"Michigan State has a great offense," said OSU defensive end Vernon Gholston, who has 4-1/2 sacks, nine tackles-for-loss and an interception this year. "They do a lot of different things on offense. They have an experienced quarterback. We just need to watch the film on them and game plan and go play."
The Spartans rank fifth in the Big Ten in scoring offense (31.2 points per game) and second in both rushing (194.0 yards per game) and total offense (413.0 yards per game).
"They'll probably be the best offense we've faced this year," said OSU defensive end Jay Richardson. "Drew Stanton had a great game on us last year. We know he's looking to have another one. He's a great quarterback. It will be a tough challenge for us on the road."
MSU looked dominant for its first 3-1/2 games, winning over Idaho, Eastern Michigan and at Pittsburgh. The Spartans then held a 31-14 halftime lead in their fourth game, at home with Notre Dame. But the Irish battled back to take a stunning 40-37 win. MSU then stumbled at home, losing to lowly Illinois 23-20 and fell 31-13 at rival Michigan last week.
"You're just not sure which team is going to show up," Richardson said. "You know they are a good team and they've got tons of talent. They're just going to put it together right now. We have to make sure they don't do that."
Cornerback Antonio Smith said he expects MSU to give Ohio State its best shot.
"They're going to go to the whistle," Smith said. "They're going to go down to the end of the clock. It is unfortunate that they have lost a couple of close games. Michigan State is 3-3, but they're not a 3-3 team. We're going to have to prepare well this week and go up there and be ready.
"When you're down at that point and you lose three in a row, you challenge yourself as a team. You challenge yourself individually to turn the program around. I'm sure Michigan State is at that point and they will do whatever they can to get a win."
OSU defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock, the team leader with five sacks, recalled his team's mind-set in 2004, when it faced the exact same record after six games.
"Whenever any team is backed up against the wall, that is when they are most dangerous," Pitcock said. "They have nothing to lose. We're going to get their best, especially at home. We were in that situation two years ago when we were 3-3 and we just had to go and play our hearts out. That's the situation they will be in."
It Starts With Stanton
Stanton, a 6-3, 230-pound senior from Farmington Hills, Mich., has been MSU's starter since early in the 2004 season. In those two-plus seasons, he has thrown for 5,904 yards and 38 touchdowns and also rushed for 1,369 yards and 14 scores.
This year, Stanton has completed 62 percent of his throws for 1,187 yards with eight touchdowns and six interceptions. He also has 302 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
"He's so competitive," OSU coach Jim Tressel said of Stanton. "Just watch him play. The way he plays, he throws his body around. He's one of those guys you can just see. He's got an aura about him that, ‘Hey, guys, follow me. We're going to go down the field,' and you admire guys like that.
"You see him get hit and he's right back up and he's there for the next play. He's just a tough guy. And you know how I feel about toughness in quarterbacks, that's the one thing you better have and he's got it."
Richardson also discussed some of Stanton's attributes.
"He can make big plays with his feet," Richardson said. "As a quarterback, he is as deadly with his arm as he is with his feet. If you go back and watch the films, he's made some big runs on third-and-long. That can kill a defense's momentum and hurt your spirits when a guy runs like that on third down."
Stanton threw a pair of interceptions in last weekend's loss to Michigan.
"Those were a product of pressure," Richardson said. "I know sometimes he tries to make plays with his arm. We're going to try and pressure him into that again this week."
As a corner, Smith knows he will need to be on his toes against Stanton.
"He can throw the ball really well and he can run the ball well, too," Smith said. "He has a lot of experience and they are going to want him to have the ball in his hands. We, as a defense, are preparing this week and getting ready to go there Saturday and play hard."
Pitcock added, "Drew Stanton is a great quarterback. He's a senior and a team leader. We need to get pressure on him and create some turnovers. He can throw any kind of ball – across the field and the deep ball. He is also athletic and can avoid sacks."
The MSU offense has been hit hard by injuries on the offensive line as well as with ailments to tailback Javon Ringer (out for the year with an MCL tear) and tight end Matt Trannon (questionable this week with an ankle sprain).
With Ringer out of action, MSU has turned to 260-pound junior Jehuu Caulcrick. Calucrick, who was born in Liberia, has been MSU's short-yardage change-up to Ringer. But now he gets the chance to be an every down back. This year, he has 289 yards on 64 carries (4.5 average) and six touchdowns.
He could present a challenge for the OSU defense, which has only allowed one rushing touchdown in six games this year.
"He's a pretty big guy," Richardson said. "I here he goes 260. He's a big bruising back. We watched the Notre Dame game and he had a really good game against them. He really runs hard. We'll have to force him to run sideline to sideline and not downhill.
"You bring that guy down as a team. You gang tackle guys like that."
Pitcock said the Buckeyes do not want to let Caulcrick get up a head of steam against them.
"A guy like that, he knows he is a big guy and he's going to use that to his advantage," he said. "You have to get low and tackle him well. He tries to run people over, but he has great speed, too. They are second in the Big Ten in rushing, so we know they definitely have that threat."
The Buckeyes looked anything but sharp one year ago at home against Michigan State. The OSU offense committed four turnovers, but a key blocked field goal turned the tide and OSU rallied from a 17-7 deficit to win 35-24.
Stanton came into that game as the nation's No. 1-rated passer and he lived up to his billing. He completed 26 of 36 passes for 340 yards and one touchdown. But he was sacked an OSU-record 12 times.
In that game, the Spartans outgained OSU 456-386 in total yardage and held the ball for nearly 41 minutes.
"We have to learn from the past," Pitcock said. "Each year, we may not have had the answer. This year when we play them, we hope we have that answer and come out early. They are going to play us hard like they always do.
"Right before halftime last year, that blocked field goal was a big change. It was great for us and bad for them. They had a substitution error and they didn't have a wing and we were able to block it.
"My best memory was that was a close game. We recorded a record number of sacks, but it was still a close game. They are a great team. It's a game of inches. Mistakes can change a game like that."
Nate Salley blocked the rushed field goal attempt as the first half clock expired and Ashton Youboty returned it 72 yards for a critical touchdown to aid OSU's comeback bid.
"Last year, they were in the game for a while," Richardson said. "But then we had that big block before the half and took it back for a touchdown. That was probably the biggest momentum swing and got us going in the right direction. We also had a school record of sacks. But when you look at the stats after the game, they had a bunch of yards against us."
At his luncheon on Tuesday, Tressel announced that senior defensive tackle and co-captain David Patterson would likely miss the MSU game due to what is believed to be a knee strain.
"It's a huge loss," Pitcock said. "He's a key player and a senior leader. David Patterson is a great player. But at the same time, Joel Penton and Todd Denlinger have been in the rotation with us all year and they will do a good job for us."
Worthington was a prized recruit as a defensive end in OSU's 2005 class. He redshirted last year, then suffered a serious knee injury during bowl practice last December. He spent the entire off-season rehabbing the injury. It is unclear whether Worthington, listed at 6-7 and 274 pounds, has seen any game action yet this year.
But Pitcock believes he can help the Buckeyes in this pinch at defensive tackle.
"Doug, we've moved him inside some," Pitcock said. "With his long arms and his size, he can definitely be a factor playing the three-technique. He works very hard and he's probably the guy since the season that has improved the most. He has the fire and he wants to play. He still plays end, but he understands he can get on the field (at tackle)."