Congratulations to Ohio State on winning their twenty-fourth straight game, squeaking out a victory 42-41 over That Team Up North. Standing squarely and confidently in Ohio State's quest for a twenty-fifth victory are the Michigan State Spartans, led by former Ohio State defensive coordinator (2001-2003) Mark Dantonio. Dantonio was recently named the 2013 B1G football coach of the year. Michigan State enters the B1G conference championship game with an 11-1 record, losing only at Notre Dame on September 21st, 17-13.
Coach Mark Dantonio is not the only familiar face that Ohio State will encounter in the 2013 B1G conference championship. Most prominently, former Ohio State offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Jim Bollman (2001-2011) will be involved as the Spartans' co-offensive coordinator in Michigan State's efforts to claim the B1G championship. Other Spartans assistants who formerly assisted Ohio State during the Jim Tressel era include Marhttp://www.msuspartans.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/k Staten, Mike Tressel, Rob Harley, and Ken Mannie.
What do I expect Saturday night when I turn on my TV (Fox will televise the game) at 8:15pm EST? Perhaps I may be mistaken, but I am expecting pangs of nostalgia, as I expect Michigan State to embrace the "Tresselball" style Ohio State fans became entirely familiar with from 2001-2011.
Here is my logic ~ Michigan State's strength lies in its dominating defense. In addition, Michigan State has found a winning formula that relies upon steady passing by Ohio native Connor Cook, and dependable running by Jeremy Langford. While Michigan State's offense is not as explosive as Ohio State's, the Spartans have established a balanced offensive philosophy that has helped to produce eleven victories this season.
Let us get back to that dominant Spartan defense. A critical match-up that will bear watching will be Spartan DE Shilique Calhoun versus Ohio State's left offensive tackle Jack Mewhort. Mewhort, entrusted with protecting Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller's blind side, will have his hands full with Calhoun, a lanky and disruptive pass rusher.
Continuing with the Spartan defense, Ohio State will find that running the ball with senior running back Carlos Hyde may not be as easy as it has been for the Ohio State offense in the last few games against teams such as Illinois, Indiana, and That Team Up North. Michigan State traditionally plays a base 4-3 defense, and will bring up its safeties in run support to make it difficult to run. Michigan State has confidence in their cornerbacks, led by standout Darqueze Dennard, to play press coverage on Ohio State's wideouts.
Faced with such options, here is where Braxton Miller's performance will be critical. While I look for Michigan State to sell out against the run versus Ohio State, the press coverage Michigan State may employ could leave the Spartans vulnerable to quick screens and slants. Perhaps Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman can be isolated on a Spartan linebacker or safety on intermediate routes that do not take too long to develop. With Michigan State probably eager to shut down the Ohio State running game, play-action passes may be there at some point during the contest.
Back to Braxton Miller. While I am loathe to run Miller too much, exposing him to possible injury, I am certainly hopeful that Miller will not hesitate to scramble for positive yardage on pass plays. If a play is not there, or slow to develop, I would prefer Miller to scramble for a few yards, versus forcing a deep pass that may be incomplete or intercepted.
Twenty-four straight victories, with a possible BCS Championship Game berth on the line. In order to get to twenty-five straight victories, it may truly require Miller time on Saturday evening in Indianapolis for the Buckeyes.