Preview: No. 4 Ohio State takes on Michigan State

Sports

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — No. 4 Ohio State is officially in East Lansing for Saturday’s contest against Michigan State — a game that was up in the air throughout the week.

Ohio State cancelled its road game against Illinois last week after OSU deemed it had too many positive COVID-19 tests to play. Ohio State did not meet the Big Ten’s threshold of positive cases to cancel the game but did so anyway out of an abundance of caution to program team members.

The Buckeyes resumed team activities Tuesday in preparation for Saturday’s game, one that will not include head coach Ryan Day and and eight players who tested positive for the coronavirus last week. The Buckeyes were able to leave for East Lansing Friday night and will be coached by associate head coach and defensive line coach Larry Johnson whose been with the Buckeyes since 2014.

He and the Buckeyes will take on a 2-3 Michigan State team that’s coming off its best week of the season after beating previously undefeated Northwestern 29-20.

But before beating Northwestern, Michigan State lost to Indiana and Iowa by a combined score of 73-7.

Michigan State’s weaknesses (plural)

The Spartans have plenty of weaknesses — first and foremost its inability to score. The Spartans are last in the Big Ten in scoring averaging 18 points a game and last in first downs per game, due in large part to its nonexistent rushing attack and subpar pass game.

The Spartans are last in the Big Ten in rushing with just 98 yards a game, something that bodes well for an Ohio State defense that ranks second in rush defense.

Michigan State is a little better through the air but not by much. MSU quarterback Rocky Lombardi has eight touchdowns and eight interceptions through five games with a lowly completion percentage of 54 percent and an abysmal 40 completion percentage in the win over Northwestern.

Ohio State’s weakness (singular)

This game could be the confidence boost Ohio State’s secondary needs after giving up nearly 500 passing yards to Indiana as well as poor second half performances against Rutgers and Penn State.

In fact, the Buckeyes rank last in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed with the defense giving up 291 yards a game.

Michigan State strength (singular)

Michigan State found a way to rush for nearly 200 yards against one of the top defenses in the conference and country in Northwestern. The Spartans ground game was nowhere to be found in their first four games, but last week’s showing versus the Wildcats, particularly Lombardi’s 65 yards on 10 carries, gives Ohio State a reason not to overlook the rush. That being said, MSU’s running backs and Lombardi’s feet won’t be a problem for OSU’s defensive front.

Ohio State’s strengths (plural)

Where to start? The best place to begin is with the Buckeyes’ pass rush. OSU’s struggles on defending the pass have absolutely nothing to do with the Buckeyes ability to pressure the quarterback. In fact, Ohio State has the highest quarterback pressure percentage ranking of any Power 5 team with OSU getting to the opposing QB 51.5 percent of the time, according to Pro Football Focus. OSU also has the No. 1 ranked defensive line with a rating of 89.7, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Buckeyes score at will. OSU leads the conference with 45 points a game and even when they struggle, the offense still puts up points. Despite throwing an uncharacteristic three interceptions against Indiana, the same number he had all of last year, Justin Fields still finished the game with 300 yards while the offense scored 35 points.

Ohio State’s offensive strength lies in its balance. The Buckeyes can throw for more than 300 yards a game while at the same time rush for 200 yards a game — something they’ve done in three out of their four games this season. They could’ve done so against Nebraska as well if that game hadn’t been so lopsided with Fields throwing for 276 yards.

Prediction

The Buckeyes are 23.5 point favorites against the Spartans and will be itching to get off to a fast start after not playing last week. Fields will return to normal, Ohio State will smother MSU’s rushing attack, and the OSU defensive line will make Lombardi uncomfortable all day long as Ohio State wins in a landslide.

Justin Holbrock Score Prediction: Ohio State 55 Michigan State 20.

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