At the beginning of the season, every fan and expert made their predictions on who would be competing for the Big Ten Title on Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis, Indiana. While most fans and experts predicted that the Ohio State Buckeyes would be there, it’s safe to say nearly no one predicted that the Michigan State Spartans would be there competing for a Big Ten Title.
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Nonetheless, despite low expectations, the Spartans have made it to the Big Ten Title game and while some feel they have no chance of winning this game, I say different. I have no doubt that the Spartans can win this game but only if they follow certain steps on both sides of the ball.
When it comes to upsetting Ohio State it all starts with the defense of the Spartans. The Spartans defense must step up and play their best football if the Spartans have any chance of winning this game. No team this season has come close to slowing down running back Carlos Hyde but I think the Spartans may have a chance. Going into this game, the defensive line must control the line of scrimmage, by doing that they allow linebackers Denicos Allen and Max Bullough to do what they do best which is make plays in the backfield. When it comes to stopping the run game they must also focus on slowing down Miller because he is just as dangerous when in the open field. If the Spartans can contain Hyde, they will force Ohio State to be one-dimensional and force quarterback Braxton Miller to beat them through the air.
Now that’s not as easy as task as some may think, mainly because Ohio State has plenty of weapons at receiver but also because Miller has improved as a quarterback. Nonetheless, while he has improved as a passer, he still doesn’t do well under pressure. While it won’t be easy, I think the Spartans defensive line should try to create some form of pressure and challenge him to make quick uneasy throws. Doing that will open up opportunities for the Spartan secondary who must also perform well in this game. While I would like for the Spartans defense to be able create pressure on Miller, the secondary shouldn’t rely on that. Spartan cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Trae Waynes must keep the Ohio State receivers contained and limit the big plays.
However, as much as everyone wants to talk about the Spartan defense, everyone needs to remember that the Spartan offense must step up as well. While I have no doubt that the Spartans defense will have their big moments in this game, I don’t anticipate that the Spartans will stop the Buckeyes for four quarters. The Buckeyes are a good offensive team, no one can deny that, and you have to treat them like you treat the Denver Broncos. Basically meaning that the Spartans defense will get their key defensive stops but the offense must capitalize on those opportunities. If the offense doesn’t perform well, then the Spartans defense will be forced to win the game by themselves which you don’t want to do if you’re the Spartans.
So for the Spartans offense to have success they must continue doing what they do best which is running the ball. Running back Jeremy Lanford must run the ball well and challenge this inconsistent Buckeye defense. Now I assume that the Buckeyes will focus on slowing down the run just as much as the Spartan defense will focus on slowing down the Buckeye’s run game. However, I don’t look for Langford to dominate. Langford needs to offer balance and more importantly help control the clock and improve third down efficiency. Keeping the Buckeye offense off the field is one of the big keys and running the ball helps with that.
However, I feel the real x-factor in this game is the Spartan passing game which is led by the quarterback Connor Cook. As I said earlier, the Buckeyes defense main goal will be to contain the run and force Cook to beat them through the air, so Cook must step up and play well. Honestly, Cook and his receiving core should be to take down this Ohio State defense. All season long the Buckeyes have struggled to contain the passing game and last week they allowed quarterback Devin Gardner to throw for 451 yards and four touchdowns on 32-for-45 passing. With that being said Cook will have the opportunity to make plays against the defense and it starts with taking what the defense gives him. Cook can’t afford to turn the ball over in this game and to avoid that he must spread the ball around and use his various receivers, such as Tony Lippett, Bennie Fowler, Macgarrett Kings. I suspect that the Buckeyes may stack up the box against Spartans to slow down the run, if they do indeed use that strategy, Cook must take advantage of his various opportunities, specifically down the field. However for this plan to be successful, Cook must put the ball only where his target can catch it and the receivers must make the big play and catch the ball.
While I feel the Spartans offense has improved this season, they still make a bad habit of leaving points on the field whether it be a field goal or touchdown. They can’t afford to do that in this game. Every scoring opportunity is big for the Spartans because while I feel that the defense will get some key stops, I doubt they will stop the Buckeyes for four quarters so the offense must capitalize on scoring opportunities. This team has been able to rely on the defense to help them win games, but they will get blown out with that mentality against the Buckeyes. The Spartans also need to get off to a good start in this game, mainly the offense needs to get on the scoreboard early.
If the Spartans follow the steps above, they are more than capable of winning this game, upsetting Ohio State and walking away with the Big Ten Title. It won’t be easy but if both sides of the ball step up, they have a chance. Which leads me to my prediction in which I have the Spartans upsetting the Buckeyes and winning the Big Ten Title.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com