The Michigan State football team has been riding high since Saturday night where the Spartans picked up their first victory since Sept. to snap a six-game losing streak as they defeated Nebraska 20-17.
The victory was celebrated, but it is back to work immediately come a new week. The Spartans have a tall task ahead of them in their upcoming game as they look to keep their momentum going in the last few weeks of the season.
MSU will travel to Columbus to face off against No. 3 ranked Ohio State under the lights this upcoming weekend. The Buckeyes are undefeated on the season with a record of 9-0 and sit atop of the Big Ten standings.
No matter how challenging the game may seem to be on paper for Michigan State, they have lots to play for including spoiling Ohio State’s chances at a Big Ten Conference title or potential College Football Playoff berth.
”I’ve never gone into a game not expecting that we can win,” redshirt senior offensive lineman J.D. Duplain said. “I mean we got to have great preparation all week. We’ve got to have a great week of practice. And it’s not different, I mean you have to execute. There’s going to be points in the game, it’s going to be momentum swings, and you just have to capitalize on our opportunities.”
The Spartans have struggled mightily in games versus top ten ranked opponents this season, losing to at the time No. 8 ranked Washington 41-7 and No. 2 ranked Michigan 49-0. The two common themes in those losses have been poor defensive execution and failure to put points on the board.
Ohio State carries one of the best defenses in the country statistically. The sense of hope for MSU comes from the defensive line though, as they have improved significantly over the past few weeks. The unit as a whole recorded seven sacks as a team in the win over Nebraska.
The Buckeye offense has looked rather weaker compared to arsenals they have had in recent years. They have started rather slow in previous games and picked up the pace, meaning Michigan State will have to bring their best for the full four quarters, a trend that has also not established itself.
“Just play the same ball we played last week,” redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Derrick Harmon said. “That’s all we got to do. Just do the same things we did last week, play together consistently. Just keep doing it as consistently as we can and that’s pretty much it. Nothing changes this week just because we are playing the number one ranked opponent in college football.”
On offense, more urgency will be needed to support the improved effort from the defense for the Spartans. Quarterback play from redshirt freshman quarterback Katin Houser and freshman quarterback Sam Leavitt was more beneficial against the Cornhuskers in the win than previous weeks. The big problem with moving the ball has come from the ground in that span though.
MSU gained 295 total yards of offense against Nebraska, but only 63 of those came from rushing. Redshirt sophomore running back Nate Carter has essentially lost a bit of his rhythm from the beginning of the season. Carter rushed for 477 yards and four touchdowns in his first five games of the season but has only accumulated 182 yards on the ground since then in his past four matchups, including a 50-yard performance this past week.
Offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic mentioned that Carter has had to manage almost all of the carries as the lead back due to injuries to other players at the position, which has potentially derailed his production recently. MSU will need Carter to be more involved if the offense wants a chance this upcoming Saturday.
“It is challenging,” Kapilovic said. “He’s (Carter) done a nice job of working hard and finding a way to get it done. You know, he’s not 100% right now, but he’s fighting through it. But that’s just kind of our roster right now.”
Through all the adversity, the Spartans found a way to get one victory. The most important result now will be how they respond in hopes to change the course of their season.
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