Ohio State has one the most prolific offenses in the nation.
But Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer believes his team is in for a challenge this week when it travels to East Lansing to take on No. 24 Michigan State for a noon kickoff Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
“A big one this week against Michigan State,” Meyer said Monday. “Very strong rivalry that we have a lot of respect for that team, and they're playing as good a defense as there is any in the country.”
If last week’s win over Maryland was any indication, the Spartans (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) are playing as well as just about any team on the defensive side of the ball. They have been the best against the run nearly the entire season and, despite some early struggles against the pass, have started to solidify things there as well.
Michigan State limited Maryland to 100 total yards last week, including just 26 on the ground.
Saying things will kick up a notch this week is an understatement. No. 8 Ohio State (8-1, 5-1) is averaging 547.2 yards a game, good for fifth-best in the nation, while its 42.2 points a game ranks 10th in the country.
That presents what is likely the toughest challenge all season for Michigan State and coach Mark Dantonio is ready to see how the Spartans measure up.
“Am I eager? That might be an overstatement,” Dantonio said, smiling after the Maryland game. “I'm curious, but last year they had their way (a 48-3 victory), so we're going to have to play very, very well and we're going to have to know what they do and be on top of our game.”
The Buckeyes have struggled at times to find balance. While quarterback Dwayne Haskins is second in the nation at 339.2 passing yards a game with 32 touchdowns, the Buckeyes threw 73 times in the loss two weeks ago to Purdue. Getting the running game going was a focus last week against Rutgers, and Ohio State ran for 229 yards as it works to continue that momentum this week facing a Michigan State defense that is allowing 71.7 yards a game.
“That's what we're working on right now,” Meyer said. “Obviously, you're facing the No. 1 rush defense in the country coming up this next week. But our offensive line played very well and our backs, that was their best pad level game as far as dropping their pads and getting through those holes.”
The Buckeyes had no problem running the ball last season against the Spartans, turning out 335 yards as Mike Weber (Detroit Cass Tech) ran for 162 yards and JK Dobbins gained 124. Both are back this season, and each has gained more than 600 yards.
But being solid against the run hasn’t been a problem for Michigan State. It’s in the passing attack where the Spartans have had breakdowns, making the matchup with Haskins the critical one.
Some help arrived last week as sophomore cornerback Josiah Scott played his first game after injuring his knee in preseason camp. He’s joined by junior Justin Layne on the other side to back up a front seven that has been doing a better job of getting after the quarterback, while it’s intercepted 12 passes and is 16th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 19 points a game.
“Excellent corner, boundary corner is an excellent player, and that frees them up to do what they do,” Meyer said. “Their defense hasn't changed that much. They're doing a little bit different things this year. Well-coached defense, tough guys, defensive front is outstanding and their (line)backers are outstanding.”