No. 4 Ohio State’s offense has been nearly unstoppable, ranking third nationally with 52.4 points per game.
No. 25 Michigan State’s defense is almost unmovable, ranking fourth nationally against the run at 55.8 yards per game after leading the nation in that category a year ago.
“If you say you want to be the best defense, you better play well against a great offense,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.
The classic battle takes place Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, in a key game in the Big Ten East.
Although the Spartans (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) struggled to contain Indiana last Saturday, beating the Hoosiers 40-31 despite allowing a season-high 356 yards. Michigan State ranks 14th in scoring defense (15.0 points per game) and seventh in total defense (253.8 yards per game).
Last Saturday ended a 16-game streak in which the Spartans had not allowed more than 30 points.
Now, here come the Buckeyes (5-0, 2-0).
Ohio State has won each of its past four games by at least 41 points, including 48-7 at Nebraska last Saturday. The Buckeyes have outscored five opponents 173-22 in the first half.
Coach Ryan Day has been impressed by the Spartans, led by defensive end Kenny Willekes, who has four of the Spartans’ 16 sacks.
“I feel like he’s in on every play when I watch a clip of film,” Day said. “His hands, he’s got to be really, really strong, because he gets off of blocks better than anybody I’ve ever seen in the last couple years on film in this conference.”
The Buckeyes will counter with quarterback Justin Fields and running back J.K. Dobbins.
Fields is fifth in the nation with 16 touchdown passes. He has completed 69.8 percent of his 116 passes for 1,092 yards and has yet to throw an interception. He also has 222 rushing yards and seven rushing TDs.
“I think my ceiling is very high, so I continue to work each and every week,” Fields said.
His job is made easier when Dobbins is on a roll, such as his 177 yards on 24 carries vs. Nebraska. Dobbins has rushed for 661 yards and five touchdowns on a 7.1-yard average.
“I just think we can be one of the best teams that has ever played at Ohio State,” Fields said.
The Spartans have kept four of their five opponents under 100 yards rushing.
What makes the game even more intriguing is another pivotal matchup: Ohio State’s smothering defense and the sometimes-sputtering Spartans offense.
Ohio State is fourth in scoring defense (8.6) and second in total defense (223.8).
Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke, who had 378 total yards against the Hoosiers, will face defensive end Chase Young, who has seven sacks.
“We have to be able to control him to some degree, because he can wreck a football game,” Dantonio said of Young.
Ohio State has won the past three meetings — allowing a total of 25 points — but Michigan State has defeated the Buckeyes three times since 2011. No other conference school has more victories vs. Ohio State in that span.
“They’re very sound, and obviously the history of what they’ve done against Ohio State is something that all of our guys are going to be aware of this week,” Day said.
–Field Level Media (@FieldLevelMedia)