Five Questions: Ohio State-Michigan State

In our weekly look at five areas on which the Buckeyes' next game might turn, we highlight stopping the run, locking down a couple of dangerous pass catchers, going after a suspect secondary, winning field position and the possibility of some trickery in the offing.

1. How well will the Buckeyes stop the run?

Jim Tressel said it best on Tuesday in response to Kent State running back Eugene Jarvis' success running the ball against his defense last week. "We thought going into the game that Jarvis was a heck of a running back and all I could think of as that game was going on, once I was a little more relaxed, was that, oh, my gosh, if Jarvis can do this, what's going to happen with Ringer?" Ringer would be Spartan junior Javon, and though he is not a big back he is a far cry from the 5-5 Jarvis.

At 5-9, 200 pounds, the Dayton Chaminade-Julienne grad Ringer has good speed and is tough inside and off tackle, with moves to make defenders miss in the hole and enough power to run through arm tackles in the secondary. He is dangerous catching the ball out of the backfield as well, and he is not alone as a threat in the Spartan backfield. Senior Jehuu Caulcrick is a 6-0, 255-pound battering ram with a little shiftiness who can really hurt defenses tired from chasing Ringer.

Both of them benefit from a good push from the Spartan offensive line and a couple of talented fullbacks as well as a creative approach that employs just about every running strategy imaginable, save the veer.

The Spartans figure to be the first team to commit to running the ball against Ohio State, so it will be crucial for the front seven to answer the bell.

"Their offensive line is huge and very, very good," defensive tackle Dexter Larimore said. "They've got one back that can really get after you and one back that can bounce it outside and kind of get you on the edges. So this is going to be very difficult for us to stop."

2. What about the Spartans' other weapons?

While the MSU offense has its bread buttered by the running game, there is more to the attack than that.

Michigan State receiver Devin Thomas is a triple threat as a receiver, runner and return man. At 6-2 and 218 pounds, he is big, fast and physical and the Spartans use him in a number of ways. They will send him deep, where he can beat single coverage, and they love to throw bubble screens to him near the line of scrimmage, getting the ball in his hands for him to make plays.

He leads the Big Ten in receiving yards per game (98.6), kick return average (31.4) and all-purpose yards (212.4). Thomas also possesses 160 yards rushing, 127 of which have come in the Spartans' three Big Ten games.

"You better know where No. 5 (Thomas) is, because he will make things happen," Tressel said. Complementing Thomas is tight end Kellen Davis, the team's third-leading receiver (Ringer is No. 2), who has 213 yards on 13 catches. Davis averages 16.4 yards per catch and has three touchdown receptions. He is athletic enough they are not averse to handing him the ball (he carried on an end-around against Indiana last week) and deploy him on defense occasionally (two sacks).

3. Can Ohio State exploit the MSU secondary?

Last week Michigan State held talented Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis to 171 yards passing, but the prior two weeks the Spartans' secondary was dreadful as Wisconsin and Northwestern combined for 767 yards through the air.

The big bummer for the Spartans has been big plays. They gave up a 37-yard touchdown pass to Lewis last week, two 70-plus-yard scoring tosses the week before against Northwestern and a 64-yarder to Wisconsin Sept. 29.

Ohio State, of course, is not afraid to go deep. Todd Boeckman has already completed 16 passes of 20 yards or more, including five gains of 40 or more.

The front seven had at least as much to do with the pass defense against the Hoosiers as did the defensive backs. Lewis was rarely able to get comfortable as MSU gave him a variety of looks up front, including three- and five-man fronts in addition to the usual 4-3.

"We think they're going to be the best defensive line we've faced this year," right guard Ben Person said. "They blitz a lot. (MSU head coach Mark) Dantonio is an aggressive defensive coach and they bring it.

"They attack from all different angles."

4. Who will benefit more from hidden yardage?

Those criticizing Ohio State's schedule as weak obviously do not respect the power of a good kick return. The Buckeyes have been seeing some of the nation's best in that department on a weekly basis. A quick glance at the national statistics finds four OSU opponents in the top 17, including No. 2 Michigan State (29.1 yards per return). Ohio State, on the other hand, ranks 110th in the nation and last in the Big Ten in kickoff return average (18.4).

Entering this matchup, neither team has been great in covering kickoffs. The Spartans are 88th in the nation while the Buckeyes, though they have dished out a number of vicious hits, are No. 70. Ohio State figures to have the edge in punting.

The Buckeyes rank second in the Big Ten with a net of 39.7 and fourth in punt return average at 10.5

Michigan State, whose freshman punter is New Concord, Ohio-native Aaron Bates, is No. 8 in the Big Ten in net punting (35.7 yards) and dead last in punt returns (5.8 yards).

5. Could either coach turn the game with a trick?

Both Tressel and his former protégé, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, spoke this week of the familiarity of the staffs of the two teams. Dantonio, his offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, linebackers/special teams coach Mike Tressel (Jim's nephew) and tight ends/tackles coach Mark Staten all coached under Tressel in the past. Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman coached the offensive line at MSU from 1995-97 and shared time on Tressel's staff with Dantonio, while OSU safeties coach Paul Haynes was a cornerbacks coach at MSU for two seasons (2003-04) before coming to Ohio State.

Despite their conservative nature, both head men have already signed off on successful fourth-down fakes this season (Tressel a punt against Minnesota and Dantonio a field goal against IU last week), and it makes sense to wonder if some sort of trickery could gain one team separation if the contest turns out to be a tight one.

Buckeye Sports Top Stories