The Spartans stick to their scheme, trusting that their players will be able to execute better than their opponents. Even with two weeks to prepare for the Buckeyes thanks to being idle last weekend, don’t expect that to change.
If Ohio State is to out-execute the Spartans when they have the ball Saturday, J.T. Barrett will be largely responsible. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman said this will likely be the first week all season that what the redshirt freshman sees on the field will actually resemble what he saw on film.
“Through eight games it has been absolutely different and it has been a mad scramble to adjust on the sidelines through the first couple of series,” he said. “It’s good and bad because usually when defenses are this locked in to one particular scheme, it usually means they are pretty damn good at it too. So it will be good because schematically I think he will know where the pieces are and know what to expect. Now it comes down to executing.”
Barrett will be executing against the No. 5 defense in the country according to total yards as the Spartans are allowing just 279.4 yards per game this season. Michigan State plays a 4-3 front with a quarters look in the secondary and that scheme has propelled them to the sixth-best unit in the country against the run and 15th against the pass.
“The one thing about their coach and coaching staff, they're pretty set in what they do,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “They're really good at it.”
“But we have to be ready for adjustments. They won't change their defense because they're too good. It's the ones that maybe are struggling on defense or come up with something.”
If the Buckeyes are to better the Spartans through the air, Barrett will need to be better than he was against Illinois. The redshirt freshman was dealing with a sprained left MCL that he suffered against Penn State and didn’t look comfortable early against the Illini. He missed three key throws, two of which would have gone for big plays – a sure touchdown to tight end Jeff Heuerman and a big gain to Dontre Wilson – but Barrett left the ball high.
Big plays may be where the Spartans defense can be exploited. Michigan State has allowed 19 plays of 30 yards or more through eight games this season, nearly equaling the 21 they allowed all of last year. Five of those plays came in their lone loss to Oregon and three of those were in the air as the Spartans surrendered receptions of 70, 64 and 37 yards in their 46-7 defeat.
Herman said he wasn’t sure exactly why Michigan State had been more susceptible to big gains in the air this season, but knows that the Buckeyes can’t fall in love with going long.
“As well coached and as well prepared as we will be to do that, the percentages in the game of football since the beginning of time, those types of plays are lower percentage,” he said. “If you get tempted or whatever into continuing to call those you might do your team a disservice because you are staying behind the chains. If you connect it’s great, it’s the swinging for the fences type of deal.”
If the Buckeyes are able to connect on one of those homerun attempts, odds are senior Devin Smith will be on the other end. Of the 15 completions of 30 or more yards that Ohio State has had this season, Smith has been on the end of eight of them. Herman said he hopes that the speedster can be a big factor Saturday.
If he is and if Ohio State can have success in the passing game Saturday it will be because of preparation, because they are ability to execute better than the Spartans, a team that will not deviate from their defensive system.