted a top 20 rush defense before getting chewed up by the Buckeyes.
To beat Ohio State, the Spartans will have to figure out a way to limit this rushing attack.
Find Balance on Offense
Despite Ohio State's inconsistencies on defense, the Buckeyes are very good against the run.
Luke Fickell's group allows just 100 rushing yards per game, good for fifth nationally, which means Connor Cook will need to bring balance to Michigan State's offense with an accurate passing attack.
Cook didn't officially win the Spartans' quarterback spot until Week 5, but since then he has provided the offense with exactly what it needs—accurate passes off play action and limited turnovers.
The sophomore signal-caller has thrown 17 touchdowns to just four interceptions this year. Cook will need to maintain that high efficiency to keep Ohio State's defense off-balance.
Players to Watch for the Buckeyes
While much of Ohio State's success offensively has come on the ground, Michigan State's defense is too good to be beaten by a one-dimensional attack. That's why Devin Smith will be a huge key for the Buckeyes.
Smith will get a lot of one-on-one matchups against the Spartans because defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi likes to load the box to stop the run.
He's able to do that because of Michigan State's incredible talent in the secondary with players such as Darqueze Dennard, Kurtis Drummond and Isaiah Lewis, all of whom earned first team All-Big Ten honors.
Smith burned Michigan State in last year's matchup, blowing by Lewis for the go-ahead, 63-yard touchdown catch. The Buckeyes could use some more big plays from their junior wide receiver this Saturday.
With middle linebacker Curtis Grant's status unknown, Ryan Shazier will need to play at a very high level.
That should be easy, considering the recent tear the junior linebacker is on.
Over the last three weeks, Shazier has averaged more than 16 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack per game. Those are absurd numbers for even one game, but Shazier is making them a weekly routine.
Michigan State operates a run-heavy offense, so the front seven, led by Shazier, will need to be very active.
Players to Watch for the Spartans
Much like Ohio State's offense, the Spartans will need to look to the perimeter to open things up for the running game.
Jeremy Langford, Michigan State's terrific running back, will need some help on the outside to run against the Buckeyes' stout run defense.
No one can soften up a defense for Michigan State like wide receiver Bennie Fowler. The senior wideout is a big-play threat who leads the team with 496 receiving yards and 16 yards per reception.
When the Spartans were struggling early against Northwestern two weeks ago, Fowler provided a spark, hauling in a one-handed catch in traffic and taking it 87 yards for a touchdown.
Considering Ohio State's struggles defending the pass this season, Michigan State should look to get Fowler the ball as much as possible.
Everyone should know about Max Bullough, Michigan State's outstanding linebacker and defensive leader.
Sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun is another huge cog in the Spartans' defense.
Calhoun, who piled up 32 total tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks this season, won the Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year award, which is given annually to the Big Ten's top defensive lineman.
The 6'4", 250-pound defensive end is an absolute load coming off the edge, so Ohio State's tackles will have their hands full.
What They Are Saying
Ohio State's Urban Meyer knows Michigan State's defense is good, but he is also impressed with their offense, according to the team's official website.
"From game 1 to game 11, they are the most improved offense, certainly in the Big Ten and maybe one of the most improved in America."
Michigan State's Mark Dantonio thinks beating Ohio State would elevate Michigan State's profile, according to the team's official website.
"I would think it would send a message throughout the country right now. I think we're sending that message. We're doing all we can to send the message."
Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman is very high on Michigan State's defense, according to Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch.
"Probably the best-coached defense we'll have played in two years. They're like fine wine. They get better with age."
Michigan State's Max Bullough explained why playing Ohio State is such a big deal, via the team's official Twitter account.
"When we played at Ohio State, just as much emotion as when we play Michigan here because we've got so many guys (from Ohio)."
Michigan State's Isaiah Lewis had a simple prediction for the Big Ten title game, according to Kevin Gehl of WLNS-TV.
"We're gonna win that game."
Ohio State's Corey Linsley talked about how excited the team was when Auburn beat Alabama, but also how they need to focus on Michigan State, according to Zack Meisel of The Plain Dealer.
"It was a moment of intensity there for a second, but now it's a level of focus. Our dream is here. 'The Chase' is real."
Dantonio, who was Ohio State's defensive coordinator in 2002, talks about the Buckeyes' case for a national title, via Eleven Warriors.
"A lot of people were saying in 2002 that we didn't belong in that football game and we won it. 'Nuff said."
Michigan State's Denicos Allen talked about how hard losing the 2011 Big Ten Title game was, via the team's official Twitter account.
"Two years ago against Wisconsin was rough, looking at those seniors' faces, seeing how close we came to Rose Bowl."
Ohio State 31, Michigan State 24
Michigan State will race out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, but Ohio State will find its groove offensively in the second, scoring 14 unanswered points to take a four-point lead into halftime.
After the break, the Spartans will retake the lead on their first possession, but it will be all Ohio State from there. Braxton Miller will get things going in the passing game, finding Devin Smith over the middle for a 25-yard touchdown to retake the lead. The Buckeyes will add a field goal at the end of the third and a touchdown and the beginning of the fourth before cruising to a seven-point victory.
Miller will throw for 225 yards and two touchdowns and run for 85 yards and another score. Carlos Hyde will also turn in a solid performance, running for 135 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.
Michigan State's offense will pile up 375 yards on the Buckeyes, but it won't be enough.
No punches will be thrown, and no one will give a double middle-finger salute to the crowd.
All stats via NCAA.com.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.