Sunday Observation: Michigan State

The Ohio State football program entered Saturday's game at Michigan State with plenty of questions to answer. After the 17-16 win over the Spartans, the Buckeyes provided a response for perhaps the biggest apprehension of them all – whether this team is equipped to knock off the best teams in the Big Ten conference. Get all the observations from the game inside.

The Ohio State football program entered Saturday's game at Michigan State with plenty of questions to answer. After the 17-16 win over the Spartans, the Buckeyes provided a response for perhaps the biggest apprehension of them all – whether this team is equipped to knock off the best teams in the Big Ten conference.

The bad news is Urban Meyer and his team won't get much of a break before they have to do it again with Ohio State hosting Nebraska next weekend in the season's first night game in Ohio Stadium.

Before attention gets turned to the Cornhuskers, we take a look back at some of the most pertinent happenings from the biggest win of the Meyer era in East Lansing in the latest version of Sunday Observation:

Is Braxton Miller fragile? – I think the opinion could start trending the other way. I have been saying all year that Miller is one rough game away from missing some time – like he has had a history of doing – and I thought I was going to be right a few times during the Michigan State game. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Miller came back every time he was down, whether it was from the big hit out of bounds at the end of the first drive or the knee issue he had in the second half. The point is simple – this team is going to need Miller to be a tough guy. The offense surrounds him, whether that's the play call or not, and he'll continue to be carrying the ball as much as he does. Ohio State is banking on him staying healthy, and after he battled against the tough MSU defense, I am not sure I am questioning his ability to do that as much as I used to.

Is Miller struggling to read defenses? – When I asked offensive coordinator Tom Herman after the game how Miller was doing with decision-making on the zone read plays, he responded by saying "better than average." From the naked eye, it does seem as if he struggled more than a handful of times to make the correct decision. There was one play that Carlos Hyde would still be running if Miller would have pitched it and the running back laughed about that after the game. Though there are signs of improvement, it is imperative that Miller gets a better handle on when to pitch and when to keep. That's the entire premise of Ohio State's offensive philosophy.

That was a scrappy game – Those who say the toughness of the Big Ten is a thing of the past should go back and watch the OSU-MSU game again. That was one of the hardest-hitting games I have witnessed in a long time and those two teams really wanted to knocked each other out until the very last millisecond before the whistle was blown. Heck, sometimes there was a little extra contact that was either called or not. Either way, that was a hard-nosed, old-fashioned Big Ten football game in East Lansing.

Etienne Sabino had a big day – I don't know if the linebacker was always in the right spot, but I'll tell you that he stood out to me unlike he ever has against the Spartans. He was flying around the football making big hits and to me it felt like he was playing like the linebacker Ohio State hoped he'd be since the day he stepped foot on campus as a highly touted recruit. I have a hunch he'll grade out a winner.

This defense missed Bradley Roby against UAB – Roby is arguably the best player on Ohio State's defense. He made countless big plays in the secondary and is so quick to pursue the other team's rushing attack, especially when it attempts to take it to the edge. Roby also blocked the first punt of the Meyer era. He simply brings a spark and sometimes missing one player due to injury can have tangible effects. His return was felt.

Did you see Reid Fragel yesterday? – Maybe Ohio State has found a right tackle? Though Fragel certainly wasn't perfect, he prevailed in what I think will be the toughest matchup he'll face all season. Perhaps William Gholston was still shaken up from having the wind knocked out of him (cough, cough), but Fragel did what he had to do the entire game and I'd even venture to say that he came out as the day's winner with that battle. How about that for growth from the former tight end?

Devin Smith is just exciting – There is a certain point where you know a player is meant to be special, and I got that feeling about Smith last year. I said earlier this season in this column that I thought he'd be a future All-American and I keep feeling strong and stronger about making such a bold claim. While he has a way to go before he's a complete receiver, he already has the biggest skill – the ability to make a play when the team needs it the most. Though he has 13 fewer receptions than Corey Brown, the team's leading receiver, he still has scored three more touchdowns and has put up more yardage. He and Miller have a connection and as that continues to develop into the future years, something big could be waiting.

When was the last time… – An opposing runner known as a straight-ahead, big running back like Le'Veon Bell – the focus of Ohio State's defense – torched the Buckeyes? Perhaps you have a case for Nebraska's Rex Burkhead last year (we'll get to him) and what he did late in last year's game. My point, however, is that it is very hard for teams to run directly up the gut of the Buckeyes' defense as their main emphasis of attack and be successful. Now Bell did make some plays as a receiver, but he was held to less than 50 yards running because it is very hard to run straight at Ohio State. Other players aside from Bell were going to need to make plays for the Spartans offensively and they simply didn't.

Nebraska is going to be tough – Unlike Michigan State, the Cornhuskers are capable of putting up big numbers offensively. Even worse news for Ohio State is the fact that Nebraska likes running to the edges, which will really put the Buckeyes' defense to test given its recent trend of struggling to pursue outside and make crucial open-field tackles. Rex Burkhead is one of the best runners in the league – much like Bell is – but Nebraska's attack is far more dangerous to this Buckeyes defense.

One win away from… – This team being 10-0. Think about that for a second. Now this isn't me crowning Ohio State and saying they've proven to be up to par with some of the decade's top Buckeyes teams, but as spectators we're allowed to do what the team isn't – look ahead. If Ohio State gets past Nebraska to improve to 6-0, the Buckeyes play four teams in a row that I find to be considerably inferior to Ohio State. Simply put, a primetime win in the Shoe this weekend could make for quite the exciting finish to Meyer's first season.

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