Tonight the Ohio State Buckeyes visit East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans. It’s the biggest game of the year, by far, and it will tell us a lot about how this Ohio State teams matches up against an elite opponent.
Diehard members of Buckeye Nation might argue the point, but the reality is that Ohio State hasn’t played any really good opponents this year. It’s embarrassing, but the Virginia Tech team that came to Ohio Stadium earlier in the year and whipped the Buckeyes is now 4-5 and 1-4 in the ACC. And while Ohio State has beaten up a number of teams since then — as well as squeaking past Penn State in overtime — none of the opponents who’ve been thrashed have been impressive, period.
Michigan State is different, obviously. Under Mark Dantonio — a graduate of Jim Tressel’s OSU staff — the Spartans have become one of the toughest, most consistent teams in the Big Ten. Last year they beat the Buckeyes in the Big Ten championship game, and this year their only loss came on the road at Oregon, on the same day the Buckeyes fell to Virginia Tech. Let’s just say that Michigan State’s one loss looks a lot better than Ohio State’s one loss.
What can we expect from this game? From Michigan State, we can expect hard hits and a stout defense that doesn’t give up many points. We can expect the best quarterback Ohio State has faced all year, a balanced offense that runs the ball well and scores lots of points, and a lot of experienced, knowledgeable staff that knows how to beat Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes. Oh, and we can expect a bunch of Spartan fans who are screaming their brains out, trying to cheer their squad to victory. With all of this going for him, Coach Dantonio is confidently predicting a victory.
Most people will focus on how the Ohio State offense matches up against the rugged Spartan D. That’s interesting, of course, but I think the real question will be how Ohio State’s defense will handle Michigan State’s multi-faceted offense. Ohio State’s defense seems to have improved since early in the year, when it was repeatedly gouged for big plays — but is that because the defense is playing better, or because the opponents aren’t worth a tinker’s damn? Tonight we’ll see whether the Buckeyes’ apparently improved press defense against the pass works well against an elite team.
Urban Meyer would like to earn the “signature victory” over a top 10 team that has so far eluded him during his tenure at Ohio State. I’m guessing that this game will be an evenly matched tilt that will be decided by turnovers, and toughness. Against the Spartans, you wouldn’t expect anything else.