September 28, 2012

What to watch for: Ohio State vs. Michigan State

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - With two contrasting styles, the Big Ten's top defense, and perhaps the conference's brightest star all taking the same field on Saturday, there won't be any shortage of storylines when No. 14 Ohio State heads up to East Lansing to face No. 20 Michigan State in both team's Big Ten opener. With this in mind, we take our weekly look at what you should be keeping an eye on during this weekend's Big Ten battle between the Buckeyes and the Spartans.



What a difference a year makes



Last season's 10-7 Michigan State victory over Ohio State in Columbus was truly the first sign that the Buckeyes could be in store for a long 2011. With OSU quarterback Braxton Miller in his second start as a true freshman, the Buckeyes only managed to accumulate 178 yards and didn't score a touchdown until the final two minutes of the game, when the Spartans were in a prevent defense.



With the Buckeyes now entering their fifth game of the Urban Meyer era, Saturday's game will be used by many as a measuring stick to see just how far this team has come since last year's debacle in Columbus.



Answering the Bell



Although the spread offense is becoming the norm in college football, Michigan State's style of play takes the Big Ten back to its roots with a grind-it-out, three yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust mentality. The Spartans have found success with this approach this season, thanks to the superb play of running back Le'Veon Bell.



"He reminds me of Ron Dayne, even more athletic," Meyer said, referring to the former Wisconsin running back and 1999 Heisman Trophy winner. "A guy that's extremely powerful, guy. Times up his blocks very well and runs through tackles and you see athleticism that usually people that size don't have."



Given the Buckeyes newfound emphasis on tackling in practice in recent weeks, the 244-pound Bell should present quite the challenge for the Ohio State defense, who could be facing the most talented running back it will see all season.



Blocking the best



Last season, the Buckeyes' offensive line surrendered a whopping nine sacks to the Spartans. And although Jerel Worthy has moved on to the NFL, MSU coach Mark Dantonio will again be fielding a very talented defensive line against the Buckeyes, and one that is anchored by defensive end William Gholston.



With only one starter returning to the position that he played a season ago on the OSU offensive line, the Spartans will face a much different front from the Buckeyes than the one that they saw a season ago. While that may be a positive for Ohio State given the lack of production it got from its offensive line in 2011, this weekend's a game may be a good indicator of how much better- or worse- off the Buckeyes are.



Full go



Should Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde return as expected on Saturday for the Buckeyes, it will give Meyer his first look at a totally healthy OSU offensive unit this season. With Jordan Hall having missed the Buckeyes' first two games of the season after undergoing offseason foot surgery, Meyer has yet to be able to pair up Hyde and Hall in the backfield together, something which the OSU coach said will likely happen on Saturday.



"Carlos, Jordan Hall and Braxton Miller, we have to find a way to get some yards running the ball. It has to be some creative stuff because to turn around and hand the ball off, we tried it last year a little bit and it went reverse," Meyer said. "It's a very good defense against the run. We'll have to be very efficient."



Given that the opponent may be the best that the Buckeyes will face all season and that his unit is finally injury-free, Saturday should give fans their first true look at the type of offense that Meyer will be using in Columbus in the coming years.



No style points needed



After each game this season, Meyer has stated that the best part about going undefeated is the chance to remain undefeated. This has been brushed off by some as your typical coach speak, but Meyer's attitude will ring loud and clear on Saturday.



If the Buckeyes win on Saturday, it won't matter how they did it. All that will matter is that they did do it. There won't be any need to look pretty doing so, because odds are they won't. But if the Buckeyes can defeat a team that was playing in the Big Ten championship game just a season ago- regardless of how they do it- it will say a lot about just how far the OSU program has come from a season ago.







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