When: Sat., Nov. 21; 3:30p.m. ET
Where: Columbus, OH; Ohio Stadium (104,944)
All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 29-14
Last Meeting: Ohio State Win 49-37 (2014)
Line: Ohio State -13
Here we go.
This game has been circled, gold-starred, highlighted and colored in with crayon since before the season started. It was thought to be the game of the year with what both teams has coming back, and with where each fell in the preseason rankings. And while a little luster may have worn off because of the loss a couple of weeks ago in Lincoln by Michigan State, the stakes are still sky-high.
Ohio State remains undefeated and in prime position for the shot at really big things, but what’s not talked about much is the Spartans’ opportunity for much of the same. Because this game is on the schedule, they also control their own destiny in the division, league and perhaps much more if they can upset OSU and things break right. It should be a good one, so get the DVR ready and put the women and children to bed.
1 Burning Question: How Healthy and Effective Will Connor Cook Be?
It has to be the question leading into this game. Cook went out of the game last week against Maryland with a shoulder injury, but all indications point to him being more than ready to go. How healthy he will be will dictate how effective he will be, and it’ll go miles and miles towards what kind of chance the Spartans have to swashbuckle into Columbus and knock off the Buckeyes. Without him at close to 100 percent, MSU won’t stand much of a chance. With him on point and full of confidence, it could be a whale of a game. The senior QB always seems to show up for the big-time games, and that’s just what’s being served up on a silver plattter Saturday.
2 Key Stats:
— 171.6. That’s how many passing yards the Ohio State defense is giving up per game this year — good for No. 8 in the country. Michigan State has been unable to get off and running with the ground game this year, so it’s often had to ask Cook to go out and make plays with his arm. The Spartans won’t abandon the running game Saturday, but as long as Cook is healthy, he’s the best chance they have at ruining Ohio State’s day. Fortunately for Ohio State, pass defense has been might stingy this year, so it’ll be interesting to see who wins the tug-of-war through the air.
— 86. The Ranking of the Michigan State secondary in yards allowed per game. It’s been a sore spot on the Spartan defense all year. There have been players lost to graduation, injuries, and a lack of consistency all season long, and it’s resulted in a less than stellar defensive effort this year for a program built on creating havoc on that side of the ball. Ohio State would love to get Ezekiel Elliott off and running, but it can’t forget about opportunities that could present themselves through the air.
3 Key Players:
Connor Cook, Iowa QB: Yup. We’ve already gone there, but Cook is going to be the most important player to watch Saturday. It doesn’t appear he’s going to be his usual self, but it also doesn’t appear that he’s going to sit this one out. It’s not clear how bad the injury was last week, but it won’t take long to figure that out when the game gets going. This is sure to be a hard-hitting affair, and Cook will have to absorb some shots from Ohio State and still be able to make plays down the field.
Joey Bosa, Ohio State DE: The Lombardi Award finalist is starting to play with more and more aggression over the last few weeks. The Buckeye defensive coaches will look to line him up in different sets all along the line, and it’ll be up to the Spartan offense to locate where he’s coming from and chip him with two and three guys every play. He’s a dominant force that deserves that much attention, and if he finds his way in the backfield too often, it could spell doom for the MSU offense.
Taylor Decker, Ohio State OT: Ohio State returned four starters from last-year’s offensive line, so it was a foregone conclusion that the unit would be the same dominating force through 2015. Eleven weeks into the season, that has yet to play out. Whether a byproduct of the unsettled quarterback position or better scouting, the line has yet to hit its stride and has struggled in pass protection far too often. Enemy No. 1 this week for bull-rushing quarterback J.T. Barrett will be the freakishly talented MSU defensive-end Shalique Calhoun. Decker gets the main assignment of keeping him out of Barrett’s face so that the Buckeyes can look to rack up the air-miles. Good luck.
4 Bold Prognostications:
J.T. Barrett will have over 300 multi-purpose yards: All eyes will be on Ezekiel Elliott, but the star of the show will be Barrett. His coming out party last year was in East Lansing against this same team, and he’s primed and ready to break out again with a week under his belt to get back in form. He’ll combine for big plays with his legs and his upper limbs to rack up chunks of real-estate with the entire world watching.
Braxton Miller the QB? It’s been coming for weeks, and I keep calling for it, but it has yet to happen because it hasn’t been needed. Maybe Meyer will wait until the Michigan game to unleash Miller time, but I think it happens this week. Braxton will line up in the Wildcat like he’s done many times this year and instead of running, will throw for a touchdown against an unsuspecting Spartan secondary.
Connor Cook will throw for over 300 yards: The OSU secondary has been a stubborn crew this year, but it hasn’t faced a quarterback the caliber of Cook. He’s angry at last year’s outcome, he’s playing against the home state school that shunned him, and he’s a competitor that’ll be turned loose to make plays despite being a bit banged up. He’ll show up in a big way and make this thing a game.
Mark Dantonio will dial-up a fake attempt: Usually somewhat reserved with his play-calling, Dantonio does have a flare for the dramatic at times — especially in the biggest of big games. He always installs a fake in the kicking game and waits for the perfect time or two to surprise one of the big dogs. There’s a good chance it happens Saturday. Look out when the Spartans need a big momentum swing and are in a decent spot on the field to give it the old college try.
5 Staff Predictions:
Andy: Ohio State 31-24 (78-20 overall; 46-51 ATS)
Dave: Ohio State 34-24 (81-17 overall; 51-45 ATS)
Greg: Ohio State 38-35 (74-26 overall; 54-42 ATS)
Matt: Ohio State 38-21 (79-19 overall; 56-40 ATS)
Phil: Ohio State 34-20 (33-12 overall; 15-27 ATS) *joined in Week 5
Phil Harrison is a frequent contributor to talking10.com. He is also a the founder of Big10news.com and featured contributor to collegefootballews.com and occasionally campusinsiders.com. You can follow him on twitter @PhilHarrisonCFB or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org If that doesn’t work, you can find him in the doghouse at home.