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.
ESPN.com: Ohio State has scored at least 42 points in its past five games, while Michigan State has allowed fewer than seven points in five of its past six outings. What must the Buckeyes and quarterback Braxton Miller do to maintain their momentum?
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.