5 Answers: Ohio State at Michigan State

Ohio State was great on first down, but that only tells part of the story of the Buckeyes' 17-16 win over Michigan State on Saturday. We examine that and four more key areas that helped determine the outcome in East Lansing.

1. Can the Ohio State offense stay ahead of the chains against Michigan State?
This was a major win for the Buckeyes as they averaged 7.6 yards per play on first down (after removing the last possession of each half when they were running out the clock).

Even if the 63-yard touchdown pass from Braxton Miller to Devin Smith is taken out of the equation, Ohio State averaged 5.6 yards per first down play, an excellent way to stay on schedule throughout the day.

The Buckeyes finished the day 6 for 13 on third down, a number that includes a kneeldown on the final play of the game when they were running out the clock. Remove that play from the equation and they converted 50 percent of third down opportunities, a figure that is not too surprising when considering they faced an average distance of 5.7 yards (again without factoring in the final third-and-25).

2. Will pass protection be a problem for either team?
Ohio State improved by leaps and bounds in this area after giving up nine sacks last season. Miller was only sacked once, and that arguably was a coverage sack after he double-clutched on a throw.

The Buckeyes got to Michigan State sophomore Andrew Maxwell twice, but they pressured him on at least a half-dozen more occasions and felt they affected him down the stretch.

"We stopped them from running and it caused him to hurry his passes and he was a little rattled," said OSU Ryan Shazier, who made eight tackles and was credited with a quarterback hit.

Fellow linebacker Etienne Sabino had a sack and two QB hurries. He forced Maxwell into an incompletion on third down to force the Spartans to punt on their final possession.

"We were in man coverage and I had the back and he blocked so I went," Sabino said. "This is such a great team win with special teams blocking punts, offense moving the ball, defense stopping the run. This is just a great team win."

Defensive end Nathan Williams had the other OSU sack, one that also came on third down in the fourth quarter and forced a punt. That was also a coverage sack.

3. Who will win the most perimeter matchups?
This one goes to Ohio State by knockout.

The deciding play of the game came with just over three minutes to play in the third quarter when Miller hit Devin Smith streaking down the east sideline for a 63-yard touchdown that led to Drew Basil's point-after kick that proved to be the winning point.

Michigan State delivered on a promise to challenge the Buckeyes at the line of scrimmage, and Smith responded by beating the Spartans' best cornerback, Johnny Adams. Smith only created a sliver of space, but it was enough for Miller to take advantage with a perfectly placed ball.

4. But what about the inside guys?
Whether a result of the game plan or how Michigan State defended them, the Buckeyes did not make use of their interior receivers against the Spartans. Running back Jordan Hall had one catch for 10 yards as an outlet receiver along the sideline before being injured, and slot receiver/tight end Jake Stoneburner was shut out.

Michigan State did seem to make a concerted effort to attack the Buckeyes inside, though, repeatedly targeting tight end Dion Sims in the seam. He only had two catches for 36 yards but had a 24-yard reception called back because of an illegal formation.

5. Can teams keep their cool?
Chippyness from last season's game seemed to carry over as players from both teams could be seen chatting after plays.

"We like to talk junk because it's part of the game," Shazier said.

Four personal fouls were called, but one was declined. The first came when Miller was tackled late out of bounds on the Buckeyes' opening drive.

Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde was later assessed 15 yards for unnecessary roughness when he made contact with the MSU return man above the shoulders.

Michigan State's touchdown drive was aided by a 15-yard penalty on OSU cornerback Bradley Roby for grasping the facemask on a 17-yard catch by Sims.

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