COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — No. 4 Ohio State will play its final home game of the season Saturday when the Buckeyes face No. 7 Michigan State at noon.
Ohio State is coming off a dominating 59-31 win over Purdue in which C.J. Stroud threw for five touchdowns and the offense scored eight touchdowns on 10 possessions, excluding a kneel to end the game.
Michigan State comes to Columbus after beating Maryland 41-20 but lost to the Boilermakers two weeks ago, snapping its undefeated record.
Here are three things to watch for when the Buckeyes play the Spartans on Senior Day:
That’s what Michigan State is when it comes to pass defense. The Spartans rank last in the country in yards allowed per game (329). C.J. Stroud and company, the No. 1-ranked offense in the country, must be itching to face that defense.
“Michigan State always has a really good defense. I was surprised when I saw that [they were last],” wide receiver Chris Olave said. “It’s a huge opportunity for us to be able to showcase our talent.”
Stroud has thrown for 3,036 yards this season (11th in the country) and 337.3 yards per game (sixth). His 30 passing touchdowns ranks fifth in the nation, and his quarterback rating (89.4) is the best in Division I.
“When he came back after the week off [Akron game], he kind of came back with a little bit of a different bounce in his step,” coach Ryan Day said. “I think he was healthier, but I think he had a different perspective and really started to own and take accountability for the offense.”
Stroud certainly has and now finds himself tied for the second-best odds to win the Heisman, per BetMGM.
His first college season is comparable with Justin Fields’ first year in 2019:
|Fields 2019 (14 games)||Stroud 2021 (9 games)|
|3,273 yards||3,036 yards|
|41 TDs, 3 INT||30 TDs, 5 INT|
|67.2% completion||68.8% completion|
|181.4 rating||179.4 rating|
Perhaps most impressive is the fact that Fields threw 354 times in 14 games while Stroud has thrown 311 times in nine games. The discrepancy can be attributed to Fields being a natural running QB and Stroud being a pocket passer. Still, given that volume, it’s remarkable Stroud’s completion percentage and rating is that high in his first full season.
“I try to tell [the guys] even if we left the game out of a high, you’ve got to let it go and move on because if you don’t execute this next game, they’re going to be talking about how bad we were,” Stroud said.
Michigan State ranks fourth in the Big Ten and 28th in the country in rushing yards per game (197.8). The Spartans also rank second in the conference and 11th in the country in yards per rush (5.27). Only Ohio State is better in the Big Ten (5.96 — 2nd in the country).
It’s no coincidence both teams have the top two running backs in the conference in TreVeyon Henderson and MSU’s Kenneth Walker III, both of whom are semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award.
But the two offenses operate differently. Ohio State is nearly 50-50 when it comes to rushing and passing attempts (355 to 330) while the Spartans have nearly 100 more rushes than passes (375 to 282). They rely on Walker to get his, but the Buckeyes rush defense has been phenomenal, allowing just 105. 9 yards per game (13th in the country).
These teams boast the two most efficient offenses in the Big Ten, due in large part to their ability to run. The difference, however, is if Michigan State can’t run, it can’t beat the Buckeyes. But the Buckeyes can beat Sparty even if they can’t run because of how good Stroud has been and how bad MSU’s pass defense has been.
Thorne in Sparty’s side
Payton Thorne has been serviceable at quarterback for Michigan State this year, but he’s also prone to mistakes. The sophomore has thrown seven interceptions in MSU’s last five games, including two games with two picks. His picks haven’t necessarily come because of defensive pressure, MSU allows 1.6 sacks per game, tied for 32nd in the country.
He simply misses open receivers at times or makes an ill-advised throw, like these two picks against Indiana and Purdue.
The interception against Indiana could have cost the Spartans the win and the pick against Purdue all but sealed their first loss. Keeping up with the third-most efficient offense in the country is hard enough, but throwing picks like Thorne has done consistently in recent weeks makes it nearly impossible.