Spartans Worthy Test To Open Big Ten Play

After a rocky nonconference slate, Ohio State opens conference play Saturday with a matchup against Michigan State, a team that shared the Big Ten crown a season ago. Le'Veon Bell, Mark Dantonio and the rest of the Green and White will be looking for a defining win in Ohio's capital. Find out more in this preview with depth charts, analysis and more.

Michigan State (3-1)
Saturday, Oct. 1
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC (ESPN mirror in outer markets)
Ohio Stadium; Columbus

The Spartans
Head coach: Mark Dantonio, 36-20, fifth year
2010 record: 11-2 (7-1 Big Ten, tie for first place)
Series mark: Ohio State leads 27-12
School location: East Lansing, Mich.
Enrollment: 47,131
Colors: Green and White
Stadium: Spartan Stadium
Fight song: "MSU Fight Song"

It's safe to say there is some familiarity between Ohio State and Michigan State heading into tomorrow's game.

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is, of course, no stranger to the Ohio State program, as he served as the defensive coordinator for the 2002 squad that won the national title. His move to Cincinnati in 2004 allowed Luke Fickell to move up from special teams coach to linebackers coach on his trajectory to becoming the head man for Ohio State's 2011 season.

Dantonio also continues to employ Mike Tressel, the nephew of former OSU head coach Jim Tressel and the son of current running backs coach Dick Tressel, as his linebackers/special teams coach.

Ohio State assistants Jim Bollman and Paul Haynes have also coached in East Lansing, as Bollman mentored the offensive line under Nick Saban from 1995-97 and Haynes coached defensive backs from 2003-04 under John L. Smith.

That continues on to the players. As many as nine potential Michigan State starters and 24 Spartans overall hail from Ohio, while the Buckeye roster includes three natives of Michigan, including tight end Reid Fragel and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.

"I know a lot of people from up there," Fragel said. "A lot of my buddies go to school there, so I'm looking forward to that game."

On the other side of the coin, Dantonio – last year's Big Ten Dave McClain Coach of the Year after leading MSU to an 11-1 regular-season mark and share of the league title – said playing against those he knows is never ideal.

"I would rather not play them because somebody is going to win and somebody is going to lose," he said. "Either they are going to feel bad or I'm going to feel bad. I'd rather feel bad. That's just the nature of it. But I've been on the short end of the stick many times, but that's a tough scenario I think at times."

Dantonio, in fact, will be looking for his first win as a head coach against Ohio State. He dropped a pair of contests while serving as the head coach at Cincinnati from 2004-06 and is winless in two tries since taking over at Michigan State.

This time around, he thinks he has the team that can get the win. The Spartans are 3-1 with easy wins against Youngstown State, Florida Atlantic and Central Michigan, with the only loss at Notre Dame on Sept. 17. In an effort to keep his players focused on the game, Dantonio has banned his players from speaking to the media this week.

The Spartans were picked by some as a potential repeat champion in the league coming into the campaign, and despite the Notre Dame loss the team still has that goal ahead of it.

"Well, we are at the beginning," Dantonio said. "That's really where we are at. Now, we are in a position where we start looking at the Big Ten Conference. Obviously, it will be a great opponent in this first game and it will be down in Columbus at 3:30. We'll point toward that and have our guys ready to go.

"It will be a challenge for us, as everybody knows, but I am looking forward to the opportunity."

Offense In A Nutshell
Michigan State brings a balanced offense into Columbus, but there isn't much question the Spartans would like to run the football to control the tempo of the game and set up senior quarterback Kirk Cousins in the passing game.

"I think they're going to try to run the football," OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "I think they would prefer to run the football. They have a stable of running backs and they have a quarterback who does a good job. They are going to run the football and play-action pass and do the things that Michigan State has done since Dino has been there. They have some good athletes at the skill positions and they usually have a big offensive line."

The Spartans have averaged 4.0 rushing yards per game in their three losses the past two years while averaging 195.3 in 13 victories. This year, MSU has three good running backs, led by sophomore Le'Veon Bell, a big yet shifty back who has 217 yards and six touchdowns on 38 carries. First-team All-Big Ten choice Edwin Baker ran for 1,201 yards last year and has 216 on 50 carries this year, while junior Larry Caper is also a threat in the running and passing games.

Leading the way for those rushers is fifth-year senior Todd Anderson, who starts at fullback.

At quarterback, Cousins has put together one of the most distinguished careers in school history. Already second in the MSU annals in wins at the position with 19 (two behind Jeff Smoker, 2000-03), Cousins is just the second three-time captain in school history. The senior has completed 81 of 117 passes (69.2 percent) for 947 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. His backup is sophomore Andrew Maxwell (6-3, 208), who is completing 73.7 percent of his passes this year with a touchdown.

Cousins' top target by far is senior B.J. Cunningham, who is the school's all-time leader in career receptions with 168. The senior leads the Big Ten in catches (29) and yards (428) while adding a touchdown. Classmate Keshawn Martin is used on screens, end arounds and sweeps, and has 14 catches for 132 yards. The third target is senior Keith Nichol, an Oklahoma transfer and former quarterback who has seven grabs for 117 yards.

Michigan State is also loaded at tight end as seniors Brian Linthicum and Garrett Celek and sophomore Dion Sims all see playing time. Sims is the top receiving target of the group having hauled in nine passes for 80 yards and three touchdowns. Linthicum, a Clemson transfer, has four grabs, while Celek, the brother of Philadelphia Eagles TE Brent Celek, has one catch this year.

Where the offense might have a weak link is on the offensive line, where injuries have left the Spartans thin. A number of starting tackles have suffered injuries that should keep them out of the OSU game, leaving the team thin on the left side. Sophomore Dan France, who moved to offense in December, has started the last three games but split time with sophomore Micajah Reynolds, who was moved over from defense before the last game. On the right side, MSU has turned to junior Fou Fonoti.

The center position is just as unsettled. Junior Blake Treadwell is suffering from a knee sprain, so redshirt freshman Travis Jackson started Sept. 24 vs. Central Michigan. There is experience at the two guard spots, however. Fifth-year senior Joel Foreman gets the nod at left guard and is due to make his 40th career start vs. OSU, while junior Chris McDonald is a returning starter at right guard.

QB 8 Kirk Cousins, 6-3, 205
TB 4 Edwin Baker, 5-9, 210/24 Le'Veon Bell, 6-2, 237
FB 42 Todd Anderson, 6-2, 265
X 3 B.J. Cunningham, 6-2, 215/7 Keith Nichol, 6-2, 220
Z 82 Keshawn Martin, 5-11, 189
TE 88 Brian Linthicum, 6-5, 245/85 Garrett Celek, 6-2, 252/80 Dion Sims, 6-5, 276
LT 59 Dan France, 6-6, 316
LG 67 Joel Foreman, 6-4, 315
C 63 Travis Jackson, 6-3, 275
RG 62 Chris McDonald, 6-5, 300
RT 51 Fou Fonoti, 6-4, 300
PK 4 Dan Conroy, 5-10, 190
KR 20 Nick Hill, 5-7, 180/22 Larry Caper, 5-11, 223

Defense In A Nutshell
Schedule caveats aside, Michigan State will bring one of the best defenses – at least when it comes to the stats – in the nation into Ohio Stadium. The Spartans lead the nation in total defense, allowing 172.3 yards per game, as well as pass defense (101.0 yards). Michigan State is also eighth in scoring defense (11.0 points), 10th in rushing defense (71.25 yards) and has forced nine turnovers.

The Spartans have done all that despite missing four of their five top tackles from a season ago, including All-America linebacker Greg Jones.

"They're always tough on defense," OSU offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said. "They're really basic and fundamental. We know Coach Dantonio very well, what he stands for. They're going to be fundamentally sound. They're going to be tough. They're going to have all different aspects – they're going to be able to blitz you, they'll be able to play straight."

Up front, the Spartans have two young, talented ends in redshirt freshman Marcus Rush and sophomore William Gholston. Rush has 14 tackles, 2½ tackles for loss and six quarterback hurries, while Gholston, a former five-star prospect, is a freakish athlete who has 12 stops including 2½ TFL.

In the middle, junior tackle Jerel Worthy has star potential. The Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne product – who was on the preseason watch list for the Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski and Lott awards – has eight stops including 2½ TFL, a sack, a fumble recovery and a blocked kick. His backup, senior Johnathan Strayhorn (6-0, 272), has 1½ tackles for loss among his three stops.

Junior Anthony Rashad White starts at nose tackle and has six tackles, while senior Kevin Pickelman also sees time and has eight tackles, including a sack, along with a forced fumble.

At linebacker, sophomore middle man Max Bullough leads the team with 24 tackles and has a tackle for loss and an interception. At Sam, Denicos Allen and Steve Gardiner split time. Allen leads the team with five TFL and has 21 stops in his sophomore season, while Gardiner has six stops and a fumble recovery. Junior Chris Norman gets the start at the star position and has 18 tackles, while 6-3, 234-pound backup Taiwan Jones, a true freshman, has eight tackles.

Two second-team All-Big Ten choices are back in the secondary in free safety Trenton Robinson and boundary corner Johnny Adams. Robinson has 14 stops and an interception so far in his senior year, while Adams leads the team with 11 solo tackles among his 14 stops in his junior year and also has three pass breakups.

The starting cornerback on the other side is rapidly improving sophomore Darqueze Dennard, who has 12 tackles and two pass breakups. The starting strong safety is sophomore Isaiah Lewis, who has 17 tackles, 1½ TFL and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a score vs. Central Michigan.

DE 44 Marcus Rush, 6-2, 250
DT 99 Jerel Worthy, 6-3, 310
NT 96 Kevin Pickelman, 6-4, 288/98 Anthony Rashad White, 6-2, 316
DE 2 William Gholston, 6-7, 280
STAR 10 Chris Norman, 6-1, 227
MIKE 40 Max Bullough, 6-3, 245
SAM 28 Denicos Allen, 5-10, 220
FC 31 Darqueze Dennard, 5-11, 185
FS 39 Trenton Robinson, 5-10, 192
SS 9 Isaiah Lewis, 5-10, 195
BC 5 Johnny Adams, 5-11, 175
P 3 Mike Sadler, 6-0, 182
PR 82 Keshawn Martin, 5-11, 189

Five Fast Facts
1. Notable Ohioans on the roster include Bell (Reynoldsburg), Cunningham (Westerville South), Celek (Cincinnati La Salle), France (North Royalton), Jackson (Columbus DeSales), Rush (Cincinnati Moeller), Worthy (Huber Heights Wayne), Allen (Hamilton), Gardiner (Dublin Coffman) and Adams (Akron Buchtel).

2. Michigan State is 12th in the nation in turnover margin at plus-1.25 per game. The Spartans have turned the ball over only four times on the year.

3. The Spartans, who are ranked 25th in the USA Today coaches' poll, have been in the top 25 in that ranking for 18 straight weeks, the school's longest such streak since Sept. 19, 1999, to Oct. 1, 2000.

4. Martin has accounted for touchdowns in five different ways during his career (rushing, receiving, passing, punt return and kickoff return), joining Florida International's T.Y. Hilton and Western Kentucky's Darrius Brooks as the only active players in Division I that have accomplished that feat.

5. Worthy wore No. 95 rather than his usual No. 99 vs. Notre Dame as a tribute to former MSU star Bubba Smith, who died this past summer. Smith's final game was the famed 10-10 tie between Michigan State and Notre Dame in 1966.

Last Time Out
Spurred on by some pregame trash talking by Michigan State running back and Ohio native Javon Ringer, No. 12 Ohio State dominated the 20th-ranked Spartans in East Lansing by a 45-7 score on Oct. 18, 2008.

Ringer told ESPN's "College GameDay" about how badly he wanted to post a big win over the home-state school that spurned him in the recruiting process. Hours later, a capacity crowd in green and white filled Spartan Stadium expecting a big victory, but little went right for the home team.

Michigan State trailed 28-0 at halftime, and by the end of the game, there was more scarlet in the crowd than green and white as the Buckeyes won their 13th straight Big Ten road game.

"They had their crowd riled up and it was hostile coming in here," OSU lineman Jim Cordle said. "It was good to see they had the student section in the white out, and half of them were gone by halftime. That's something we want to do. By the end of the game almost everybody was gone."

The game also served to calm doubts about an Ohio State offense flagging a bit under first-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor. In the previous two weeks, the Buckeyes needed a late touchdown by Pryor to beat Wisconsin, 20-17, in Madison and then didn't score an offensive touchdown in a home victory against Purdue by a 16-3 score.

In fact, Pryor went into the game telling head coach Jim Tressel he should be replaced if he couldn't get the offense untracked.

"I was dead serious about that," Pryor said. "If I don't move the ball in the first quarter, I was like, ‘You better sit me down and put Todd (Boeckman) in because Todd will do it.

"(Tressel) looked me right in my eye and said, ‘T.P., I believe in you. You'll do fine. Just don't turn the ball over. I'll come out there if you do.'"

Tressel's faith was rewarded as the Buckeyes stormed out to an insurmountable lead in the early going. Pryor got the ball rolling, sprinting 18 yards over the left side for a touchdown at the 8:25 mark of the first quarter on OSU's second possession to put the Buckeyes ahead for good.

Michigan State moved the ball on its next possession behind quarterback Brian Hoyer and Keshawn Martin, but the true freshman wideout fumbled at the end of a 10-yard pass when hit by Kurt Coleman. Donald Washington picked up the ball and returned it to the MSU 17-yard line, and Pryor hit Brian Robiskie for a 7-yard TD five plays later to make it 14-0, Ohio State.

The lead stretched to 21-0 the next time the Buckeyes had the ball. Pryor's pass on the first play of the possession found Brian Hartline between two defenders, and Hartline raced down to the 1-yard line before being brought down from behind. One play later, Chris Wells plunged in to make it a three-touchdown advantage with 2:44 left in the first quarter.

Wells added a second touchdown before intermission to make it 28-0, and OSU went into the break outgaining the Spartans by a 274-60 margin.

In relief of Hoyer, redshirt freshman Kirk Cousins directed a scoring drive on the first MSU drive of the second half to make it 28-7. He was trying to lead a second such possession early in the fourth quarter but was blindsided on a corner blitz by Malcolm Jenkins, and the resulting fumble was returned 69 yards by Thaddeus Gibson for a touchdown.

Aaron Pettrey later added a field goal and Jermale Hines returned a fumble for a score in the last minute to set the final margin.

"We always say that if you are going to win on the road, you'd better win the turnover margin, be solid in your kicking game and be able to run the ball a little bit," Tressel said after the game. "I think that we did all the things we are always talking about wanting to do.

Wells finished the day with 140 yards on 31 carries, while Pryor had 72 on 12 scampers while adding 116 yards through the air.

Ringer entered as second in the nation with 158.9 rushing yards per game but finished with 67 on 16 carries. Cousins finished 18 for 25 with 161 yards through the air, a touchdown and an interception.

"I would say this was probably the most complete game we've played," Coleman said. "We got a lot of turnovers, but we were just having fun. That's the most important thing. When we have fun, we really play good."

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