I saw a lot of Michigan State through the season, but I did the most thorough breakdown on the games with Minnesota in Nebraska. That's because that's one is their most recent game, and the Cornhuskers have an offense that probably looks the most like Ohio State's.
That turned out to be a good exercise because you could see against Minnesota a team that doesn't have a dangerous passing attack and lines up in power sets pretty often so Michigan State was not afraid to play very aggressive and downhill. They didn't have quite the same starch against a spread offense like Nebraska's. The Spartans also gave up some yards against the Huskers simply because that's the design of the offense. When you've got that space there are just going to be more plays that have moderate gains here and there no matter how well you're playing defense, at least if the opposing team has decent players.
The Michigan State has benefited from playing some offenses that are good matchups, but the unit is legitimately good. Very aggressive and still very sound.
The tackles on defense are really stout and play pretty tight towards the middle while I like both ends as playmakers. Obviously the linebackers, especially Denicos Allen and Max Bullough, are bona fide playmakers. They play within the scheme perfectly because they get a lot of room to run around, are good at diagnosing plays and reacting and are good tacklers.
The defensive backs help a lot in run support. The linebackers are not afraid to cancel out a blocker to spill it outside and let a corner come up and clean things up. Both safeties love to come up and hit as well.
Kurtis Drummond's development into a very good all-around player is a big development for this defense I think. I look at Isaiah Lewis as a little more of a one-dimensional guy, but Drummond looks really good in all phases of the game.
Darqueze Dennard is a confident, physical corner who is great in coverage, and Trae Waynes is not a liability playing opposite him. They like to play press man coverage, which raises the difficulty of completing a high percentage of passes but also opens up the chance to make big plays down the field.
The Michigan State offense is not a great unit, but it is effective and the Spartans can do things that bother Ohio State without getting outside of their comfort zone.
Connor Cook looks a lot like what he is, a lightly recruited guy who knows how to play the position fairly well for a sophomore. Has a decent arm but is somewhat inconsistent.
I attribute the development of their overall offense mostly to the offensive line being veteran and healthy while the wide receivers are also much more consistent than they were last year.
Receivers will still drop some passes, but this year they're much more reliable than they were last year. I guess that's also as much an indictment on last year as anything else.
They have several guys who are good at running after the catch if they can get the ball, and they will get them the ball either in one-on-one situations on the outside against cornerbacks or while moving underneath.
One certainly has to wonder about the play action game against Ohio State, and they have had some success overloading to the boundary and running that way, including one of their touchdowns against the Golden Gophers.
Ultimately, I'm not sure that Cook will be able to make enough plays to be the difference in the game in a positive way for MSU, but we have seen guys such as Joel Stave come out and light up Ohio State, perhaps playing about himself that night. MSU doesn't have Jared Abbrederis, but the receiving corps is deeper overall and I don't think OSU will try to defend the Spartans like they did the Badgers.
Jeremy Langford is a really nice looking back, not a superstar but a guy who works really well on their offense. He runs hard and tall with long strides. He won't make you miss in a phone booth, but he can give you enough of a shake to get by you in the open field.
Jim Bollman is the tight ends coach, but this offensive line looks like a typical good Bollman offensive line. That means it's not dominating but pretty good at getting in the way. And that's not to say all Jim Bollman lines are good, it's just say that that's what the ones that are good look like. It's an improved group from last season.
I think the difference comes down to Ohio State playmakers on offense being able to win enough battles to get the Buckeyes a fair amount of points, then the defense for Ohio State will have to just avoid mistakes for the most part. Michigan State can hurt you when they have the ball, but Ohio State when it doesn't make mistakes is a pretty solid defensive unit and should be okay. But how confident can we be at Ohio State won't avoid some of the mistakes that it bothered them in other games?
Should be an interesting night in Indianapolis.