Countdown To THE GAME 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ohio State Must Vanquish The Spartans On The Path To 'Contenders In November'

Remember when I wrote this, back in the summer? The anticipation has been building for months, and now it is practically upon us.
Remember how former Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressel used to say, “October is for pretenders, and November is for contenders.”? Doesn’t it seem that Ohio State is truly facing the moment of truth as it relates to that statement? And directly standing in Ohio State’s path, the team that has been led for nearly the past decade by Coach Tressel’s top protege, Mark Dantonio.
Here’s something interesting that I discovered in my preparations for this week’s Men of the Scarlet and Gray podcast. Ohio State and Michigan State have played four times since Coach Tressel departed the sidelines for Ohio State. Michigan State has won twice (2011 in Ohio Stadium, 2013 in Indianapolis in The B1G Championship Game), Ohio State has won twice (2012 and 2014, both in Spartan Stadium). When I added up the final scores of the four games, the average score for both Ohio State and Michigan State was 24 points. This truly is a rivalry that defines well-coached and well-played. By the way ~ I know I repeatedly and shamelessly promote the podcast, but you will want to listen to this week’s edition. Major, major props to Shannon Sommers for getting Hondo Carpenter on the show as a guest to discuss Michigan State. It is well worth your time and listen, especially for Hondo’s perspectives on Michigan State. Please click on the link here to do so.
Senior Day in Ohio Stadium is always a special, emotional time. A big thank you to Adolphus Washington, Tommy Schutt, Joshua Perry, Taylor Decker, Nick Vannett, Jacoby Boren, Chase Farris, Bryce Haynes, Cam Williams, Jack Willoughby, Joel Hale, Jeff Greene, Braxton Miller, and all of the seniors for all of the tremendous contributions and memories all of those players helped to create in Ohio Stadium.
Here are three critical areas I will be watching throughout the contest ~
1. Ohio State’s Offensive Line vs Michigan State’s Defensive Line: Ohio State has struggled in pass protection this season. With Michigan State’s stellar defensive line, led by Shilique Calhoun, Malik McDowell, and Lawrence Thomas, will Ohio State be able to adequately protect J.T. Barrett? Will Ohio State roll Barrett out, in order to give Barrett more time?
If Ohio State tries to simply run the ball with Ezekiel Elliott on Michigan State, as the Buckeyes have done throughout the 2015 season, Michigan State will stack the box with nine men. Will Ohio State come out throwing on Michigan State, forcing them to adjust their defensive strategy? Can Michael Thomas, possibly playing his last game in Ohio Stadium, duplicate his performance of a year ago versus the Spartans?
2. The Health Of Michigan State’s Connor Cook: Cook suffered an arm injury in last week’s win over Maryland, leading to Cook leaving the game in favor of Tyler O’Connor. Like Cook, O’Connor is an Ohio player, and also like Cook, was not offered a scholarship by Ohio State – I am a firm believerthat particular scholarship slight, fair or unfair, always seems to give an extra motivational boost for those players when they are facing the Buckeyes. Back to Cook – while everyone expects Cook to play, will the Michigan State offensive line, which has been wracked by injuries this season, be able to protect Cook against a strong Ohio State defensive line?
3. Mark Dantonio’s Reputation For Special Teams Trickery: Has anyone forgotten the infamous“Little Giants” play Michigan State ran on Notre Dame years ago? How about this epic moment from this season, against That Team Up North?
The point I am making? Expect the unexpected, especially when it comes to special teams in this game.
Prediction: Both teams know what is on the line, and both teams are going to leave everything on the field. I think it will be rough sledding for Ezekiel Elliott running the ball, especially in the first half, but I believe Elliott will get his 100 yards, although it will certainly not come easy, in what may be Elliott’s final game in Ohio Stadium. I look for Joey Bosa to have a signature play or two, in what may be Bosa’s final game in Ohio Stadium. Ohio State toughs it out, and wins it in the second half. I have it Ohio State 28, Michigan State 20.

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