Thursday, December 2, 2021

How MSU is relying on its veterans and Ohio natives in preparation for Saturday’s clash

November 17, 2021
<p>Then-freshman running back Elijah Collins (24) fumbles a pitch from then-senior quarterback Brian Lewerke against Ohio State. The Buckeyes defeated the Spartans, 34-10, on Oct. 5, 2019, at Ohio Stadium.</p>

Then-freshman running back Elijah Collins (24) fumbles a pitch from then-senior quarterback Brian Lewerke against Ohio State. The Buckeyes defeated the Spartans, 34-10, on Oct. 5, 2019, at Ohio Stadium.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

There is not much that needs to be said to demonstrate how big of a game Saturday’s matinee is at Ohio State. 

Both sides are 9-1 and sit in the top-seven in the College Football Playoff Rankings. Ohio State lost at home to No. 3 Oregon early in the season, but has played dominant football since. Michigan State suffered its first loss at Purdue, but responded well with a convincing win over Maryland. A win from either team will result in a favorable position for a Big Ten East Championship and perhaps a College Football Playoff appearance. 

The history has heavily favored Ohio State, winning 34 of the last 49 matchups. OSU has won five straight games in the rivalry, but the last time MSU won in 2015, they advanced to the College Football Playoff. Ohio State is somewhere around a 19-point favorite in Vegas, indicating an upset victory will be a tall task.

Fortunately for MSU, they have already played in one monstrous game comparable to this week when Michigan State defeated Michigan in East Lansing at the end of October. This second go-around presents some similar, but mostly different challenges. Hence, there are different solutions. 

Efforts are still being made to block out the distracting noise throughout the week, but preparing for the one-of-a-kind hostile environment in Columbus requires new attention. Facing Ohio State is unlike anything else. The Horseshoe is always packed to the brim and loud with fans in your face. All 100,000 of them. 

It’s no Northwestern or even Miami - which was only 72% filled but felt even smaller and was filled with plenty of green and white. Michigan State Football Head Coach Mel Tucker coached at Ohio State from 2001 to 2004, so he has plenty of experience coaching in the Ohio Stadium environment. 

“I know the environment and I know what the expectations are there,” Tucker said. “I have a really good idea about the atmosphere. And then obviously when you see the film, you see what type of team they have. So I can put things in perspective and I can help our team in terms of making sure they understand what to expect going into Ohio State.”

Both teams have changed drastically over the last 20 years. What has not changed though, is the home field advantage for Ohio State. Since September of 2017, Ohio State has lost just one game at home, and that was 10 weeks ago. From Tucker’s Ohio State days to today’s team under Head Coach Ryan Day and everything in between, OSU has consistently stayed dominant at home. 

Besides Tucker’s experience, more is needed from the players as well to share their insights on the rivalry. In 2017, MSU was in a similar situation as this week, with a chance to upset Ohio State in Columbus for a shot at the division championship. The Spartans proceeded to get rocked with a 45-point defeat, ending MSU’s championship dreams.

Only a handful of players from the 2017 team are still on the team today, but they remember everything from that particular game. Graduate offensive lineman Luke Campbell started at right tackle in that game as a redshirt freshman. He’s lost all five years in his career at Michigan State and said that he circles this game on his calendar every year. 

“We didn't rise to the occasion, we didn't play to our potential, we didn't execute, which is what it takes to beat this team, you got to execute,” Campbell said. “This year I feel like we understand the challenge ahead of us and we're not taking it lightly, but I think we got the dudes to do it”

Redshirt senior tight end Connor Heyward also played in that game as a freshmen, but downplayed the expected raucous environment. However, he does remember watching the 2015 upset on T.V. while in high school. 

“I remember (Michael) Geiger making that last second field goal and icing the game and just seeing Ohio Stadium quiet,” Heyward said. “Nothing’s more better than quieting a packed stand of 100,000-plus.”

Coincidence or not, 19 Michigan State players are from Ohio, the second highest state behind Michigan. A spattering is from in and around Columbus, many of which are quite familiar with Ohio State’s program. 

Senior safety Xavier Henderson grew up 15 minutes away from Columbus in Reynoldsburg, Ohio and is a captain this week along with redshirt senior punter Bryce Baringer and two other Ohio natives: sophomore defensive end Jeff Pietrowski and junior offensive lineman J.D. Duplain. Henderson has been a captain for all 11 weeks of the season, but for Duplain, Pietrowski and all the other Ohioans making their homecoming, any bit of information can be useful to pull off the upset. 

“It’s definitely special,” Henderson said. “I’ll have a lot of people there at the game but really it just means more because I haven’t played a game with so much on the line ... I’ve never had the opportunity to play for a championship like we are doing right now. And to be able to do it 15 minutes away from where I stayed, my hometown, it just feels good.”

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