Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell confirmed one of the biggest challenges to stopping the Michigan State offense comes in having to account for a little bit of everything.
The Spartans will enter Ohio Stadium on Saturday afternoon for a 3:30 kickoff averaging 143.3 yards per game on the ground and 274.0 yards through the air. They are led by a senior quarterback, Kirk Cousins, who figures to be in the discussion for All-Big Ten honors at the end of the season, and the conference’s leading receiver, B.J. Cunningham, along with a stable of talented running backs.
“If you go into a game knowing a team leads the nation in passing, you can spend all your time worrying about the passing game, and if they lead the nation in rushing, you can spend all your time worrying about rushing,” Fickell said Thursday. “When they’re balanced, it makes you cover everything. I think that and having a quarterback you know is going to put them in the right situation and make the right decisions, to me that tis the most difficult. It’s not just that they’re balanced, it’s also their quarterback gives them the confidence to make plays.”
The Buckeyes will fight back with a defensive unit that will still not have the player who is arguably its best. Senior defensive end Nathan Williams remains sidelined by knee surgery, and Fickell said he is not sure when Williams might return to action.
?“I really don’t know,” he said. “I would like to be able to tell you. I wish I had the same ideas. I wish I had some idea so we could have some plan, but we really don’t have any idea so we’re just going week to week.”
On the other side of the ball, sophomore wide receiver Philly Brown has been able to take part in some practice but likely will miss his third straight game with an ankle sprain.
The team will also be without reserve linebacker Jordan Whiting because of an undisclosed injury. Whiting did not play last week as the Buckeyes beat Colorado 37-17.
On the bright side, another linebacker, starter Andrew Sweat, has had a productive week of practice and looks to be as healthy as he has been all season.
“Through camp he had been a little bit dinged up, but I think this week might be one of the first times he’s actually felt really, really good, so maybe a little bit more confidence will come with that and he can take charge a little bit more,” Fickell said.
Sweat shared time last week with Ryan Shazier, a hard-charging freshman whom Fickell confirmed has earned a role in the regular rotation at linebacker along with Sweat, Storm Klein and Etienne Sabino.
“He’s a guy who got 35 snaps last week,” Fickell said of Shazier. “We’ve got four guys we’re going to roll through those spots. That’s something we haven’t had in the past, but I think you've got four guys who are a lot closer in their abilities, so we want to keep them fresh, keep them rolling.”
While the defense is charged with slowing down a veteran group of MSU skill players, Ohio State’s callow offensive crew will be matched up against a similarly young Spartan defense that so far has run up some gaudy statistics.
Michigan State is No. 1 nationally in totally defense and pass defense, so the Buckeyes will need to continue the opportunistic ways they showed last week against the Buffaloes.
“There are times everybody in the world sees all those people in the box, but if you can see some type of matchup you can still take advantage of you’ve still got to do it,” Fickell said. “We all know we’ve got to have balance. Those guys are going to be locked up, pressed up outside and we’re going to have to win some challenges.”
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