OSU D, MSU Offense Will Be In Spotlight Too

For weeks, people have been anticipating the showdown between Ohio State's record-setting offense and Michigan State's impressive defense, but when the Spartans have the ball will go just as far in determining who might leave Lucas Oil Stadium bound for California.

Connor Cook is a lot of things that are adding to the interest level for Saturday's Ohio State-Michigan State clash.

He's an Ohioan. He's a second-team All-Big Ten quarterback in his first year as a starter.

And he's certainly not shy.

That much was proved as Cook talked to the media leading up to the Big Ten Championship Game. When asked if he felt the Michigan State offense was getting the short end of the stick when it comes to this weekend's title game, Cook had a clear answer.

"Yes," he said. "I think you look at the stats and we've beaten every single Big Ten opponent by double digits. That's not just our defense, it's our offense putting up points, too. The offense has won games, Big Ten games this season. When we went to Nebraska we played really, really well as an offense, went to Iowa and played really, really well, and Illinois.

"We have an offense here at Michigan State, not just a defense. When we hear stuff like that, we take offense to it and we're going to have that extra motivation throughout the weekend, and it's going to make us play a lot harder on Saturday."

And when asked about the Buckeyes' defense – which also has been relegated to second-storyline status after giving up more than 600 yards and 41 points last weekend at Michigan – Cook also had a quick answer.

"Anytime you see your opponent give up that many yards the week before you play them, obviously you're licking your chops and feeling more confident," Cook said. "But we have to treat it like any other game we've had all year – don't overthink anything, don't get your hopes up like, ‘We can do this, we can do that.' Just follow through with the game plan."

So it's fair to say Cook is confident in his offense's ability going into Saturday's title game, and he has a few reasons to be.

The Spartans did put up more than 40 points on Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska, so it's not like the team is chopped liver. Cook has thrown for 17 touchdown passes against five interceptions, while running back Jeremy Langford has 1,210 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the season.

And then there's the Buckeye defense, which could truly be happy only about the outcome of Saturday's rivalry game against Michigan. Of course, it's never bad to beat your rivals, but the Buckeyes gave up 603 yards to U-M – most all-time in the series and second most ever at OSU – along with 451 passing yards and a 99-yard touchdown drive.

Those notes have the Buckeyes looking a across the field for tips from a Michigan State unit that is ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense, rushing defense and passing efficiency.

"We need to play better team defense," Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. "Obviously we need to be better at tackling, but I'd say we could take notes from Michigan State's defense in some aspects. Everyone does their job on every single play, and we need to get back to doing that. We've done that certain games this year, and it's worked out really well for us."

Bennett had a point about the team aspect. It appeared throughout the Michigan game that the Buckeyes – perhaps hyped up about playing their rival with an undefeated season, not to mention a school-record winning streak, on the line – were too overaggressive. The team missed a number of chances for tackles for loss by overrunning plays, and Michigan did major damage on throwback screens and misdirection plays.

"Guys were trying to do a little bit extra and sometimes that caused them to get out of position," linebacker Ryan Shazier said. "I don't think that's going to happen again."

On the other hand, Michigan State's offense certainly hasn't been as explosive, efficiency or just plain good as the Buckeyes'. The Spartans sit 84th in the nation with 380.2 yards per game and are 63rd when it comes to points with 29.4 per game.

The power-run game and downfield passing game are staples of the MSU attack, so we won't know until 8:17 p.m. on Saturday night if the Spartans will stick to those principles or try to do some of the things Michigan did to take advantage of the OSU offense.

"They run a lot of inside runs, a lot of play-action, a lot of max protect passing," Bennett said, also comparing the MSU attack to those at Penn State and Wisconsin. "Michigan State is the kind of team that is trying to pound the ball and take shots downfield."

This week, for sure, is about the Ohio State offense vs. the Michigan State defense. But what happens on the other side of the ball will go just as far in determining which team is Pasadena bound.

And MSU's message is don't count out a prideful Spartans offense.

"It's tough to always hear people get hesitant when they talk about our offense," offensive lineman Fou Fonoti said. "It's something that we take pride in and we're going to do our best to go out there and perform and get the job done."

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