Michigan State has won back-to-back games impressively, and the Spartans have a chance at a huge signature win Saturday when No. 10 Ohio State comes to town (Noon ET; TV: Fox). Michigan State has won three of its last seven meetings against the Buckeyes, though the Spartans did get pounded 48-3 a year ago in Columbus.
Michigan State (6-3, 4-2 in the Big Ten) is as healthy as its been all year, which could mean a lot against an Ohio State team (8-1, 5-1 in the Big Ten) has been been struggling the past few weeks, losing to Purdue by 29 points and barely beating a seven-loss Nebraska team last week in Columbus.
Here are five things I want to see from the Spartans this weekend against the Buckeyes:
1. Keep Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins under control
That’s asking a lot, I know. Ohio State sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins already has thrown for 3,052 yards and 32 touchdowns in nine games, and is the likely Big Ten Player of the Year so far. Michigan State’s pass defense was atrocious earlier in the year, but it’s been much better lately as they’ve gotten healthier. This is their biggest test of the season, because Haskins has been that good. The key to beating Ohio State is to get him off his spot in the pocket. A good pass rush will be key, because he will make mistakes on the run.
2. Prove you’re the No. 1 defense in America against the run
Ohio State ran for a whopping 335 yards against Michigan State last year in a 48-3 rout, the worst showing ever during Mark Dantonio’s 11-plus years in East Lansing. That can’t happen again, and it probably won’t because Michigan State is much better against the run this year. Middle linebacker Joe Bachie, an Ohio native, is having a great year and a lot will fall on his shoulders in stopping — or at least slowing down — Ohio State running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber. The Spartans defense needs to force their fair share of three-and-outs all day.
3. Brian Lewerke has to deliver at quarterback for MSU …
Quarterback Brian Lewerke has been nursing a bad throwing shoulder for weeks now. He got hurt in the Michigan game and had to sit out the Purdue win. He came back last week in the 24-3 win against Maryland, but he didn’t have to throw much in the easy win, which was dominated by the running game and the Spartans defense. To beat Ohio State, Lewerke is going to have to throw, and be successful doing so. The Buckeyes will certainly challenge him, putting eight guys in the box. He has to deliver early. And if not ….
4. … and if not, have a quick hook and go to Rocky Lombardi
It’s always scary throwing a freshman in against Ohio State, but Rocky Lombardi acquitted himself well in his first career start against Purdue. He threw for 318 yards as the Spartans attacked all day, allowing him to throw 46 times. He proved a lot that day, so if it’s not working with Lewerke, feel free to give the kid a chance. He is the future after all, and that future might need to come sooner rather than later. It’s too big of a game to not give it your best shot.
5. The home crowd has to make a difference
Michigan State’s fans need to be loud on Saturday and make things difficult on Ohio State’s offense when they want to change up plays at the line of scrimmage. Helping draw a few false start penalties would be good, because the Buckeyes are more prone to make mistakes in third-and-long situations. There is an absolute benefit to playing at home, and the crowd needs to do their share, too. It’s going to be a tight, hard-fought game, and a series or two just might make a difference.