As the new head coach of the Buckeyes, Urban Meyer has 5 milestones to pass in order to secure his place in Ohio State history:
his first victory
his first Big Ten victory
his first Big Ten Championship
his first bowl game win
his first national championship
The first milestone has been completed. Due to post-season play restrictions, milestones 3, 4, & 5 will have to wait until after this year. So the game this weekend is his first opportunity to pass his only remaining milestone of the year with a Big Ten victory over Michigan State. The question is, are the Buckeyes up to the task?
Ohio State comes into the game with a 4-0 record and ranked #14 in the nation. In their first four games the Buckeyes have displayed some moments of brilliance surrounded by unpredictable (and sometimes mediocre) play. They've developed a pattern of play where they go behind early, come back to overtake their opponent by half-time, then dominate the game in the second half. It's a pattern that almost cost them the game against California (since they did not dominate in the second half), and made the game against UAB much more exciting than it needed to be.
There is a two word description for the success that the Buckeyes have had so far this year – Braxton Miller. Other Buckeye players have had some stellar plays this year, but no one has been so consistent and difficult to contain as Braxton Miller. His number gets called a lot at key moments, and even though he's made some mistakes at key times, he is responsible for driving this team to the victories that they've had so far. Michigan State is a tough defensive team, and the Buckeyes will need Miller to be at the top of his game if they are to secure a win.
If you want an idea of how the Spartan faithful are viewing this game, you need look no further than today's front page on their website. It features a shot of Denicos Allen (an Ohio product) flying through the air to sack Joe Bauserman in their meeting last year. Michigan State is inspiring their players to go all out and target Braxton Miller in order to win the game, so other players will need to step up to help draw the heat off of the quarterback.
Of those likely to step up are players who have proven themselves in the previous four games. Look to wide-receiver Devin Smith to be a prime target for Miller. His size and speed should prove troubling for the Spartan secondary. Likewise, tight end Jake Stoneburner will cause problems for their linebackers. A few key hand-offs to running backs Rod Smith and Jordan Hall should hold off the Spartan blitz and delay pressure on Miller, since either of them are capable of breaking through for long gains.
We should also look for improvements with special teams. With already one punt blocked this year, the Buckeye punting team has hopefully figured out their problems and have tightened up.
But, if Ohio State is really serious about winning this game, Luke Fickell's defense is going to have to step up in a way that they haven't been able to yet this year. They've certainly had moments of brilliance in stopping their opponents during the previous games, but they've been very inconsistent in their performance. The game against UAB was encouraging, since they gave up no offensive touchdowns, but Michigan State is going to offer a significantly stronger attack. The Buckeye defense gave up 470 yards rushing, 1,109 yards passing and 69 points during their non-conference schedule. These are supposed to be the teams that aren't as tough as your conference opponents. While the rushing yards allowed wasn't awful, the passing yards allowed certainly was. Michigan State has thrown for 916 yards in their first four games, and that could be the difference in the game tomorrow if the Buckeye secondary isn't able to match up with the Spartan passing attack.
Michigan State enters their home field with a 3-1 record and ranked #20 in the country. They've got a lot of Ohio players (29) on their team who want to prove to their friends and relatives that going to a Michigan school wasn't a mistake. They're going to enter the stadium with an attitude. An attitude that says to the Buckeyes "not here. not today".
The question is, will the Buckeyes be up to the challenge?
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