Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans have a great opportunity to both eliminate Ohio State from College Football Playoff contention and impact Big Ten Title implications this Saturday in East Lansing. This year’s Buckeye team is very beatable if MSU can execute the game plan set before them by Mark Dantonio and company. All three phases of the game will need to be intact to come out on top after four quarters.
Winning the time-of-possession battle will be important for MSU’s success on offense. That will start up front with the offensive line. The Buckeyes have not faced an offense like Michigan State’s. Every week, OSU has prepared for spread-based schemes. Though MSU does run a decent amount of spread, they will be the most balanced under-center, shotgun-based team the Buckeyes have prepared for.
Ohio State struggles with athletic quarterbacks. Quarterback Brian Lewerke is no Adrian Martinez from Nebraska athletic, but he has ability in the run game off of speed option, power read and zone read to keep the Buckeyes honest by not being able to key on MSU’s rotation of running backs. Misdirection, too, off of jet sweep, reverses, as well as getting more lineman to the point of attack from power, counter and sweeps, will give MSU the best chance at successfully running the football and keeping the OSU offense off the field.
Staying ahead of the sticks will be crucial for the Spartans on the second and third down. Ohio State’s biggest strength is their ability to get after the quarterback on passing downs. If MSU can create manageable second and third-down situations, MSU will be able to stay balanced and keep OSU on their heels defensively.
The screen game will be huge for the Spartans against OSU. Purdue and Nebraska consistently were able to set up running back and tunnel screens for their outside and slot receivers for big chunk plays of 15 yards or more. OSU has also struggled with open-field tackling on the perimeter. If the Spartans can get the edge on jet sweeps, quick screens and underneath drag routes, their playmakers will create stress for OSU defensively.
The Spartans will need to consistently hit their quick game route concepts to get the ball out of Lewerke’s hands to not allow OSU to get a strong pass rush. Expect MSU to move the pocket this week in order to tame Ohio State’s pass rush. They’ll also make them run sideline-to-sideline with passing concepts with high-low reads for Lewerke.
If the offense cannot move the ball against OSU, it will force their defense to be on the field more than they should be, and this will result in a long Saturday afternoon in East Lansing.
The front seven of Michigan State will be the best front OSU has played against all season. Though Ohio State runs the spread, the Spartans will still be able to key in on OSU runningbacks Mike Webber and J.K. Dobbins due to Dwayne Haskins’ immobility at quarterback.
With MSU’s one-and-three technique on the inside, Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk will take away OSU’s ability to run anything between the A and B gaps. Ohio State will run jet sweep at least 10 times on Saturday with their burners in the slot. MSU will need to force everything back inside to Joe Bachie and his trailing linebacking core if they do not want to give up big plays for OSU.
The question will be: can MSU’s secondary, for four quarters, keep in check OSU’s pass-first offense led by Haskins? Haskins can hit any throw on the field he is asked to make. They love drag routes to allow their playmakers to catch the ball in space and make plays. Expect to see the Buckeyes to throw the ball 50-plus times.
Red zone defense, too, could be an x-factor in East Lansing. OSU has struggled to finish drives in multiple games this year. If Michigan State can hold OSU from scoring touchdowns in the red zone and force them to take three points, their chances of winning increase exponentially.
The overall goal on defense in the passing game will be contesting every throw Haskins makes. MSU will need to make sure his windows are as small as possible. If Michigan State can put pressure on Haskins consistently by hurrying throws, getting in the passing lanes and making sure their hits count when they get to him, I expect to see an upset in East Lansing. If they don’t, OSU will put up 28 to 35 points, and Michigan State’s offense will not be able to keep up.
Field position will have a huge impact on the outcome of this game. If Michigan State can force OSU to go 60 to 80 yards per drive to score touchdowns, that will put MSU’s defense in a strong position to tame the Buckeyes’ offense. If OSU has short field for a high percent of the game, it will be tough to keep them out of the end zone.
Featured image courtesy of WDEF
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