Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Know Thy Enemy: MSU travels to Ohio State with Big Ten Title hopes on the line

November 20, 2021
<p>Junior running back Kenneth Walker III (9) running the ball during the game against Maryland on Nov. 13, 2021, at Spartan Stadium.</p>

Junior running back Kenneth Walker III (9) running the ball during the game against Maryland on Nov. 13, 2021, at Spartan Stadium.

Photo by Lauren Snyder | The State News

Know Thy Enemy is a weekly Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of The State News to the eyes of the student newspaper of Michigan State football's opponent. This week, The State News' Jared Ramsey spoke with The Lantern’s sports editor Jack Emerson. 

No. 7 Michigan State bounced back from its first loss of the season with a convincing victory over Maryland last Saturday to move to 9-1. Now, the Spartans will face its toughest challenge yet this Saturday when it travels to Columbus to take on No. 4 Ohio State. The Buckeyes are undefeated in the Big Ten (9-1 overall) and the game Saturday could decide the Big Ten East. 

Before the monumental matchup, take a look at the Buckeyes through the eyes of Lantern sports editor Jack Emerson:

Q: It's been a great year for Ohio State since the Oregon game. What have you seen from this team over Big Ten play that kind of solidified them as a contender?

A: I would say the biggest thing is they just needed to get experience. That Oregon game was the second game that a lot of those guys had played in. The defense had seven new starters. Obviously, CJ Stroud, it was his second game starting in that Oregon game. So there were a lot of young, inexperienced guys going into that game. And I think as we've seen the season go on, you kind of see them really get more comfortable — get that feel of 'Hey, we're a great Big Ten team. Like we can do this, even though we're primarily freshmen and sophomores.' I think you've seen that a lot more on the defensive end, especially with guys like Denzel Burke ... Cody Simon ... Steele Chambers. You've seen these guys kind of get more comfortable in their roles. And that's really kind of how they've flourished in these last few weeks.

Q: I wanted to talk about the defense because the turnaround for Ohio State this year has been very stark. What do you think, besides some of the guys starting to step up, has changed defensively for the Buckeyes?

A: I think a lot of it comes down to play calling. Those first two weeks (defensive coordinator) Kerry Coombs had the reins of calling plays. They were running a lot of single-high safety looks that just wasn't working out. They were getting gashed in the run game. And then enter (secondary coach) Matt Barnes who started calling the plays week three against Tulsa, and that's kind of where you saw the defense start to get a little more comfortable, a little more confident. They were blitzing more, they were playing more freely it felt like. So I think when you look at that transition from Coombs calling the plays to Barnes calling the plays, I think that made a huge difference. 

Especially just in terms of scheme, because when they were running that one high safety look, it kind of felt like at times they were very conservative ... Now they play a lot more aggressively. You can see it in the pass rush, they're getting a lot more sacks. 

Q: On the other side of the ball, obviously Ohio State has the number one offense in the country, CJ Stroud has been playing very well. Going in against a struggling MSU secondary, what do you see in that matchup? And how do you think Stroud is going to fare?

A: I think it's probably going to be as we expect ... It just seems like Ohio State is going to be licking their chops at what they see from this Michigan State secondary. Even Chris Olave, he said he wasn't really aware of Michigan State's woes in terms of numbers. But on film, he had seen some things that he liked to see for being a lead receiver. 

So I think it's going to go as you expect, I think Ohio State is probably going to pass the ball at will just like they've done all year, even against some of the best defensive teams in the country. They still threw the ball pretty well against Penn State. Obviously, it was a little downturn. I think it's gonna be a big game for CJ Stroud.

Q: What are your predictions? What do you think's gonna happen on the field tomorrow?

A: I still think it's gonna be a really close game because obviously the Kenneth Walker factor. I think Kenneth Walker is gonna have a big day, obviously. I think he always has a big day. But I think tomorrow it's gonna be a little more clear because Ohio State last week kind of had to focus on their pass defense and now they quickly have to transition to the run defense this week.

So I think there's gonna be some issues early on in that factor, but I think Ohio State's passing attack is just going to be a little too potent for Michigan State's, as you mentioned, struggling secondary. I like the Buckeyes to win tomorrow. I think they still put up their points too, probably around like 45-28. 

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