Michigan State football is back in the winning column this week, finally ending its 6 game losing streak. Now, the team is looking to string together a win streak, and hopefully play spoiler in its week 11 matchup as the Spartans travel to the Horseshoe to battle the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Last Saturday, the Spartans took down the now 5-4 Nebraska Cornhuskers on MSU's senior day, collecting their first conference win of the year. With a valiant defensive effort, and just enough by the offense, the Spartans squeaked past Nebraska 20-17, bringing their record up to 3-6 on the year.
The offense, which relied on the passing attack, put up 295 yards combined. Quarterbacks Katin Houser and Sam Leavitt combined for 190 yards and 2 touchdowns thrown. Even wide receiver Alante Brown got in on the passing game through a trick play, throwing up a 42-yard pass to Montorie Foster Jr. The defense also shined for MSU, forcing 3 turnovers and only allowing 129 yards passing.
However, this week's matchup is much more different. The Buckeyes are currently ranked number 3 in the nation. They’re coming off what some would say was a lackluster win against Rutgers 35-16, where they struggled throughout 3 quarters. Yet, they’re number 3 in the nation for a reason, as they’re 9-0 and have beaten top ranked teams like Notre Dame and Penn State. Though, interim head coach Harlon Barnett see’s this team's experience as a way to slow down this Ohio State team.
“We’ve gotten a lot of players experience this year with a lot of football,” Barnett said in a press conference Monday. “So now we have to go out and execute and really have attention to detail. I think our guys have that experience and feel comfortable and confident when they go out there on Saturday and will get the job done.”
Last year when these two teams faced off in East Lansing, it didn’t go too well for the Spartans, as they fell 49-20. Heisman candidate quarterback and first round NFL Draft pick CJ Stroud ripped apart MSU’s defense, throwing for 361 yards and 6 touchdowns, while the rushing attack of OSU gained over 200 combined yards on the ground.
These struggles against OSU aren't new, as it’s been 7 years since the Spartans have beaten the Buckeyes, dating back to 2015 when MSU went into the Horseshoe ranked 9th in the nation and knocked off the 3rd ranked Buckeyes in a 17-14 thriller.
Barnett recognized the struggles against OSU in the past, but also pointed out that MSU has fought tough in the past matchups between the two, and encourages his team to play with the “positive energy” that was gained from the Nebraska game.
“I told everyone in today's team meeting that we want to keep the positive energy going,” Barnett said. “It's gonna be a great challenge and a great experience to play against a top 10 team, and I look forward to it. I tell the guys all the time that this is why you come to play college football. So competitors will be out there for us on Saturday that want to get the job done.”
The MSU defense has its hands full this week, as Ohio State averages 32.8 points per game. Quarterback Kyle McCord leads this veteran team, putting up 2,352 passing yards with a 17 to 4 touchdown to interception ratio. His two leading receivers pose a threat to MSU, as both Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka are two projected 1st round picks of this year's NFL draft. Running Back TreVeyon Henderson, who ran for 118 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries last year versus MSU, is averaging 6.5 yards per carry with 7 rushing touchdowns this year.
Barnett, who is happy with the amount of turnovers that MSU has forced this year, says that they’ll need to keep it up defensively this week to match this high powered offense.
“We have signs up in the meeting room: ‘the ball, the ball, the ball,’ so we’re always stressing to get the ball back for our offense and give them multiple possessions,” Barnett said. “Our guys are trying to be intentional about going after the football, and we have the mindset to go and tackle and get a win. So that's our mindset, it will never change.”
In terms of offense, MSU will have to be on point, as Ohio State holds some of the best defensive stats in the nation, only allowing 11 points per game. Katin Houser, who has 674 yards passing this season, will have one of his top threats back, as tight end Maliq Carr returns to the lineup this week. Though, starting wide receiver Tre Mosley will continue to sit out due to a hand injury that he suffered against Minnesota.
This matchup will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and premiere on NBC this Saturday. After Ohio State, the Spartans travel to Indiana to face off against the Hoosiers, then travel to Ford Field in Detroit to face off against No. 9 ranked Penn State.
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