- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST LANSING, Mich. -- There was a whole lot of talk this week about how bad the Big Ten is.
Well, it's an absolutely perfect early fall day in Sparta, and league play is under way. On a day like this, with "GameDay" on hand, there doesn't seem to be a problem in the world.
And while Michigan State and Ohio State each have some flaws, this should be a classic, hard-hitting Big Ten battle. The key, I think, is which team can get the ball downfield.
We all know about the Spartans' troubles at receiver. But they simply can't be one-dimensional in this game. Though the Buckeyes' defense has underperformed -- to put it kindly -- it is set up well to defend a power running game, even versus a great back by Le'Veon Bell. Big ol' Johnathan Hankins & Co. will do a good enough job against the run. Michigan State will have to stretch the field.
Can the receivers do it? Mark Dantonio told me earlier this week he still has confidence in them.
"We have talent," Dantonio said. "I've watched these guys play for a year or two years or for three years in some cases. It's just a matter of catching the ball cleanly, making difficult catches.
"We need to continue to try to nurture them and build their confidence. I don't think anything would be served by beating them down, and then they lose their confidence. ... I think they're going to be fine. They've had great practices and they catch everything in practice. They just need to transition that over to the games."
Ohio State's receivers came into the season a huge question mark, and they have responded pretty well. But while Devin Smith has had some huge highlights and Corey "Philly" Brown has already zoomed past last year's stats, they've been inconsistent. This week, they will face the top secondary in the Big Ten, and Pat Narduzzi likes to press cornerbacks Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard up at the line of scrimmage. Brown, Smith and others will have to break free and make plays downfield, because the Spartans defense is very difficult to run against. Michigan State will focus its efforts on stopping Braxton Miller on the ground.
It could be a slugfest if neither team can make plays in the passing game. But if one team excels at that, it should have a major edge in what I expect to be a close game.
Much more to come from Spartan Stadium and this key early conference matchup ...