- For Michigan State, winning the Big Ten title would mean everything and is on Mark Dantonio's list of "impossible-but-possible" goals for his team.
- Urban Meyer has $4.2 million on the line in the Big Ten Championship.
- Up until he flipped off Michigan Stadium, Marcus Hall had a pretty good reputation. Now he has to deal with the decision he made.
- Five things to know about Michigan State-Ohio State and the Big Ten title game.
- On the BTNLive show, they discuss whether the Big Ten champion should be in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.
- Top Minnesota receiver Derrick Engel's ACL surgery went well.
- The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is looking at four Big Ten teams -- Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa and Minnesota.
- Michigan needs to figure out what went wrong, forget about the Ohio State game and get back to work.
- Penn State WR Geno Lewis heads into the offseason on a high note.
We complete our look, from the opposing-coach perspective, at the Big Ten championship game with second-ranked Ohio State.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz wrapped our report on Michigan State, so let’s give him the floor to open the discussion about the Buckeyes, who beat Iowa 34-24 on Oct. 19 -- Ohio State’s second-closest game of the year before its one-point escape last week at Michigan.
While the Buckeyes’ opponent Saturday night relies on its defense to carry the load, coach Urban Meyer’s team leans on an offense that leads the Big Ten in most statistical categories and tops the nation in yards per rush and red-zone efficiency.
“There's really not a weakness,” Ferentz said. “Their line is veteran, they've got four seniors up front. They're very good, very well coordinated. The whole scheme and concept is well-coordinated.
“The thing that makes them a challenge offensively is they've got a good receiving corps. They've got, if not the best back, one of the best backs in our conference, and they've got a quarterback who can run and throw. It's like a team that has 12 guys."
And with that, here are excerpts from our conversations with Big Ten coordinators and assistant coaches who played -- and lost to -- the Buckeyes this year. As with the Michigan State report, we granted anonymity to the coaches to ensure the most candid responses.
Coach: I think Braxton Miller must have a good game for Ohio State. Quarterback run is something that Michigan State may struggle with, and obviously, Braxton is a good ace to have up your sleeve. One thing that's interesting about Ohio State is that I don't know if they're really the best technique-wise up front. There's things that Michigan State could really exploit. If you go back and watch a lot of Ohio State's big plays, it's not great execution. It's more athleticism. People freak out because of Braxton Miller, and all of a sudden Carlos Hyde has it. I feel like at times, Ohio State gets by because of their physical ability. Those kids up front are phenomenal, big athletes, but this is a team that will make them pay if Ohio State is not on their marks.
ESPN.com: We knew Hyde was good. But he’s rushed 1,164 yards in his past seven games. That’s ridiculous. What kind of an impact might he have on the players around him in this game?
Coach: He's a physical, downhill runner that will align hard and run through tackles and make a 3-yard gain into a 6-yard gain or a 3-yard gain into an 18-, 20-yard gain. We felt if we could deny that and make them earn everything, we'd be in the game. Michigan State is physical up front and they've got a chance to match up and deny some of those Hyde runs, but the key is Braxton Miller -- how much they run him and if he gets loose on a scramble.
ESPN.com: Michigan State is going to sell out to stop Hyde and Miller in the run game, but can Ohio State beat the Spartans through the air?
Coach: We felt like that was their strength, throwing it over the top. We thought [Kenny Guiton] threw the ball pretty well on the drop-back, intermediate game. Miller hit us on some deeper crossing routes, but we didn't think he was going to beat us dropping back and throwing it play after play after play. We felt like we couldn't give up the home run over our head. We felt like the receivers had good speed.
ESPN.com: Clearly, Ohio State had an off day on defense last week against Michigan. But it’s happened a few other times, too. What’s the key to moving the football against the Buckeyes?
Coach: You've got to put together a mix. You're going to have to get downhill on them and create some running lanes. Probably the one area that's not as hard to attack is the secondary. They have a really solid corner in [Bradley] Roby, but overall, you have some plays out there a little bit easier than you do against Michigan State.
ESPN.com: Despite some of the defensive issues, OSU remained stout against the run. How do you see Michigan State attacking that front seven?
Coach: The guys up front are good, solid players. I don't know if there's anyone one that stands out. The one kid inside, [Michael Bennett], he can create some things. He was a big, strong guy, got after it a little bit. [Ryan] Shazier, linebacker-wise, he's a heck of a player. That's going to be the interesting matchup, Michigan State's offense against Ohio State's defense, and how well they can run the football. The one thing that's happened with Michigan State is their quarterback's been playing really well, and they're going to run the football. That's the one strength that Ohio State has. They can defend the run, where in the passing game, they'll have a little bit more trouble. So Michigan State, how well they throw the ball, will be interesting to see.
1. Something's gotta give: The nation's No. 1 defense in Michigan State goes up against the nation's No. 3 scoring offense in Ohio State. But has either unit really been tested? The Spartan Dawgs have been pretty special, but they've yet to face an offense ranked in the top 50 in yards. Ohio State's attack also looks the part, and the Buckeyes have faced two top-10 defenses (Wisconsin, Iowa), but no others in the top 35. Behind running back Carlos Hyde and quarterback Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes lead the nation in yards per rush (7.1) and runs of 10 yards or longer (130). Michigan State leads the nation in fewest rush yards allowed (64.4 per game), fewest yards per rush (2.2) and fewest rushes of 10 or more yards (19). Who will gain the edge at the line of scrimmage?
3. Shutdown showcase: The title game features two of the nation's elite cornerbacks in Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard and Ohio State's Bradley Roby. Both have the ability to shut down a side of the field and make game-changing plays if quarterbacks dare to throw their way. Dennard, a likely first-round draft pick, will press Ohio State's receivers and try to eliminate the deep passing game. Roby is playing his best football and can be a difference-maker not only on defense but on special teams. Dennard has four interceptions and a forced fumble in an All-American-caliber senior season, while Roby has a pick-six, a fumble return for a touchdown, and a blocked punt and recovery for a touchdown.
4. Cook's big moment: Asked to make a brief opening statement on a media teleconference earlier this week, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook said, "Hello, I'm Connor Cook." The Spartans sophomore will introduce himself to the nation Saturday night and can make a strong statement about himself and the MSU offense. No one pegged Cook to be in this position before the season, but he has taken control in Big Ten play, passing for 1,708 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions in eight league contests. Cook said that after Ohio State's defensive struggles, "you're licking your chops" about Saturday's game. He hasn't played in a game this big, but he doesn't lack confidence. It will be interesting to see how he fares.
5. Special attention: Michigan State's first appearance in the Big Ten title game came down to a special-teams play, and it didn't end well for the Spartans as Isaiah Lewis was flagged for running into Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman. Don't be surprised if the kicking game once again plays a big role in determining Saturday's winner. Both teams have excellent punters (MSU's Mike Sadler, OSU's Cameron Johnston), and Roby has been a special-teams star with three blocked punts and two recoveries for touchdowns. Kickers Michael Geiger (MSU) and Drew Basil (OSU) both have shown good accuracy on field goals with limited opportunities. Lewis' performance as he returns home to Indianapolis also is worth monitoring.
The 11-1 Spartans and the undefeated Buckeyes will meet in Big Ten championship game on Saturday, but have taken very different paths to get there.
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AP Photo/Jeff HaynesCarlos Hyde (left), Braxton Miller and the Ohio State ground game faces its toughest test this season.
A matchup of strengths
Ohio State is second among FBS teams in rushing yards per game (321.3), and leads the nation in yards per rush (7.1) and rushes of 10 yards or more (130). The Buckeyes lead all AQ schools with 1,502 rushing yards after contact.
They had four rushing touchdowns last week against Michigan, which is one fewer than Michigan State has allowed all season.
Michigan State has allowed the fewest rushing yards per game (64.4), yards per rush (2.2) and 10-yard rushes (19) in the FBS this season, and has held all but one opponent under 100 yards on the ground this season.
Miller coming on strong
Braxton Miller got off to a slow start running this season, but in his past three games, he’s got 481 rushing yards, which is fifth among FBS players since the start of Week 12.
The key for Miller’s improvement in the running game has been increased efficiency on zone-read plays. In his first seven games he attempted 24 zone reads, gaining 87 yards with no touchdowns. In the past three games, Miller has 21 such rushes for 276 yards and three touchdowns.
What does Michigan State do well?
Michigan State is on pace to allow the fewest rushing yards per game since TCU gave up 47.1 in 2008. One reason for their success is the Spartans do not let opponents turn the corner.
They allowed an AQ-best 2.9 yards per designed run outside the tackles and haven’t allowed one of those runs to go for more than 16 yards.
The Spartans have also done an excellent job limiting opposing quarterbacks on the ground. They’ve allowed -19 rushing yards on 92 carries by opposing quarterbacks this season, the fewest in the FBS.
Michigan State is the only FBS team that hasn’t allowed a run longer than 12 yards to a quarterback and is one of four teams that haven’t allowed a quarterback to score a rushing touchdown.
Looking toward Saturday
Michigan State has allowed two opponents to rush for at least 200 yards in the past two seasons. Both games were last season and the Spartans gave up the majority of those yards to quarterbacks -- Braxton Miller (136) and Taylor Martinez (205).
Martinez didn’t play in Michigan State’s win against Nebraska this season, but Miller will play on Saturday, in what will be the biggest test thus far for both Ohio State’s offense and Michigan State’s defense.
We've got a bona fide heavyweight tilt in the Big Ten championship game, with national title implications at stake. It's time to crown a champion, and we need to be in championship form with these predictions ...
No. 10 MICHIGAN STATE (11-1, 8-0) versus No. 2 OHIO STATE (12-0, 8-0)
Brian Bennett: What a matchup this is, with the unstoppable force that is the Buckeyes' offense colliding with the immovable object of the Spartans' defense. I expect Ohio State to put up its lowest point total of the season as the "No-Fly Zone" led by Darqueze Dennard keeps the Buckeyes' air attack mostly grounded. And I expect the Spartans to make some plays on offense with Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford as they exploit some of the weaknesses of Urban Meyer's defense.
To me, this game comes down to one guy: Braxton Miller. He always seems to rise to the occasion in big spots, and this is the biggest game of his career. As good as Michigan State's defense is, it will have a hard time containing Miller and Carlos Hyde for 60 minutes, and Miller can flummox the best of defenses with his open-field running ability.
The Spartans take the lead into halftime as Cook is sharp early on, but Miller gets loose for a 60-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to give Ohio State the lead. Then he and Hyde grind out first downs in the fourth quarter to protect it. Still, both teams can bite down on some roses, because they're both headed to Pasadena. ... Ohio State 27, Michigan State 24
Adam Rittenberg: This is the matchup we've been waiting to see, and I can't wait for kickoff Saturday night. As I often do, I've changed my mind several times during the week. Michigan State should handle Ohio State's offense better than any defense has all season. Then again, Big Ten championship games are high scoring since teams no longer have to deal with the weather. Cook has never been on a stage like this and could show his inexperience. Then again, he has answered every challenge to date. And Miller hasn't played in a game of this magnitude, either.
I keep thinking back to last year's title game, where Nebraska came in as a favorite but clearly looked intimidated by the setting and the stakes. Wisconsin was the much looser team, played like it and spanked the Huskers. These are two different teams -- I think Michigan State will be the looser one, as the Spartans are likely headed to the Rose Bowl either way. Ohio State finally has the national title game in its sights. How will the Buckeyes hold up against the best team they've faced since 2011?
Ohio State jumps ahead early, as it almost always does, but the Spartans settle down and force two turnovers midway through the game. Cook attacks the secondary with the play-action and fires touchdown passes to Bennie Fowler and Keith Mumphery. Miller puts Ohio State in front midway through the fourth quarter with a touchdown run, but the Spartans answer behind Cook and Jeremy Langford, who finds some running room late. Michigan State ends this title game on the right side of a special-teams play, as Michael Geiger kicks his third field goal for the win. And the SEC rejoices. ... Michigan State 30, Ohio State 28
As you probably know, we've selected a guest picker each week this season to compete with us. For a game this big, we thought we needed to do something special. So we reached out to a couple of celebrity guest pickers from each side who have ties to Indianapolis as well.
First up is former Ohio State running back Daniel "Boom" Herron, who's now with the Indianapolis Colts. Herron picks the Buckeyes to win 31-17, saying, "I have confidence in my team and coaching staff. I haven't really watched [Michigan State], but I don't think they can stop our offense, and our defense will get the job done."
Our second guest picker is former Michigan State center Jason Strayhorn, an Indianapolis native who's now an analyst for the Spartans' radio network. Strayhorn says, "I think the game will come down to not only red zone defense, but also whose weakness is stronger: Michigan State's passing game versus Ohio State's pass defense. I say Connor Cook throws for 270 yards and Michigan State wins 28-24. I say that because that was the score we had when we went to Columbus and beat the No. 1 ranked Buckeyes in 1998."
Thanks to Boom and Jason for their picks. We'll find out who's right Saturday night.
Brian Bennett: 80-16
Adam Rittenberg: 79-17
Guest pickers: 75-21
See you at 11.
No. 10 Michigan State and No. 2 Ohio State have kicked off 24 football games this year and walked away a winner 23 times.
So at the risk of seeking information from wrong sources, ESPN.com surveyed coaches who faced the Spartans and Buckeyes for tips on how to succeed against the Big Ten championship game participants.
We granted anonymity to the coaches, position coaches and coordinators from inside and outside the Big Ten, in order to ensure the most candid responses.
One coach who required no such secrecy, as Brian Kelly of Notre Dame offered sound advice when asked how to attack the top-ranked Michigan State defense.
“You cannot win by trying to get three yards here, four yards there,” Kelly said. “You’ve got to get big chunk plays.”
Kelly’s squad, of course, owns the lone victory this season over one of the Big Ten’s top two squads -- a 17-13 win in South Bend, Ind., on Sept. 21.
Below are excerpts from our other conversations about the Spartans.
Check the Big Ten blog later on Thursday for report on Ohio State.
Coach: They've improved as the year went along. The line's jelled and started playing well together. They're a physical style attack. They're going to run at you. Cook has emerged as very consistent. They don't have a big tight end like they did a year ago, Dion Sims, so they don't have the same tight end receiving threat that they typically have, but they've got a corps of receivers that are good players. They're tall kids. They'll catch the ball. They do a good job attacking you and finding your weak spots and exploiting them.”
ESPN.com: How dangerous is running back Jeremy Langford, who’s rushed for 1,210 yards and 17 touchdowns?
Coach: I was impressed with him before and after our game. He's not small, 6-foot, 206. He's learned how to run physically. Sometimes a receiver moving over, you wonder how physical they're going to be running the ball, but he's done a heck of a job for them. I wouldn't put him in Montee Ball's category, but similar size, speed, jukes. He's not as low to the ground as (Carlos) Hyde, but he's a little niftier."
ESPN.com: Ideally, how do you attack Michigan State’s defense?
Coach: It's very difficult. You may get them on one play, but you're not getting them on that same play twice. Their coaches do a great job of making adjustments, and the guys are smart. They're going to crowd the box to take away your run game, so you've got to get to play-action and make double moves off their safeties, or you've got to beat their corners one on one.
ESPN.com: Easier said than done, right, with Darqueze Dennard and Trae Waynes out there at corner?
Coach: They've always had a ton of confidence in their corners. Dennard’s a great one. He knows when he has help and when he doesn't. Yes, they do a phenomenal job of taking away your outside guys with their corners. One thing that's underrated is that they have no problem getting their corners involved in the run game. But if you have real good skill kids at slot receiver or tight end, they have trouble covering those guys up. That's an area where we tried. We just didn't do enough it.
ESPN.com: Why does their scheme work so well?
Coach: They have a way of forcing you into something bad, like they make you try to hit a hole too quickly or rush a throw. For whatever reason, they always seem to be in your face. The best way to describe it, they don't stay blocked very long. It's, by far, the thing I noticed compared to everybody else we played this year. We played, fundamentally, up front, our best game of the year. But still, you'd see a play and think it was a seven-, eight-yard gain, and it went for just three, because they refused to stay blocked. Coach (Pat) Narduzzi has them drinking the Kool-Aid big time, because I think physically, there are better groups, defensively, but nobody plays with their hair on fire quite like them.
ESPN.com: If you were calling plays on Saturday, who would get your attention first on that defense?
Coach: I've got a ton of respect for Max Bullough. I think he's a great player. But the best player on the front seven isn't him or Shilique Calhoun. It's the other defensive end, Marcus Rush. Calhoun reminded us of the kid they had last year, William Gholston. He wants to rush the passer. That's his M.O., so we wanted to run at him, because we felt he wouldn't hold up as well. But part of the reason we ran at Calhoun was because we wanted to stay away from Rush. He can just give you fits.
Let’s finish with a thought from Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who saw the Spartans up close on Oct. 5 in Iowa City as MSU beat the Hawkeyes 26-14.
“Michigan State's awfully close to being an undefeated team,” Ferentz said. “It's interesting to me. On a national front, they're so far under the radar from what I see. They're not a bad football team. I don't think people realize how good they are. We'll see on Saturday."
The schemes are likely to be pretty similar also, since the sidelines are going to be to stocked with the same people as well.
And mixed in among all the game tapes of Michigan State this season, the Ohio State coaches would be silly not to take a look back at what the same opponent tried to do against them a year ago in the never-ending search for an edge.
"We're a lot different," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "The numbers on the jersey and the names on the back might be the same at a lot of positions, but we're better.
"So schematically, I think it helps a little bit. But I think the ways that if you were a defensive coordinator that you would have attacked us last year might be a hair different this year because of some of the things that we've improved upon and the ways that we have gotten better. Especially individually, across the board we have improved."
That's most clear in the Ohio State backfield, which heading into last season's Big Ten opener on the road at Spartan Stadium didn't even feature Carlos Hyde as a starter.
Eventually he would take over for an injured Jordan Hall in that game and never look back, but back then Hyde certainly wasn't the destructive force he's become as a senior. Against the Spartans a year ago, he rushed just 11 times for 49 yards -- a far cry from the 156 yards per contest he's averaging in Big Ten games this season.
Braxton Miller was already putting his multipurpose skills on display, throwing a gorgeous game-winning touchdown pass to Devin Smith and rushing for 136 yards in last year's 17-16 win over the Spartans. But the junior quarterback is far more deadly now as a passer, which has opened up pages of the playbook that were untouched at that time and figure to provide a lot more options for attacking Michigan State's top-ranked defense.
Hyde and Miller are, of course, the focal point for the Buckeyes, but they're not the only ones who survived the 2012 battle with the Spartans and grew from the experience. There are four returning starters on the offensive line pushing every opponent around, Smith and Philly Brown have given Miller two reliable targets at wide receiver, and Jeff Heuerman has been invaluable as both a run-blocking tight end and a threat in the passing game.
And perhaps more than a glimpse at what the Spartans may do schematically, that improvement might stand out more than anything when the Buckeyes rewind the film.
"It certainly helps you to watch last year and figure out the what [they do]," Herman said. "But the why might be a lot different this year because of who we are and what our personality is on offense now this year.
"We're better than we were last year, and they are too on defense. Let's not kid ourselves on that, either."
On Saturday, both teams will have a chance to see exactly how far they've come since then. No film room required.
2. The Big Ten Championship Game is a classic matchup of strength against strength, Michigan State’s old-school defense and Ohio State’s explosive offense (when the Spartans have the ball, make a fridge run). The Buckeyes rank in the top 10 in seven offensive categories. Michigan State ranks first or second in five defensive categories. Ohio State has played only one top-30 defense: Wisconsin. But the Buckeyes played well against the Badgers, scoring 31 points with a balanced attack. I don’t think Ohio State needs to score 31 to win Saturday night.
3. Marques Tuiasosopo is a 34-year-old assistant coach with a pedigree as a Huskies hero. He led Washington to a Rose Bowl victory in the 2000 season. He has done good work with current quarterback Keith Price. Under different circumstances, it’s conceivable that Tuiasosopo, whom Washington named as interim coach, could be seen as a genuine candidate to replace Steve Sarkisian. But the Huskies have closed a huge gap in the Pac-12 North. It seems as if athletic director Steve Woodward would want a veteran to help Washington catch Stanford and Oregon.
Each week during the 2013 college football season I will offer up my picks and a projected score for the biggest games in addition to a handful of other key matchups.
Week 14 is in the books and my picks went 6-3. Overall, my record now stands at 95-31 this year (67-58-1 versus the spread).
After a week that saw the two-time defending champs dethroned on a miracle finish, championship week sees four of the BCS's top five playing not only for a conference championship but also for a spot in the BCS National Championship on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif.
Big Ten championship
Saturday, 8:17 p.m. ET
No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes versus No. 10 Michigan State Spartans (Indianapolis)
The Buckeyes have won eight of the past nine games in the series, including last year's 17-16 escape in East Lansing. It could be argued that this is the most important Big Ten game played since No. 1 Ohio State beat No. 2 Michigan in 2006. A win here should put the Buckeyes back in the BCS title game for the first time since 2007 while Michigan State, win or lose, looks to be in good shape for its first Rose Bowl appearance since 1987.
The Buckeyes come in winners of 24 straight games, which is the longest streak since USC won 34 straight back in 2003-2005. The Spartans, meanwhile, finished their first unbeaten Big Ten season since 1966 and also became the first Big Ten team since Michigan in 1943 to win all of their conference games by double digits. The two teams have played six common opponents and the Spartans are actually outgaining those foes by 176 yards per game while the Buckeyes are plus-130 YPG.
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