Defensive Quotebook: Scouting The Spartans

All eyes will be on the match-up between Michigan State's high octane offense and Ohio State's stingy defense when the teams collide Saturday at Ohio Stadium (noon, ABC). We have comments from coaches and several players, including linebacker A.J. Hawk, on the MSU offense as well as what's going on with the Buckeyes and what's happening with the OSU defense. Click this free link for more.

It is a match-up that should be worth the price of admission.

Ohio State hosts Michigan State at noon Saturday (ABC) at Ohio Stadium. But all eyes will be focused on the battle between MSU's high powered offense against OSU's stingy defense.

Any way you look at the numbers, this figures to be one heck of a tussle.

Michigan State leads the Big Ten in scoring offense, pass offense and total offense and is second in the conference in rushing. MSU's total offense average of 566.4 is second nationally, while the Spartans are fifth in scoring at 45.4 points per game.

Meanwhile, Ohio State leads the conference in scoring defense, rushing defense and total defense and is second in passing defense. OSU is tops nationally against the run at 56.2 yards per game. OSU is allowing its opponents an average of 238.2 yards and 13.6 points per game.

Only Texas, with 382 yards against the Buckeyes, has eclipsed the 300-yard mark and OSU has held each of its last three opponents – San Diego State, Iowa and Penn State – under 200 yards total offense.

The MSU offense is led by quarterback Drew Stanton, the nation's top-ranked passer. He has completed 99 of 138 passes (71.7 percent) for 1,466 yards and 14 touchdowns against three interceptions.

His top receivers are Kyle Brown (21 catches, 315 yards, two TDs), Matt Trannon (20 catches, 337 yards, four TDs), Terry Love (17 catches, 277 yards, 1 TD) and Jerramy Scott (17 catches, 274 yards, 3 TDs).

The Spartans also lean heavily on three running backs with freshman Javon Ringer, a product of Dayton Chaminade-Julienne, leading the way with 404 yards and four touchdowns on 51 carries. Jehuu Caulcrick, a 245-pound bruiser, adds 355 yards and four touchdowns on 58 carries. Jason Teague may be MSU's most explosive back. He missed one game, but still has 265 yards and two scores on 40 carries.

We surveyed members of the OSU defense and coaching staff this week for the take on what's happening with the Buckeyes, how things are going for the defense and also on what they see with the talented Spartans offense.

Anthony Schlegel, LB

* On the lack of turnovers (OSU is ninth in the Big Ten at minus-0.4 in turnover margin per game and had no takeaways against Penn State) -- "We've been flying around, but people just haven't been turning it over. Penn State threw across the middle in some of their games. They weren't putting anything across the middle against us. They were trying to get over people. You can get turnovers and big hits and interceptions if they go over the middle, but they weren't doing that. You just have to keep practicing."

* General comments on MSU -- "They have phenomenal athletes year in and year out. Stanton is a great passer. He's mobile and he can do a lot of things. They run the ball well. They are a lot like San Diego State. They do so many different things and you have to prepare for them. It will be a tough challenge for us."

* On each team coming off a loss -- "Hey, we're smelling blood, too. They lost a game to Michigan. We're the same in the Big Ten with them. We know it will just be a hard, physical football game. We just need to keep on working. We know we have the tools and the abilities. We didn't execute at the beginning of the Texas game. We have to keep working."

* On the Penn State game -- "We played hard and we ran around and we were physical. But they won. That's the way it goes sometimes."

A.J. Hawk, OLB

* On Stanton -- "He does a great job of staying in the pocket and finding guys. You have to put pressure on a guy like that. If he starts rolling and gets some confidence going, he could be tough to stop.

"He's pretty mobile. He's a good athlete. You can tell that by watching them on film. It's going to be tough because he makes people miss. He will scramble around and find the open receiver all the time. We have to tackle well and make sure we break down and wrap him up.

"He's a great player. That's all I can say about him. If you're looking for a quarterback, he's the type of guy you want. He's a competitor. He'll come out every game and fight and get things done. That's why it's a huge test for us."

* On what's left to play for -- "The national championship is out of sight now. But we're not dwelling on that or worrying about that. We're just concerned with playing Michigan State. I don't think anyone is dreading things or saying our season is over. No one is thinking like that. We have too many older guys with experience. They realize the season is not over yet. They understand we can come in and play well against Michigan State and turn this thing around."

* On the lack of turnovers -- "It's getting to the ball. I've said before pressuring the quarterback will cause interceptions. As far as stripping the ball from running backs, you need to get a lot of guys around them and have a lot of guys trying to strip it. It's just fundamental defense. If you have guys flying to the ball, the ball is going to pop out sometimes. You need to be at the right place at the right time to recover it."

* On the play of OSU's defensive line -- "That's the way it is in this game. Some guys get some credit and other guys who are working hard don't get as much credit. We have a lot of defensive linemen that are pushing the pocket and making the quarterback come out. I don't think you can fault anybody on our D-line. They're trying to get a good push and make the quarterback uncomfortable."

* On MSU's improved running game -- "Having a good passing game has opened up the running game. That's something they may not have done two years ago when we played them. They have three great tailbacks. They stay fresh. Their offensive linemen do a good job of getting on the linebackers and opening up the running game. It's tough to stop. That's what makes them such a great team – they can run and pass."

* On bouncing back from the loss -- "Any time you don't play as well as you should, you want to come out the next day or the next week and prove that wasn't our team. That's what happened Saturday. We know we need to do that to compete with a team like Michigan State.

"We don't take the games any differently than if we were undefeated. We know we have a great opportunity here. We want to make the best of it. We have six games left as seniors. We want to come out and play hard. It's not in the make-up of the guys on this team to say, ‘We can't win the national championship, we can't get there. We're just going to lay down and take it.' "

* On the match-up with MSU -- "It will make it a fun game. You come to a place like Ohio State to play great teams. The Big Ten has so many different styles of offense. I think it is a good match-up. We know it will be a good match-up defensively. It will be a good test. To be the best, you have to beat the best. They're obviously one of the best offenses in the country."

* On the wild Big Ten race -- "Weird things happen in the Big Ten every year. But we can't worry about what's happening in the Big Ten. We just have to get better as a team and worry about what we're going to do to win."

OSU head coach Jim Tressel

* On the defense's play at Penn State -- "We always talk about you need to play relentless defense and do a great job and not give your opponents, when they're playing at home, great reason for raising the electricity level and everything else that's already naturally in place. I thought our defense did an excellent job, playing relentless and played hard. Quite honestly, I thought we could hold them to two touchdowns or less going into the game and, really, had we not handed them the ball on the 1-1/2 yard line, I think that would have been true.

"As I listened to the defensive coaches and the defensive players talk a little bit, they feel as if we could have tackled a little bit better -- not that we're sitting here saying we have poor tackling. But our guys set a high standard for themselves, and the other thing that's very obvious is if you go on the road, if you want to have a chance to win, you've got to win the turnover margin and that takes two sides of the ball and we didn't come up with that turnover, that one or two turnovers that perhaps could have given us the chance with the short field."

* On the MSU attack -- "Michigan State does a great job in a lot of phases. I think the heartbeat, in some ways, of their group is that quarterback. Stanton does a great job throwing the ball and an excellent job running the football. He has a great grasp of what they're trying to accomplish. They're very diverse on the offensive side. They've got two or three running backs that play significantly and contribute a great deal. They have four or five receivers and I don't think they have anyone that's going to end up an 80- or 90-catch guy, but they have a bunch of them that are going to end up 50-catch people, and their offensive line is very solid at what they do."

* On MSU coach John L. Smith -- "I think the diversity on offense, the magnitude of what you have to be ready for. Now, they can only one run play at a time, but the magnitude and diversity of what you have to be ready for. Someone asked about John L. Smith and I coached against John L. Smith in 1993 and I knew then, that guy's a good coach. You see a guy win like he did at Idaho and win like he did at Louisville, you knew that they were going to be good because he has some things that they believe in."

* On Stanton -- "You know, Stanton, I think, has got a little of that swagger about him that, ‘Hey, follow me and we're going to be fine.' He just carries himself well. He brings the ability to throw and run, which you better keep track of him, and he's going to compete even if he has to dive off the bridge to get the first down. He's going to do whatever he has to do. He's a fun guy to watch because he loves to compete."

* On forcing turnovers -- "That's an emphasis that our coaches have constantly is strip drills and coverage disguises and hoping that someone will throw it into a robber coverage, that type of thing. Putting pressure on the passer and maybe he lets go before he should. I think just like on the offensive side, what's the most important thing in terms of having zero turnovers? It's having the belief that that's the most important thing in the world. Once you believe that that's critical, you have a better chance of doing it. Same thing, I'm sure can be said on the defensive side.

"Don't talk to me about this or that stat, we've got to get the ball for our guys. That's how you beat Penn State at Penn State. I'm not saying anything negative about our defense because I think our defense is very good. Very good. But we have to get better at that particular area. And, don't think our guys don't know that and believe that and think that and have consternation about the fact that we haven't."

Nate Salley, FS

* On what's left to play for -- "We still have a lot of our goals in front of us, like winning a Big Ten title or making it to a BCS game. That's definitely a huge goal of ours. Right now, we have to focus on beating Michigan State. We can't get caught up in looking ahead or making a bowl. We don't want to mess around and be 3-3."

* On getting turnovers -- "That's our job to win the turnover margin and get turnovers to put our offense in good field position. That's something we need to do."

* On the defense's goals -- "We have a goal to be the best defense in the Big Ten and also the best defense in the nation. We keep striving toward that and we take it play by play. We're not trying to look forward to anything."

Paul Haynes, safeties coach (and former MSU assistant)

* On the MSU offense -- "They're big thing is they change it up a lot. They will change the formations and try to cause problems with their formations and keep you on your toes. They like to get Drew out on the move.

"They are doing all facets very well. Last year, they relied a lot on the pass game. Javon (Ringer) has added a lot to them, as has Jehuu (Caulcrick). They are all running well. When they can run the ball, their playbook becomes wide open. When times get tough, they are going to throw the ball.

"Their mentality is they are going to put as many points on the board as they can and get as many yards as they can. They feel comfortable throwing the football. That's their game. But they have also been running the ball real well."

* On what to expect from the Spartans -- "Two years ago when they played here, they ran the ball six times and it was all empty (backfield). You look at them game by game and it changes. They do a good job of scheming you. It causes problems with you matching up. As a defense, you need to concentrate on what you're doing and just make it simple."

* On comparing MSU to San Diego State's diverse attack -- "They are a lot more talented. They are a lot more complex. They have a lot more weapons offensively. They are more balanced with the run and the pass this year."

* On getting linebacker Mike D'Andrea back -- "He brings a lot. I think the kids are happy that he's back out there. He brings a physical presence. He's a tough kid that the kids look up to."

* On getting turnovers -- "We stress it and keep stressing it. We need to run to the football and get guys to the ball. We have to stress it in practice. The hardest thing to do is to not do it in practice, then go out there in a game and try to do it. If you've got a chance for an interception, you've got to go get it. We've had our chances. We just haven't capitalized on them."

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