Michigan State finally presents Ohio State with first playoff-level challenge
Who: No. 9 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Ohio State
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Ohio Stadium, Ohio State
Spread: Ohio State -13.5
Matchup to watch: Jack Conklin vs. Joey Bosa
It’s only fitting that a headliner showdown like this one pits two preseason All-Americans against one another. It hasn’t necessarily been the All-American season Conklin hoped for, partly because of a midseason knee injury that sidelined the him for two games. The left tackle will have to be at 100 percent to contain Bosa. For those that haven’t watched Ohio State this year, it might look like the junior took a step back based on his sack totals. But the possible future No. 1-pick looks better than ever. He does have a team-high 15 tackles for loss, despite the fact that he gets double and triple teams on a regular basis. A lot has been made about the shoulder of MSU quarterback Connor Cook. The biggest threat to make it a short day for the senior signal-caller could be coming in hot on his blindside.
Thing I’m excited to see: Ohio State’s offense against elite competition
With all due respect to Minnesota and Penn State, we haven’t seen the Buckeyes play a team with the same talent they have. Now we’ve obviously seen Ohio State play a whole lot of close games. But for the first time on Saturday, we’ll finally get to see what the Buckeye offense looks like against playoff-level competition. Will J.T. Barrett and the OSU passing game have to be more prominent to move the ball? Will Urban Meyer feature Braxton Miller more than he has all year? Will Ezekiel Elliott boost his Heisman Trophy prospects by leading the Buckeyes to their biggest win to date? All of that remains to be seen. We do know that MSU veterans like Riley Bullough and Shilique Calhoun have to be sick of hearing about the Buckeye playmakers. On Saturday, they’ll finally get the chance they’ve been waiting for since OSU lit up the scoreboard in East Lansing last year.
Number to remember: 5.54
That’s how many passing yards per attempt the Buckeyes allowed this year, which is good for second in the nation. Michigan, ironically, is the only team with a better mark. What does that mean for Saturday? It means Vonn Bell and the Buckeye secondary are going to present a tall task for Cook, who likes to operate downfield with Aaron Burbridge. With Cook dealing with the shoulder injury last week, Burbridge had just 27 yards. It was the first time in over a month he was held under 100 yards. If you’re going to beat the Buckeyes, it isn’t going to be with deep jump balls. They recover too quickly and they’re too athletic on the back end to be give up big plays. They are, however vulnerable with the underneath routes. R.J. Shelton could do exactly what Minnesota’s K.J. Maye did to the Buckeyes. For MSU to move the chains, it’s going to have to take what Ohio State is giving it and hope it can make people miss in the open field.
Prediction: Ohio State 35, Michigan State 24
I predicted an Ohio State victory back in August, so I’ll stick to it. I do think that this one could have a very back-and-forth feel to it for three quarters. Cook’s shoulder mark is a major concern, but I don’t think it holds him back. I think if anything, MSU’s inability to contain Elliott for four quarters holds them back. The Spartans have been able to take advantage of timely turnovers all year, but against a Heisman-caliber tailback, those chances will be few and far between. The Buckeyes get the signature win they’ve been waiting for to solidify their spot in the College Football Playoff picture.