MSU looks to mirror 2015 Columbus trip, clinch Big Ten East

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Coming off a weekend in which No. 12 Michigan State (7-2, 5-1) upset No. 14 Penn State and No. 13 Ohio State (7-2, 5-1) got throttled by No. 20 Iowa, their week 11 matchup in Columbus serves as the Big Ten East championship game.

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

While a Matt Coghlin game-winning field goal upset the Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes got ran out of the stadium in Iowa City, a game in which senior quarterback J.T. Barrett threw four interceptions, including a pick-six on the first play from scrimmage.

The Buckeyes loss sent them tumbling down the CFP rankings, dropping six spots from six down to 13. The Spartans, on the other hand, are trending up in the ranks, rising twelve spots from 24 to 12, the biggest one-week jump in the four years of the CFP ranking system.

MSU travels to Columbus Saturday as both teams sit tied for first in the Big Ten East, holding 5-1 records in the division. A win for the Spartans would all but seal a trip to Indianapolis, barring a slip-up to Maryland or Rutgers. A win for Ohio State would put themselves in the driver’s seat in the division before a final test in their season finale with Michigan.

The history of the game with Ohio State in the last six years has been one that has great meaning I think for a lot of different [reasons],” Dantonio said. “Throughout the season for us, even last year had a lot of meaning for us and had an opportunity to go down the stretch there.”

The Spartans are coming off an upset in which they held Heisman contender Saquon Barkley to just 63 yards on the ground. Felton Davis led all receivers with 181 yards and a touchdown on just 12 catches.

Ohio State is coming off a 31-point drubbing to Iowa, the worst loss in head coach Urban Meyer’s six-year tenure with the Buckeyes. The Hawkeyes gashed OSU for almost 500 yards, 118 of them came on the ground from senior tailback Akrum Wadley. Iowa’s tight ends torched the Buckeye defense, combining for nine catches, 125 yards and four touchdowns.  

OSU enters Saturday’s matchup ranked fourth nationally in total offense, averaging 549 yards per outing. The offense lies heavily on the arm of Barrett, who has thrown for 2,374 yards and 28 touchdowns on the year. On the ground, it’s true freshman J.K. Dobbins leading the charge, on pace to be just the fourth freshman in program history to surpass the 1,000-yard rushing mark on the season.

Ohio State has a very talented and deep receiving core, with seven different wideouts with at least 200 receiving yards on the season. Junior wideout Johnnie Dixon leads OSU with eight touchdowns on 413 yards.  Redshirt sophomore K.J. Hill, another 400-yard receiver, has 417 yards and three touchdowns.

Ohio State has an extremely talented football team,” Dantonio said. “When you look at them, they are athletic, extremely athletic across the ball and they use a lot of players on the offensive side of the ball.”

The Buckeyes run the ball effectively, second-best in the Big Ten, averaging 235.3 yards per game. Dobbins’ volume has decreased the last several weeks with Barrett shouldering more of the load, but look for offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson to get Dobbins, as well as sophomore Mike Weber, back on track early in this game.

“Really good backs,” junior linebacker Andrew Dowell said. “They’ve got a nice two-combo set and we got to get after those guys.”

Defensively, the Buckeyes pose one of the deepest and most talented fronts in the nation, averaging 8.2 tackles for loss per game, eighth-best in the nation. The Buckeyes have three of the best pass rushers in the country in Nick Bosa, Tyquan Lewis, and Sam Hubbard, accounting for 10.5 sacks amongst the three.

Up front guys, they certainly do put the pressure on people and cause people a lot of duress in the passing game,” co-offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said. “That defensive line is really mobile, really, really outstanding pass rushers and they have a lot of them.”

The road team has won the last five matchups between the teams, with OSU winning 17-16 in Spartan Stadium a year ago. The last time MSU played at the Horseshoe, the Spartans knocked off the Buckeyes 17-14 on a Michael Geiger game-winning field goal to clinch the Big Ten East.

This matchup over the last seven seasons has shaped into one of the better rivalries in the sport. While Michigan and Ohio State have a deeper and emotionally charged rivalry, the MSU-OSU matchup over the last several years is a game that is played in November and almost always comes with serious Big Ten implications.

The teams will meet on Saturday in their 46th meeting, in which the Buckeyes own the head-to-head series 30-15. Kickoff is scheduled for noon with Joe Davis and Brady Quinn having the call on FOX.