The Buckeyes will play Michigan State at Ohio Stadium, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. It’ll mark their first Big Ten home game on NBC since it began broadcasting conference games this season.
Still slotted first in the College Football Playoff rankings, the Buckeyes (9-0, 6-0) are riding high, but it’s a far different story for the Spartans (3-6, 1-5), who are in the midst of a scandal-ridden season with coach Mel Tucker being fired after two games over sexual harassment allegations.
Here are three things to know about the game.
What happened to the Spartans?
Not long ago, it was common for the Big Ten’s East division not to just be about Ohio State and Michigan. Michigan State would often join Penn State as division contenders in various years, but since Mark Dantonio retired as coach in 2019, the Spartans have had just one winning season. And after Tucker was fired, the Spartans lost six straight games. They finally righted the ship a week ago with a 20-17 win over Nebraska.
“Oh, it felt really good,” interim coach Harlon Barnett said. “Winning heals a lot of wounds and pain. The energy in the locker room was outstanding. I mean, everybody was excited and happy. It was good to see those guys having fun for a change.”
The offense has been sputtering along, topping 20 points only once under Barnett. Starting quarterback Noah Kim was benched after five games, replaced by freshman Katin Houser. But for the winning touchdown against Nebraska, Sam Leavitt was in the game, connecting with Montorie Foster Jr. on a 25-yard pass.
And to be fair, the Spartans schedule has been a slog. The first opponent under Barnett was No. 8 Washington, and a 41-7 loss followed. And then they were shut out Oct. 21 against No. 2 Michigan. The Buckeyes, who are third in the AP and coaches polls, mark their third top-10 opponent.
“You’ve got to have great attention to detail,” Barnett said of playing highly ranked opponents. “The previous two top-10 teams that we’ve played, in Washington and Ann Arbor, [the Spartans had] 11 penalties with both games. We can’t beat ourselves.”
What is Marvin Harrison Jr.’s ceiling?
Ohio State is showing its belief in Marvin Harrison Jr.
The university has launched a promotional campaign for Harrison in the Heisman Trophy race. Harrison has 914 receiving yards, ninth most nationally, and 10 touchdowns. He’s topped 100 yards in six games, and he’s leading the Big Ten in both receiving yards and catches (52).
Last week in a 35-16 win over Rutgers, he caught two fourth-quarter touchdown passes.
The response in Heisman tracking circles has been somewhat tepid, with most of the attention remaining focused on quarterbacks such as Michael Penix Jr. of Washington and Jayden Daniels of LSU. Ohio State has had seven Heisman winners — tied for most by one school — though none since quarterback Troy Smith in 2006. And the Buckeyes’ focus on offense right now has been about finding ways to involve more people, such as running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Chip Trayanum, not in spotlighting Harrison. But involving more people may make it easier to get the ball to Harrison at head-turning moments.
“When you’re in three wide receivers with one tight end, they defend you a certain way,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “When you bring in another running back, the spacing is different, the schemes are different, the angles are different. And sometimes when you can change that up, it opens up things.”
And Barnett is aware of the challenge that the Spartans will face in defending Harrison.
“He’s a really good football player, and we know that. … That’s what I’ll say.”
How good is the Spartans defense?
Barnett came up as a defensive coach, and that shows in how Michigan State has played. A Cincinnati native, Barnett played defensive back for the Spartans from 1986 to ’89 and then professionally with three NFL teams, including the Cleveland Browns. His coaching career included a stop at the University of Cincinnati from 2004 to ’06, but he has been at Michigan State for the second time as a coach since 2020.
The Spartans have kept six opponents from topping 30 points, and they’ve kept five from topping 300 yards of total offense. They made seven sacks against Nebraska as part of 12 tackles for a loss. Safety Jaden Mangham has four interceptions, including one in each of the past two games.
That type of pressure could affect Ohio State. A sack and an interception of Kyle McCord disrupted the Buckeyes against Rutgers.
“I give coach Barnett a lot of credit for how he’s handled himself, and certainly in a tough situation,” Day said. “They came back and won a game last week. This time of year, when you’re playing in the Big Ten, you’ve got to bring it.”
Against top-10 opponents, though, the Spartans have looked less stellar, allowing 41 points to Washington and 49 to Michigan. But scoring hasn’t come easy to the Buckeyes. In each of their past three games, they’ve been unable to top 10 points in the first half. Starting strong, and not depending on their durability to wear down opponents in the second half, is the challenge.
“We just didn’t complete enough drives there and finish with points in the first half,” Day said about the Rutgers game. “There are definitely signs that we’re moving the right direction, but it’s getting late in the season, so our urgency is at an all-time high.”
After Michigan State, the Buckeyes play Minnesota on Nov. 18 before closing the regular season on Nov. 25 at Michigan.