How Michigan State plans to stop Buckeyes' high-powered offense, Haskins
The Spartan defense continues to show why they lead the nation in run defense (71.7 yards per game). Michigan State (6-3 overall, 4-2 Big Ten) held Maryland to 26 total rushing yards this past weekend and virtually eliminated the Terrapins' ground game, which is something Mark Dantonio's team will look to replicate Saturday against No. 8 Ohio State.
Senior safety Khari Willis felt the key to limiting Maryland's attack was physicality, and he believes the Spartans can hold OSU's high-powered offense led by potential Heisman candidate Dwayne Haskins if they have a repeat performance.
“I think we're trying to peak in November, as most teams are,” Willis said. “We're trying to peak and play our best football in November, put ourselves in position to do great things. ...That's something that definitely helped us. We're going to need something similar this week.”
The Buckeyes are 8-1 on the season with their lone loss coming at the hands of the Boilermakers, who had their way in their 49-20 Oct. 20 win at Ross-Aide Stadium. Urban Meyer's team followed this by avoiding an near-upset against unranked Nebraska in a 36-31 victory this past Saturday.
Junior linebacker Joe Bachie said the Spartans will focus on putting pressure on sophomore Haskins, the successor to J.T. Barrett, who graduated after last season and holds the Big Ten record for most career passing touchdowns.
"Their quarterback this year has a little bit of a stronger arm," Bachie said. "J.T. (Barrett) was good, a very good quarterback for them who controlled the game very (well) and I feel like Haskins can make more deep balls, more deep throws, so we've got to check that in the back end and get a little pressure on him."
Haskins ranks third in the nation in total passing yards (3,053) and completions (242) through nine games. He has thrown only six interceptions and has 32 touchdown passes. OSU's overall passing offense ranks third nationally as well, posting an average of 369.1 yards per game.
Coach Mark Dantonio knows the Buckeye offense will find ways to challenge his defense, but this is something they prepare for every week no matter who the opponent.
“I think he's (Haskins) a great quarterback and has a great arm and he has great wide receiver to go to,” Dantonio said. “They have a great scheme. He's been extremely productive. If you look at productivity of their offense right now, it's a big task, it's a big challenge. So we're getting ready for it.”
Last season, the Buckeyes dominated the Spartans 48-3 at Ohio Stadium, giving MSU its third and final loss of an otherwise successful 2017 campaign. Many MSU players looked at the loss to the Buckeyes with a different perspective compared to their other losses during that season (Notre Dame and Northwestern). For Willis, it was a game changer and this year's matchup will be no different.
“I think we have a lot of pieces back, they have a lot of pieces back,” Willis said. “That'll make it interesting. But, I'm more so proud of how we've been carrying ourselves this year with the things we've gone through. I think last year was definitely eye-opening for us though.”
Josiah Scott fully back, Matt Allen still out
As for the Spartans' injuries, sophomore cornerback Josiah Scott made his return against Maryland from an offseason knee injury and is listed as a starter on the depth chart for the second straight week alongside junior cornerback Justin Layne. Scott recorded one pass breakup in MSU's 24-3 win over the Terrapins.
With injuries to the offense still lingering, including sophomore center Matt Allen, senior linebacker Andrew Dowell feels this makes the defense work harder during games.
“We put a lot on ourselves each week,” Dowell said. “Our big thing this past game and throughout the entire season is sudden changes so whenever we're put in a tough situation we know that we're still going to be able to hold and we're going to make them kick a field goal. We hold ourselves to that standard no matter what the offense is doing.”