Saturday night, the Ohio State Buckeyes will take on the Michigan State Spartans in the Big Ten championship game. It should be a classic matchup in which strength is pitted against strength — and correspondingly, weakness against weakness.
This season, Michigan State’s defense is the immovable object: the number one defense in the country and third-best scoring defense. You can argue about the weakness of the Big Ten this year, but Michigan State’s gaudy defensive stats would be impressive under any conditions. The Spartans stop the run, rush the passer, guard receivers like glue, and consistently play tough, disciplined defensive football. In their signature game against interstate rival Michigan, the Spartans dominated physically, limited the Michigan rushing game to a ridiculous -48 yards on the ground, and beat down Wolverines QB Devin Gardner with sack after sack. Michigan State held Michigan to 168 yards, offensively, and won convincingly, 29-6. Against Ohio State, by contrast, Gardner and Michigan put up huge numbers, scored 41 points, and almost won.
The Buckeyes offense, on the other hand, has been the irresistible force. No one has come close to shutting down the two-headed Ohio State rushing game behind power runner Carlos Hyde and elusive quarterback Braxton Miller. Ohio State features an experienced offensive line and receivers who can spread the field and present a meaningful deep threat. All together, it amounts to the third-ranked scoring offense in the land, one that has put up more than 30 points in every game this season.
What will happen when this immovable object confronts the irresistible force? Which team will win the physical battle at the line of scrimmage and wear down the opponent as the game progresses? And, when the Spartan offense faces Ohio State’s defense, which team will have the advantage? Michigan State has struggled on offense, and Ohio State’s defense looked like the Keystone Cops against Michigan. Their battle also looks to be evenly matched. Both teams are well coached, and those of us in Buckeye Nation still have a soft spot for Spartans head man Mark Dantonio, who coached the stout Buckeyes defense when Ohio State won the 2003 national championship game.
In any rational world, people would be amped and anticipating what should be a terrific battle. Unfortunately, the game has been overshadowed by incessant yammering about the BCS and which two teams deserve the nod for the championship game if Ohio State, Florida, and Auburn all win tomorrow. It’s unfair for both Michigan State and Ohio State, which deserve to be evaluated in their own right on their own, exceptional records.
Commentators may be able to make the ludicrous assumption of a victory against this hard-as-nails Michigan State team, but Ohio State certainly can’t. I hope Coach Urban Meyer and his staff — and the Buckeye senior leaders — have Ohio State focused relentlessly on this game and the challenges posed by a rugged Spartans squad.