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Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan State Spartans: Preview, Predictions & Prognostications

When: Sat. Nov. 19, 2016; Noon ET
Where: East Lansing, MI; Spartan Stadium (75,005)
All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 29-15
Last Meeting: Michigan Sate won last year 17-14. It hurt.
Line: Ohio State (-22)

Admit it. At the beginning of the season, this game was circled as a mile-marker in the chase for the College Football Playoff. There’s been one problem with that however. The Spartans have broken down on the side of the road with a flat tire. It’s been a disastrous season in East Lansing, and almost a throw-away year with just one Big Ten win to date.

Ohio State is a different story altogether. It seems to have arrived a year early despite being the least experienced team in all of the FBS. After a thrashing of Oklahoma in Norman, a tougher than nails win in Madison against Wisconsin, and numerous blowouts, the team seems to be on the fast track to the big time again.

There’s the one very costly loss in Happy Valley, but aside from that, Ohio State has looked every bit the part of a playoff team.

But then Mark Dantonio and the Spartans have been the one program that has stood toe-to-toe with Ohio State since Urban Meyer began calling the shots. Meyer is just 2-2 against the Spartans — losing two of the last three. It may be down, but Sparty would love nothing more than to ruin the hopes and dreams of all those with fondness of the colors scarlet and gray.

1 Burning Question: Can Michigan State rise up to dash the dreams of Ohio State again?

To say that it’s been a down year in East Lansing will be a gross understatement. Nobody saw this coming, not even Michigan Wolverine fans. Unbelievably, it took the Spartans until last week to get their first Big Ten win of the season. Even more unbelievably, there are only two Big Ten games left, and it’s becoming even more unlikely that Mark Dantonio and company will be going anywhere warm over the holiday season for a bowl game.

But the season’s not over. Far from it.

Over the last two weeks, the Spartans take on Ohio State, and then Penn State. One way or another, they will have a say in who goes to Indianapolis to play for the Big Ten Championship, and perhaps beyond.

But first things first, Michigan State must find a way to rise up, find its defense, find some consistent play at quarterback, and find the demons of recent years to make Ohio State earn its right to stay in the conversation for really, really big things.

It is, after all, November where many dreams go to die. Will this be that case, or will the Buckeyes keep rolling right into the annual grudge match against Darth Vader next week?

2 Key Stats:

— 6.  That’s the number of touchdowns the Ohio State defense has scored. Can you say ball-hawk? There’s only one team in the country that has scored more defensive touchdowns on the year, and it too sits in prime position (Alabama at nine). It’s hard enough to move the ball and score against the nation’s third ranked scoring defense, but when it’s also putting points on the board, it can be lights out for opponents.

— 7 and 46. That’s the amount of sacks and tackles for loss the Michigan State defense has this year. That’s No. 127 and 113 in total ranking in the country, and a far cry from what we have become accustomed to under Mark Dantonio. There’s a lot of cracks in the Green and White dam this year, but the poor play on defense might be the most shocking of them all. This team is just not getting push into the backfield of opposing offenses, meaning quarterbacks and running backs are able to find time and running and passing lanes with relative ease. Without any disruption on defense to make life difficult for the bad guys, the good guys just can’t keep up.

3 Key Players:

Curtis Samuel, Ohio State RB:

Yeah. Technically Samuel is listed as a running back, but he’ll lineup in the backfield, in the slot, on the outside, and even in the wildcat formation. Urban Meyer will try to get him in mismatches and out in space to utilize his unique skill set to get the big-play machine going. The goal is for about 13 touches a game, and each time, opposing coaches are left holding their breath. Not since Percy Harvin has an Urban Meyer offense had a talent like Samuel. He’ll be featured in this one as well.

Malik McDowell, Michigan State DL: McDowell is the most imposing defensive player on the Michigan State defense. When he’s healthy and active, he can be a difference maker able to make momentum turning plays. However, he was unable to go last week because of injury and isn’t listed on the depth chart this week. Don’t be surprised it’s a bit of a gamesmanship from Dantonio. He has alluded to him being ready to go, but not quite 100 percent. He’ll need to find someway to be a force against an Ohio State defense that can put up points in bushels.

Tyler O’Connor, Michigan State QB: O’Connor was the fill-in starter in Columbus last year when these two last met. His numbers weren’t off the charts, but his moxie, timely quarterback runs, and leadership under duress carried the Spartans to a springboard victory towards a Big Ten Championship. Obviously the stakes are much, much different this year, but if he can find the same magic he was able to wrangle in 2015, things might get very, very interesting in East Lansing. Things haven’t gone according to plan this season for O’Connor, but here’s a big chance to right some of those wrongs.

 4 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Ohio State 48-10
Dave: Ohio State 35-20
Phil H.: Ohio State 34-21
Philip R.: Ohio State 42-17
Zach: Ohio State 42-17

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