Michigan State at Ohio State

Sports Xchange

November 08, 2017 at 3:17 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
SITE: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
TV: FOX
SERIES: Ohio State leads Michigan State, 30-15. The Buckeyes won 17-16 last season in East Lansing.
RANKINGS: Michigan State No. 12; Ohio State No. 13

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Spartans

–QB Brian Lewerke continues to be the catalyst to a passing game that has taken off the past two games. After throwing for a school-record 445 yards in the triple-overtime loss to Northwestern, the sophomore went for 400 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over Penn State. He’s thrown 113 passes in two games, not the norm at Michigan State, but it’s getting closer to that as he’s thrown six touchdown passes in the last two games while continuing to keep plays alive with his feet, running 10 times for 30 yards against Northwestern and seven times for 25 yards against Penn State.

–WR Felton Davis had career highs in catches (12) and receiving yards (181) in the victory over Penn State and is tied for the Big Ten lead with eight touchdown catches. His 45 grabs are the fourth-most in the conference and the junior is quickly becoming the most sure-handed of a group of young receivers that is consistently making plays with the game on the line. Davis has at least one touchdown in each of the last three games, a stretch that has included 21 receptions for 286 yards.

–S David Dowell is proving to have a nose for the football, collecting two more interceptions in the victory over Penn State. The sophomore has four interceptions this year after picking off two passes earlier this season in a win over Michigan. The twin brother of linebacker Andrew Dowell has 33 tackles.

Buckeyes

–QB J.T. Barrett was Ohio State’s leading rusher last week with 63 yards on 14 carries. That many rushing attempts are too many for Barrett, said coach Urban Meyer, who described the reliance on Barrett running as Ohio State’s “get out of jail card” on offense when things aren’t going as planned. Iowa disguised their coverages and Barrett apparently was fooled, throwing four INTs a week after he played a near-perfect game against Penn State.

–DE Nick Bosa was ejected from last Saturday’s game against Iowa for targeting after a hit on quarterback Nate Stanley in the second quarter. His departure came with the score tied and impacted the game. Iowa scored twice before halftime after Bosa departed. “That was a devastating one,” coach Urban Meyer said of Bosa’s penalty. Bosa continues to lead the team with tackles for loss and sacks, and he’s the most disruptive force on the Ohio State defensive line.

–RB J.K. Dobbins was used sparingly against Iowa, carrying only six times for 51 yards. One of his runs went for 35 yards, but Ohio State inexplicably seemed to turn away from using its running backs even before falling behind. The freshman continues to lead Ohio State in rushing with 863 yards on 113 carries with five touchdowns. Whether or not the Ohio State offense goes back to using Dobbins more this week against Michigan State bears watching.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

No. 12 Michigan State and No. 13 Ohio State come into their Big Ten battle on Saturday at Ohio Stadium from different angles.

Ohio State (7-2, 5-1 Big Ten) took a 55-24 loss last week at Iowa that was shocking, not just because the Buckeyes lost, but more so with the way the Hawkeyes completely dominated the game.

Michigan State (7-2, 5-1) is on the opposite end of the spectrum, riding high after a 27-24 upset of Penn State a week ago in East Lansing, Mich. The Spartans won a weather-delayed game that lasted seven hours and ended with a field goal by freshman Matt Coghlin.

The Buckeyes will try to regroup and the Spartans will attempt to sustain their momentum in a game that could decide the Big Ten East Division championship and a spot in the conference championship game next month in Indianapolis.

The winner of the Saturday matchup will take sole possession of first place and have the inside track to the East title.

“We have a lot to lose,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “We’re in control right now, so we do have a lot to lose. And we want to stay in control.”

And there is still some motivation for Ohio State after the crushing loss at Iowa — even though the College Football Playoff appears to be out of the picture now.

From Ohio State coach Urban Meyer’s perspective, the “tougher team” will win when the Buckeyes and Spartans collide.

“You still look at the standings, and Ohio State and Michigan State are (Nos.) 1, 2 in the Big Ten East,” Meyer said. “And everybody knows this game for the last, what’s our sixth year of playing them or something, usually it’s just a prize fight. So the tougher team usually wins.

“And we’ve got to understand what we’re going to play against. Great respect for them, and they’re playing well.”

After Ohio State’s crushing loss at Iowa, Meyer is moving forward. There is no time to dwell on the four interceptions thrown by quarterback J.T. Barrett, costly penalties and the defense’s inability to corral the Hawkeyes.

Ohio State gave up the most points ever by a Meyer-coached team and the fifth most in the program’s storied history. The offense and defense still rank among the Big Ten’s best but have consistency issues.

“We’re playing Michigan State this week,” Meyer said. “We gotta really practice well and fix the turnover issue on offense and play a little better on defense.”

Meyer has to be concerned about Ohio State’s pass defense, which was torched for five touchdowns by Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley.

Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke presents a similar challenge. The sophomore has played well in recent weeks, and he passed for 400 yards against Penn State.

The Spartans have exhibited balance on offense that is similar to Iowa’s, and Michigan State has the Big Ten’s No. 1 rushing defense.

“I visited with our defensive staff, and he’s thrown for 800 yards the last two games,” Meyer said. “He’s throwing at a very high level, and they’re a much different team. They used to be kind of a 70-30 run-pass (ratio). It’s not that right now.”

Since Dantonio and Meyer began facing each other in 2012, the series between the teams is tied at three wins apiece and has a history of close finishes. No Big Ten coach has fared as well against Meyer as Dantonio.

Two years ago, Michigan State stunned then-unbeaten and second-ranked Ohio State on a rainy day in Columbus with a backup quarterback as their starter. Last year, the Buckeyes escaped East Lansing with a one-point win over the Spartans.

With 26 players and 10 starters on the Michigan State roster from Ohio, there is always added motivation for the other team up north that’s not from Ann Arbor. Dantonio, an Ohio native and former Ohio State assistant coach under Jim Tressel, recruits the Buckeye State heavily.

“I think when players go back, just like when we’re in Michigan playing down the road there a little bit, there’s a little bit extra incentive maybe for your preparation, and I think preparation is always key,” Dantonio said.

The Spartans, whose only losses were to Notre Dame and at Northwestern in three overtimes, would like nothing better than to come away with another victory at the Horseshoe. They are a two-touchdown underdog, which is fine with them.

If Michigan State can get past Ohio State, it would be favored against Maryland and Rutgers in its last two regular-season games.

“Where we’re at right now is pretty much where we wanted to be, in control of our own situation, our destiny, I guess,” Dantonio said. “We at least can control some things. That’s where you want to be in November.”

 

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