Wojo, Chengelis, Charboneau break down the MSU-Ohio State and UM-Rutgers games this weekend. The Detroit News


Ohio State at Michigan State

Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

TV/radio: Fox/WJR 760

Records: No. 24 Michigan State 6-3, 4-2 Big Ten; No. 8 Ohio State 8-1, 5-1

Line: Ohio State by 3.5

View from the other side

Bill Rabinowitz covers Ohio State athletics for the Columbus Dispatch. He breaks down the Buckeyes for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Michigan State-Ohio State game at Spartan Stadium. You can follow him on Twitter @brdispatch.

Question: Did the Buckeyes finally hit their stride in the running game last week, or was it more about taking advantage of Nebraska?

Rabinowitz: That's the big question, isn't it? The Buckeyes went to straight handoffs rather than RPOs, which was a popular change among the players. The line gradually wore down Nebraska, and J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber (Detroit Cass Tech) were more successful in breaking or eluding tackles than they have been. There's no reason OSU shouldn't be consistently successful running the ball. But the Buckeyes averaged only 3.1 yards the previous four games. Michigan State's run defense will be the best it has played all year.

Question: If the running attack fails to find traction against MSU, are the Buckeyes comfortable with simply putting the game on Dwayne Haskins’ arm?

Rabinowitz: Yes. The Buckeyes want balance against Michigan State, but they don't absolutely need it. Their bubble screens can serve as quasi-run plays. Haskins had an off game last week, but that was probably due to all the practice emphasis on the run game. The loss of Austin Mack to a foot injury hurts. Still, Ohio State has plenty of quality receivers and a quarterback who can make all the throws.

Question: Why have the Buckeyes been susceptible to giving up the big play this season?

Rabinowitz: How long have you got? Injuries have hurt, especially the one to Nick Bosa, arguably the best defensive player in the country. Linebacker play has been spotty, to put it kindly. Jordan Fuller is a solid player at one safety, but the other safety has been a weakness. When Fuller was ejected for targeting last week, Brendon White got a shot and played really well (13 tackles). If White is the solution long-term, that can make a big difference.

More: Wojo's Pigskin Picks: Wolverines, Spartans face quite the rooting quandary

More: Henning: Michigan State knows not to take bowl eligibility lightly

Question: Ohio State has had its share of close games with MSU, but trounced the Spartans last season. Where does this game rank in terms of “big games” for the Buckeyes?

Rabinowitz: No opponent will ever replace Michigan as Ohio State's top rival. But Penn State and Michigan State are next in line, no doubt. In fact, the OSU-MSU games in the Meyer era have been more consequential than any other matchup for the Buckeyes, even Michigan. In 2012, a one-point win in East Lansing was the turning point in an undefeated season. The 2014 win marked OSU as a national contender. The 2013 and 2015 losses to the Spartans doomed the Buckeyes' national title hopes. There's a lot of respect for MSU among the Buckeyes, and the Ohio ties that many Spartans have adds to it.

Question: Is there any chance the Buckeyes look past this matchup, setting their sights, instead, on the regular-season finale against Michigan?

Rabinowitz: They can't afford to, and they know it. Yes, Michigan looks daunting, even if the Wolverines haven't won in Columbus since 2000. But if Ohio State doesn't take care of business the next two weeks against MSU and Maryland, Michigan won't matter in terms of championships. Overlooking Michigan State will not be an issue.

Players to watch

Dwayne Haskins, QB: The third-year sophomore has been the star for Ohio State’s offense even as the Buckeyes’ running attack has struggled. Haskins has thrown for 3,053 yards and 32 touchdowns this season with six interceptions. His 32 passing touchdowns lead the nation, while his 339.2 passing yards a game is tops in the conference and second in the country. Haskins became the first quarterback in Ohio State history to pass for 400 or more yards in three consecutive games when he did so this season against Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue.

J.K. Dobbins, RB: The sophomore leads the Buckeyes with 684 yards on 143 carries and has 16 receptions for 186 yards and a touchdown. He is sixth in the Big Ten in total touchdowns with eight. Along with Weber, who has run for 607 yards and three touchdowns, the Ohio State running attack broke out last week for 229 yards.

Malik Harrison, LB: The junior had a career-high 13 tackles in Ohio State’s victory last week against Nebraska. He also had five solo stops, following up a 10-tackle performance the game before against Purdue. He and junior safety Jordan Fuller lead Ohio State with 48 tackles while Harrison recorded his first career interception in the fourth quarter against TCU. Against Michigan State last season, Harrison recorded two sacks.

More: Detroit News predictions: Michigan State vs. Ohio State

More: Michigan State run game finding its feet, 'starting to flow'

Facts and figures

Big plays: Ohio State ranks No. 3 nationally in plays of more than 10 yards and No. 13 with 25 plays of 30 yards or more. Of the 32 touchdown passes thrown by Haskins, 14 have covered 30 yards or more while 19 of the Buckeyes’ 54 scoring drives (35 percent) have come in six plays or less.

Road warriors: Over the last seven seasons, Ohio State has the nation’s second-best winning percentage in all road games — true road games and neutral-site games — at .853 with 35 wins in its past 41 away games. Ohio State’s 35 victories during this time are fourth-most in the nation. The Buckeyes have added a pair of wins to that total this season: vs. TCU in Arlington, Texas, and at Penn State.

Getting defensive: Michigan State, which entered the game ranked No. 1 in the FBS in rushing defense, held Maryland to a season-low 26 yards on the ground last week and just 100 total yards. It was the fewest total by a Michigan State opponent since Minnesota had just 96 on Nov. 24, 2012. MSU has held seven of its nine opponents to less than 100 yards rushing this season. The 74 passing yards were the fewest by a Spartan opponent since Rutgers had 40 on Nov. 12, 2016.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau