Spartans Look to Play Different Spoiler Role in Matchup with Buckeyes

Following an inspiring 49-0 blowout over Rutgers last week and notching their first conference win, the Spartans will have a much tougher test as they look to pick up just their fourth win on the season.

After ending a rough seven-game skid by rolling over Rutgers, MSU will have a much tougher matchup this week as they take on the 9-1 Ohio State Buckeyes.

The 22.5-point favorite Buckeyes head into East Lansing as they look to keep humming in their pursuit for another College Football Playoff berth. Ohio State collapsed in Week 7 at Penn State, but since then, they have looked like they’re hitting their stride in the final leg of the season.

While inconsistency with this young Buckeye team has been present throughout the season, their last two weeks seem to be an indication that they are firing at the right time. OSU has rolled in convincing back-to-back 62-3 victories over Nebraska at home and then last week on the road in Maryland.

Sporting a 9-1 record and being favored in their two remaining games, the Buckeyes look very much like they could be headed back to the playoff, but they’re going to need some help to win the Big Ten East since Penn State holds the tiebreaker over them.

This matchup will be tough to follow up last year’s improbable Spartan win in Columbus, spoiling the Buckeyes’ playoff hopes. But the Spartans can look to play spoiler yet again in this year’s matchup.

Heading into the game, there are concerns regarding the status of star defensive end Malik McDowell. McDowell suffered an ankle injury in the game against Illinois, and after sitting out against Rutgers, McDowell was left off the team depth chart for this week.

To have a chance at slowing down the Big Ten’s top-ranked total offensive unit, they will need to create some penetration at the line of scrimmage and fill the holes up the middle. If McDowell cannot go for the contest, that makes the task much tougher.

A big question mark remains with what type of offensive line play the Spartans will show. Some personnel tweaks made last week against Rutgers helped to show some improvement on the O-line, but the Buckeyes bring a far more difficult front seven that could cause problems for this new-look O-line in keeping defenders out of the backfield.

The Spartans’ defense will have to account for dual-threat quarterback J.T. Barrett at all times. Barrett’s two starts against the Spartans have been quite the dichotomy. He had one of his best performances two years ago in Spartan Stadium throwing for 300 yards and 3 touchdowns, and then likely his worst showing last year in their loss in Columbus throwing for a weak 46 yards and 1 touchdown.

Barrett has been making his case to jump back into the Heisman race, averaging 272 yards through the air and rushing for 43 yards in his last two games. The Buckeyes are coming off scoring 63 points in each of their last two games. They have a lot of weapons offensively, and the Spartans’ defense which has allowed a lot of big plays, will have to be sharp at all levels.

MSU will look to ride their improving run game again this week behind emerging sophomore and Columbus-area native L.J. Scott, who is coming off 100-plus yard games in three of the last four weeks. The Spartans will have to run the ball effectively to set up the pass game and to try and test the young Buckeye secondary. Running the ball may be easier said than done, however, as the Buckeyes have allowed a meek 121 yards rushing in their last two outings.

Saturday marks Senior Day for the Spartans and their final home game of the year, so the effort should be there. The Buckeyes, playing with something to prove, could very well blow the Spartans off the field. But the Spartans could hold their own if they catch the Buckeyes already looking ahead to next week’s crucial showdown with Michigan in Columbus.