Previewing Michigan State football at Ohio State


MSU running back Kenneth Walker runs the ball in the Spartans’ 23-20 overtime win over Nebraska on Sept. 25, 2021/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Liam Jackson, News Editor

The No. 7-ranked Michigan State Spartans are hitting the road for the final time in the regular season as they head down to Columbus to take on the No. 4-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. Both teams enter the game with 9-1 records.

The Buckeyes suffered their only loss of the season early on. The Oregon Ducks, who are currently ranked No. 3, beat OSU in Columbus by a score of 35-28. 

Since the loss to Oregon, Ohio State has been one of the most dominant teams in the country, and the offense has been nearly impossible to stop. As a unit, they lead the country in points per game (46.3), total offense (550.4 yards per game), touchdowns scored (59) and yards per play (8.3).

Sophomore quarterback C.J. Stroud has been the straw that stirs the drink for Ohio State’s offense. Stroud struggled just a little in the beginning of the season but has found his stride and then some. He has been blessed with arguably the best collection of skill players in college football and has not disappointed by playing his way into the Heisman conversation.

MSU cornerback Marqui Lowery Jr. makes a tackle during the Spartans’ 40-21 win over Maryland on Nov. 12, 2021/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Wide receivers Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Jaxon Smith-Njigba have caused problems for opposing secondaries all season. All three will be playing on Sundays when their time comes, and Stroud has done a masterful job at getting them the ball time and time again. 

Buckeye receivers dominate the statistical leaderboards in the Big Ten. Smith-Njigba is second in the conference in receiving yards per game, while Wilson and Olave are fourth and eighth, respectively. Olave is tied for first in the county with 11 receiving touchdowns and Wilson is eighth with nine.

The cherry on top for this deadly offense is the true freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson. Henderson is second in the Big Ten in yards per carry at 7.3 and third in yards per game at 103.5.

With Big Ten championship and even College Football Playoff implications on the line, College Gameday will be stationed at Columbus this Saturday. It is the second time this season that Michigan State will be part of a matchup featured in College Gameday. Ohio State has hosted the event 20 previous times, which is more than any other program in the country.

Although the Spartans faltered against Purdue the week after an emotional win over rival Michigan, MSU has complete control of its own destiny. With wins over Ohio State and Penn State, Michigan State will find itself in Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship and a shot to play for a College Football Playoff birth.

Now, that is much easier said than done. The Spartans have allowed more passing yards than any other team in the entire country. The defense has held up relatively well once opposing teams enter the red zone, but Ohio State’s weapons on the outside will surely put a lot of stress on a secondary that is allowing nearly 330 passing yards a game.

On top of that, Michigan State’s defense is down some key players. Transfer linebacker Quavaris Crouch was out during last week’s game against Maryland, and it is unclear whether or not he will suit up this Saturday. Freshman defensive back Charles Brantley is out for the rest of the season after sustaining an injury in the game against Purdue. Brantley made the game-sealing interception against Michigan.

MSU cornerback Charles Brantley upset after not making an interception in the Spartans’ 40-29 loss to Purdue on Nov. 6, 2021/ Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

There has been precedent for scenarios like this however. Undermanned Michigan State teams have gone into Columbus with similar stakes and won. Look at 2015, for example. For an upset to occur, the Spartan offense will have to be extremely sharp and careful with the football.

As much as the talent on Ohio State is talked about, and rightfully so, there is a very real chance that MSU has the best player on the field in Kenneth Walker III. There is not much to be said about Walker that has not been said already. He has been putting up video game numbers and leads the country in rushing yards (1,473), rushing yards per game (147.3), rushing touchdowns (17) and rushes of over 10 yards (40).

Saturday is the biggest game of the year for either team. Ohio State enters the game as the heavy favorite and will have the luxury of playing at home in front of what should be a raucous crowd. If Michigan State can hold on to the football and put itself in positions to be able to give Walker the ball, it will have a chance to pull an upset. For Ohio State, it has to trust Stroud to deliver the ball to the stars at receiver and score touchdowns in the red zone.