The Other Side: Michigan State

The Buckeyes are gearing up for their first-ever appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game, and the contest will provide a marquee matchup between league unbeatens Ohio State and Michigan State. We get the scoop on the Spartans from our MSU site and writer Mike Wilson.

To get the lowdown on the Spartans who watched them all season, we turned to our Michigan State site, Spartan Digest, and reporter Mike Wilson.

1. A few of the Spartans players have talked about how impressive Connor Cook's development has been. Where have you seen him improve throughout this season?
Cook has gotten better in every facet of his game really -- as you would expect from any first-year starter. I think the area he has shown the most improvement is footwork and, in turn, accuracy. Early he was struggling mightily to set his feet and deliver the ball, but now he does it with relative consistency which has allowed Michigan State to look down field and move the ball in chunks instead of a few yards at a time. The arm strength already was there with Cook and he makes good decisions -- mostly -- so combined with a steady improvement in accuracy, he has become a solid quarterback.

2. Michigan was able to move the ball against OSU through the passing game, especially with misdirection plays and screen passes. Can MSU pull off a similar attack?
It's interesting because a month ago, I would have said not really, but in the past three games MSU has employed more misdirection, screens, draws and play fakes than any other time this season. The emergence of Jeremy Langford has been key to that and he centers much of that offensive attack for MSU. With a better offensive line than Michigan, that also helps MSU's offense in that sense. The main player to watch for the Spartans getting creative with is freshman wide receiver R.J. Shelton. He doesn't get thrown the ball much, but will be used on sweeps, reverses and the like. He also has been in the backfield more of late. So, I expect the Spartans will try to employ a bit of creativity, but I think they will stick a lot to power football and say to OSU's front seven that they will run over them.

3. It seems both Indiana and Nebraska had some success moving the ball on Michigan State. What were those teams able to do that others have not?
Well, Indiana I think was a bit misleading -- at least in point total. The Hoosiers had a big 64-run to open the game and scored on two short fields and apart from that didn't have much success. Nebraska did have success and seems to be the kryptonite to Pat Narduzzi's scheme. The Huskers' combination of a very quick back like Ameer Abdullah with a mobile QB has challenged the Spartans. but I think what did it more is how they force MSU to split a linebacker out wide. Against that spacing, Nebraska had good success on the ground where other teams haven't. MSU's strength against the run comes from keeping nine in the box, so the more players out of the box … the more success. I think Ohio State will challenge MSU much more than Nebraska given that Braxton Miller is a true dual-threat QB that can test MSU through the air where Tommy Armstrong wasn't such an issue with his arm.

4. Despite having a similar style of team, last year, MSU lost a number of close games, but this year, the Spartans have won each Big Ten game by at least 11 points. What has changed?
-- If you ask Mark Dantonio, it's "the inches" that you have to find through a game. That has been a common phrase since July around the team is finding the little things to win games. In a more tangible sense, an offense with a healthy and veteran offensive line, a quarterback who can make plays and wide receivers making catches they dropped last year are the differences. In my opinion, what changed was the confidence around the team and the leadership. This senior class is big and filled with contributors who have won a lot of games, especially on the defense. Those guys kept the team together when it could have divided last year as the offense limped around pathetically game to game. Now, with an offense that feels it can win games and has done so, the confidence is high and the identity is back for the Spartans.

5. The Spartans seem loose and confident going into this game. Do you feel as though they have the right attitude heading into this game, and do you think MSU can pull it off?
As I kind of said above, confidence has been huge for this team and they are walking around with plenty of it this week. They are saying all the right things, but still have to walk the walk. Within the confidence is a lot of hard work, though, as many of these players were on the 2011 team that played in Indianapolis. They know what it will take and have been there through this process.

Can they pull it off? Absolutely. I think MSU has as good a shot as any team the Buckeyes have faced thus far because of the defense, but also an offense built on time of possession, taking care of the ball and wearing down opponents by running time and time again. But will they pull it off? I don't think so. I like Ohio State to win this game because, all the story lines aside, the Buckeyes look to be the better team. I expect there to be enough success on the ground and a big play through the air that opens it up for Ohio State. The offense is too explosive and MSU hasn't had to play from behind much this year and I don't think they have the big-play ability to come back from a decent deficit, which OSU could put up. It should be interesting come Saturday.


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