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Thursday, December 5, 2013
Can Braxton hit the ground vs Spartans?

By Rob Nelson


AP Photo/Jeff HaynesCarlos Hyde (left), Braxton Miller and the Ohio State ground game faces its toughest test this season.
Ohio State and Michigan State finished 8-0 in conference play this season. The Buckeyes are fueled by their potent rushing attack, while the Spartans have made their mark by stopping the run. Something has to give on Saturday when these two teams square off in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship.

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.