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
VIEW FROM OTHER SIDE
Bill Rabinowitz, who covers Ohio State for the Columbus Dispatch, breaks down the Buckeyes for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Michigan State-Ohio State game.
You can follow him on Twitter @brdispatch.
Question. How difficult will it be for the Buckeyes to bounce back from the Iowa loss with a shot at the playoffs now unlikely?
Answer. That’s a huge question. This has always been a return-to-the-College-Football-Playoffs-or-bust season, and the CFP is almost certainly out of reach now. But the Big Ten championship is quite possible and that’s also a big goal. OSU has only won the conference once under Urban Meyer, and the Spartans are the team that has denied the Buckeyes twice. So that motivation, as well as Ohio State’s respect for Michigan State, should help get the Buckeyes past last Saturday’s debacle.
Q. J.T. Barrett was starting to push his name into the Heisman discussion before last weekend. What led to his four-interception performance against Iowa?
A. He did something quite uncharacteristic. He forced passes. There’s a fine line between trusting your receivers and trying to thread the needle. For most of his career, Barrett was criticized for excessive caution. Against Penn State, he struck a perfect balance between keeping the ball away from the Nittany Lions while giving his receivers a chance to make plays. Not so against Iowa. Sometimes, even really good players have a bad day. There’s no hiding it with a quarterback.
Q. Michigan State has the top rushing defense in the Big Ten and has contained Northwestern’s Justin Jackson and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley in consecutive weeks. Can it do the same with J.K. Dobbins?
A. It would certainly help the Spartans if the Buckeyes lend a helping hand by not giving Dobbins enough carries. He had only six last week and hasn’t had more than 14 since he got 29 carries in the season-opener against Indiana. My sense is that they will give him ample opportunities today. It should be a great test because Michigan State’s run defense is obviously very good. Dobbins is an exceptional runner. I’m not saying he’s Barkley, but for a true freshman, he’s special.
Q. Can Ohio State take advantage of Michigan State’s young offensive line and put pressure on QB Brian Lewerke?
A. We thought that would happen last week against Iowa and it really didn’t. Now OSU’s defensive line has a lot to prove, I would guess that no one will be more motivated than Nick Bosa, who was ejected for targeting last week. Bosa is playing at an All-America level, and the Buckeyes have a ridiculous amount of depth on the defensive line. Slowing Bosa, Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard, Dre’Mont Jones, etc., is probably the key for Michigan State.
Q. How much does the last-second loss to Michigan State two years ago still stick with this Ohio State team? Will it have any bearing this year?
A. Oh, the Buckeyes remember The Windmill. Michael Geiger’s kick ruined Ohio State’s season. Remember, 2015, not 2014, was supposed to be the year Ohio State won it all. Michigan State outplayed the Buckeyes that day, and I’d say it still haunts the Buckeyes. As for any bearing on the game, I doubt it. It’ll come down to the basics. With the Big Ten East probably on the line, motivation is plentiful for both teams.
BUCKEYES TO WATCH
■ J.T. Barrett, QB: The senior was putting himself right in the thick of the Heisman Trophy discussion until last week’s meltdown at Iowa where he threw four interceptions after entering the game with just one all season. He had thrown for more than 300 yards in each of the previous two games, including nine touchdowns while running for 95 yards against Penn State and two touchdowns vs. Nebraska. He’s still one of the most dynamic offensive players in the Big Ten and will be the focus of the MSU defense.
■ J.K. Dobbins, RB: The freshman has burst onto the scene and relegated Mike Weber to a supporting role by running for 914 yards this season, good for second-best in the Big Ten. The key for Ohio State in this game will be getting Dobbins the ball. He carried just six times against Iowa and 13 times the week before against Penn State. He’s averaging 7.7 yards a carry, the best in the conference, and will make things difficult for a Michigan State defense that ranks first in the Big Ten and third in the nation in rushing defense.
■ Nick Bosa, DE: The sophomore is just one of a handful of playmakers on the Ohio State defensive line but he leads the team and ranks third in the Big Ten with 10.5 tackles for loss this season along with four sacks. He’s coming off an Iowa game where he was ejected in the second quarter for targeting and will likely be looking to make up for that misstep. Bosa will get plenty of help from fellow ends Sam Hubbard, Jalyn Holmes and Tyquan Lewis as the group has combined for 11½ sacks and 25 tackles for loss.
FACTS AND FIGURES
■ Close as can be: The Spartans and Buckeyes have had their share of close games over the last five seasons since Urban Meyer took over in 2012. Each team has a double-digit victory — Michigan State won, 34-24, in the 2103 Big Ten title game while Ohio State won, 49-37, in 2014 — but the other three matchups have been decided by a total of five points. The Buckeyes have one-point road wins in 2012 and 2016 while the Spartans have a three-point win on the road in 2015.
■ Road warriors: The road team has won in each of the last five games played at campus sites with the 2013 game coming in the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis. Ohio State has three wins in that stretch while Michigan State has wins at the Horseshoe in 2011 and 2015. Michigan State remains the only Big Ten team to beat Urban Meyer twice and the only conference team to beat OSU under Meyer in Columbus.
■ Quarterback standouts: Michigan State sophomore Brian Lewerke is the first Spartans quarterback and the third in the last 20 years in the Big Ten to throw for 400 yards in back-to-back games. In his past two games, Lewerke is 72-for-113 for 845 yards and six touchdowns. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett owns nearly every career record in Buckeyes history, including passing yardage (8,755), completions (718), TD passes (97), total offense (11,737) and touchdowns responsible for (133).