Buckeyes, Spartans face off in East Lansing with second place in the Big Ten East (and much more) on the line
After a closer call than expected last week against Nebraska, Ohio State looks to patch things up on defense on the road this weekend against Michigan State in Big Ten play. With the Buckeyes in need of a win just to keep pace with Michigan down the stretch, it will be essential for Urban Meyer to have his defense fix a few issues against a Spartans team that is bruised but not ready to pack it in.
The Spartans are looking to get some revenge against Ohio State after last year's blowout in Columbus. Ohio State has won three of the last four games in this series, including a hard-fought defensive setback in a 17-16 game two years ago in East Lansing. The top spot in the division was on the line last year, but this year the winner of this game will take second place in the Big Ten East. Ohio State must pick up the win in order to its keep hopes of playing for the division title in the regular-season finale against Michigan within sight.
Ohio State at Michigan State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Ohio State -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Ohio State turn on the defense?
Ohio State's defense has plenty of talent to count on even since the departure of Nick Bosa earlier this season, but the entire unit has continued to give up more yards and big plays than were probably expected this season. Coming into the week, Ohio State has the Big Ten's eighth-ranked total defense, allowing 397.3 yards per game. That is nearly 100 more yards per game than Ohio State allowed last year, when the Buckeyes had the Big Ten's fourth-ranked defense. Ohio State has given up 2,195 passing yards, ranking 10th in the Big Ten. But to be fair, Michigan State longs for the days of a no-fly-zone defense, ranking 11th in the Big Ten with 2,281 yards allowed through the air.
2. Will Ohio State feed J.K. Dobbins against Big Ten's No. 1 rushing defense?
After rushing for 1,403 yards last season, Ohio State sophomore running back J.K. Dobbins hasn't had quite the same production on the ground this season. Dobbins rushed for at least 100 yards six times last season, but last week against Nebraska marked just the second time this season that Dobbins has hit triple digits on the ground, although he has had at least 100 all-purpose yards in four games this season. Michigan State owns the top-ranked rushing defense in the Big Ten, but Penn State rushed for 205 yards and Michigan rushed for 183 yards against the Spartans this season.
3. How effective can Brian Lewerke be?
With Ohio State's defense giving up big plays, Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke could find some opportunities to make some of his own, although he has been a bit beaten up lately and has not been himself. Lewerke passed for just 66 yards against Michigan, did not play against Purdue, and completed 11-of-20 passes for 87 yards against Maryland with an interception. If Lewerke is ineffective, Mark Dantonio may have to hope that Rocky Lombardi can provide a spark on offense. Lombardi shined in a win against Purdue in place of Lewerke with 318 yards and two touchdowns, completing 26 of his 46 passes.
Ohio State feels as vulnerable as it possibly could, but Michigan State may not have the horses needed to take advantage of that at home. The Buckeyes could have a good opportunity to clean up the defense this week but will have to force Michigan State to rely on Brian Lewerke to make some plays after focusing their defensive energy on tracking down running back Connor Heyward. If this game comes down to quarterback play, Ohio State has the upper hand with Dwayne Haskins, even if Haskins has struggled with consistency the past couple of games. Ohio State should return home with the division title within its reach following a much more defensive battle than last year's contest.
Prediction: Ohio State 27, Michigan State 23
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback& as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.