Bob Wojnowski and John Niyo are joined by former running backs Nick Hill of MSU and Chris Howard of UM to talk about this weekend's big games, and Matt Charboneau breaks down his AP Top 25 vote. Detroit News
East Lansing — The last couple of weeks were hardly used as tuneups, but the fact Michigan State just played two straight games defending offenses that feature dynamic quarterbacks and effective running attacks sure helps heading into Saturday’s matchup with Ohio State.
The Spartans (7-2, 5-1 Big Ten) did well containing Northwestern running back Justin Jackson and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, but the quarterbacks — Clayton Thorson of the Wildcats and Trace McSorley of the Nittany Lions — both threw for more than 300 yards.
A similar test awaits this week. Senior J.T. Barrett is the top-rated passer in the Big Ten, and freshman J.K. Dobbins is second in rushing yards per game, leading a balanced attack for Ohio State (7-2, 5-1), the top-ranked offense in the Big Ten.
The key for the Spartans is containing Barrett.
“Experience,” defensive ends coach Mark Snyder said of Barrett. “It seems like he’s been there forever; he’s been there longer than I’ve been here. It shows on film. He’s very comfortable in the offense. He’s a game manager. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. You can tell he’s played a lot of football.”
Barrett did not play well last week in the loss at Iowa, throwing four interceptions after entering the game with just one this season.
But the Spartans expect Barrett to bounce back. He can beat teams with his arm or his feet — something both Thorson and McSorley could do, too — and that will be what the Michigan State defense dials in on again this week.
They did a good job of keeping McSorley in the pocket, and will hope to do so against Barrett.
“It goes back to, looking at the quarterback we faced last week, he can create with his legs, so you have to have a controlled rush,” Snyder said. “You can’t just cut it loose, or they’re going to hurt you. That was kind of the deal. We wanted to make sure that he didn’t hurt us with his feet.
“When you go into a game type like that, it’s going to be hard to get pressure. It is. Each game presents a different challenge or another opportunity and we go by it that way each week. Who are we playing? What are we playing? Can we cut it loose? Do we have to keep him in the pocket?”
In Barrett’s freshman season, Michigan State got its first glimpse of how Barrett could beat a team in multiple ways as he threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns while running for 86 yards and two more scores.
The Spartans have been far more effective against him the last two meetings. In Michigan State’s win in Columbus in 2015, Barrett threw for just 46 yards and ran for 44. In last season’s one-point Ohio State win in East Lansing, Barrett only threw for 86 yards but ran for 105.
He’ll have the Spartans’ full attention Saturday.
“He’s a dual-threat guy,” linebacker Andrew Dowell said. “He can run it, they set draws up well and he manages the game well, too. Besides the last game, he usually doesn’t turn the ball over too much. He’s got good ball control. He’s their guy.”
A couple of injuries forced Michigan State to do some shuffling at defensive tackle last week in the win over Penn State and it could lead to expanding the rotation moving forward.
Junior Gerald Owens did not play because of an undisclosed injury, while sophomore Mike Panasiuk suffered a first-half injury that had him in and out of the lineup. The result was the first extensive play for sophomore Kyonta Stallworth and the first snaps for redshirt freshman Mufi Hill-Hunt.
Stallworth stood out with six tackles and could continue to see time while Hill-Hunt is still learning the position.
“I gained a lot of confidence,” Stallworth said. “After the game I felt like I can do this, I felt like I can contribute.”
Panasiuk should play this week, but Snyder was unsure of Owens’ status.
“I don’t know,” Snyder said. “It will be interesting to see.”
There have been other position switches recently, including freshman tight end Jack Camper now working at defensive end.
“Right now, he’s with me,” Snyder said. “He looks pretty good, the little bit I’ve seen.”
Camper was an early enrollee last spring out of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
… Michigan State co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Harlon Barnett has been nominated for the Frank Broyles Award, given each year to the top assistant coach in the nation. Former defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi won the award in 2013.