EAST LANSING - After Michigan State's 52-27 thrashing of Indiana, the Spartans spirits are high and so is their emotional state. But when it comes time to hit the field against the #1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, emotion is only going to take the Spartans so far.
Michigan State will have to execute at a high level, eliminate special teams mistakes and impose their will in the run game at all costs against one of the nation's best run stopping teams.
Here are the keys to Michigan State winning in Columbus Saturday.
1. MSU must run the ball effectively.
Indiana came into the football game ranked 1st in the nation in sacks. But their pass rush wasn't much of a factor because MSU was running the ball over and through their front four. The Spartans big front line of tackle Pete Clifford, guard Mike Gyetvai, center John Master, guard Roland Martin and tackle Jesse Miller, must impose their will on Ohio State's talented front four led by Hendrick's award candidate Vernon Gholston.
If they can do this, the Big Ten's #2 and #9 ranked rushers will take over from there and MSU will be on the road to an upset.
MSU won't take OSU by surprise, redshirt freshman Dexter Larrimore stated, "With this line we're going to face, we better be prepared. This is probably the biggest line we've seen all year and they're quick off the ball. If we want to have success we must control the line of scrimmage."
2. Pressure Todd Boeckman
Michigan State is third in the conference in sacks, their two rush ends, Jonal Saint-Dic and Ervin Baldwin, must get up field and pressure Boeckman into mistakes and get takeaways. Getting close won't be good enough.
Boeckman appeared underwhelmed by the challenge the Spartan front four brings. "I've been watching the tape but haven't seen too much of (their struggles against the pass). They are a good team. Both the coaches and the team know us well. Their secondary is fast and the frontline is strong so it will definitely be a challenge."
MSU's Saint-Dic vows that their front four, including tackles Justin Kershaw and Ogemdi Nwagbuo will be a factor.
3. Come up big in the secondary.
Kendall Davis-Clark appeared healthy and back to his top form. He shadowed and virtually shut down Indiana's James Hardy. He'll need the same kind of effort against the Buckeyes receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline.
MSU hopes to have oft-injured corner Ross Weaver back for at least some action, but look for true freshman Chris L. Rucker to be on the spot as he returns to his old Ohio stomping ground. MSU could use a lift from Otis Wiley, who has been demoted to second team, but hitter deluxe Nehemiah Warrick and playmaking Travis Key will be counted on to deliver for the Spartans.
4. Get the ball into the hands of their playmakers.
MSU's offensive coordinator Don Treadwell must find a way to get the ball early and often into the hands of the Big Ten's leading receiver, Devin Thomas and Ringer.
Both have shown the ability to make big plays and they are difference makers. The more times they touch it, the more the odds rise for a big play. Whether it be reverses, trickeration, options, whatever, get the ball to Ringer and Thomas.
5. Pull out all the stops.
If MSU's coaching staff has any trickeration, and deception and high risk, high reward plays, now's the time to pull them out because the stakes are so high. A win makes MSU bowl eligible and puts them back in the top-25. A loss makes the trip to bowl country that much tougher with Michigan, Iowa and Purdue remaining on the Spartans schedule.
Ohio State may be ranked #1 but if this college football season has taught us, no one is unbeatable. In the last two weeks, LSU, California, and South Florida have all fallen.
Why can't Ohio State be next?