There is no doubt this game will be on filled with emotions. MSU has 19 players from the state of Ohio including 6 or 7 of which will start Saturday. For most of the players this game will be about respect; the majority of them were viewed as not being good enough to play for Ohio State. Expect the players to fired up The MSU coaching staff isn’t exempt from being passionate about the game; Mark Dantonio was the D-Coordinator at OSU when they won the National Championship in 2002, and special teams and linebackers coach Mike Tressel is the nephew of former Buckeye coach Jim Tressel. Having a chip on their shoulders may not be the correct term, but the Spartans will be coming out looking to put a hurt on the Buckeyes.
Containing the ‘broken’ play
It is no secret that Braxton Miller is the focal point of the OSU offense; they have struggled to find other playmakers to help support him. Miller is best when he breaks contain and extends plays just as he did against Cal when he broke from pressure and found Devin Smith for a 72 yard pass. Giving Braxton time to run around outside the pocket will give OSU receivers Devin Smith and Philly Brown a chance to get away from the MSU secondary. We saw receivers get open on the very same plays against Notre Dame, when Everett Golson broke contain. The ND touchdowns are 2 of 3 that the MSU defense has allowed all year. Head Coach Mark Dantonio had this to say about Miller:
"Braxton is a tailback playing quarterback," Dantonio said. "When he gets outside, he looks like a tailback running the football, but yet he can throw it. Our main focus is going to be containing him and limiting his opportunities, but that's easier said than done."
Dantonio and Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi are no strangers to the task at hand. They have dealt with scrambling quarterbacks before, with great success (looking at you DRob). Corralling Miller and keeping him inside the pocket will be a massive undertaking for the MSU Defense. This duty will be placed on starting DE’s William Gholston and Marcus Rush. To help keep Miller under control MSU won’t break away from their base 4-3 defense every time OSU goes to 3 and 4 WR sets, leaving a large workload on LBs Denicos Allen and Chris Norman. Also, look for the Spartan defense to dial up some more pressure than we have seen, I’m sure Narduzzi has been holding back a bit in the beginning of the season. MSU only has 3 sacks so far, but look for that number to go up.
Getting the passing game going
The MSU passing game has been all but nonexistent so far in the season. The sources of the problem can be narrowed down to two separate issues; the offensive lines’ pass block and the inability of MSU WRs to catch the ball and get open.
There isn’t much to say about the WR group of MSU; they can’t catch and they can’t separate. Route running and getting separation from defenders is a lot harder to accomplish than catching the ball. All of the MSU receivers have the ability to catch the ball; they just have not performed in game situations. Dantonio stated during a press conference on Tuesday that dropped balls in practice are a rare occasion. This leads me to believe that the dropped ball woes for MSU are just a bad mental virus. Best case scenario: someone steps up and makes a big catch during the start of the OSU game, after that it will be infectious.
The Spartan offensive line was originally supposed to be a position of strength for MSU, but so far they have not met expectations. Run blocking was more than satisfactory against Boise St., both Central and Eastern Michigan, and Notre Dame until they abandoned the run in the second half. The pass block is not quite up to snuff though. While they have only given up 4 sacks (all to ND) Maxwell has yet to look comfortable in the pocket. I fully expect Offensive Coordinator Dan Roushar to get the offensive line and Maxwell comfortable by rush after rush after rush after rush (you get the point) followed by short high percentage passes. Keeping passing downs manageable will be extremely important for the success of the passing game.
Starting Fast, scoring first
This may seem like an elementary point, but the reasons are endless for MSU to get a score early. Getting the crowd involved in the game, keeping player energy up, taking pressure off the passing game and taking pressure off of the MSU defense are just a few. With an early score MSU will be able to "Pound Green Pound", as they used to say in East Lansing, and the defense won’t have to worry so much about having to win the game themselves. Maxwell will also be able to manage the game instead of trying to win the game, which will take considerable pressure off of him. Increased noise from the crowd will also inhibit the OSU offense and their desire to go no huddle. Everything will be much easier for the Spartans after they jump out to an early lead.