For the sixth time in their last seven meetings, both Ohio State (5-0) and Michigan State (4-1) are ranked going into their matchup. There are a few reasons the Spartans grabbed the final spot in the AP's top 25 this week, and it starts with experience.
No FBS team had more starters (21) return for the 2019 season than the Spartans, and eight of those starters come from the defensive side of the ball. That defense finished as the best in the country against the run a year ago, and they've picked up pretty much where they left off. Right now Michigan State is ranked fourth in that category, only giving up 55.8 yards per game.
Ohio native Joe Bachie is back for a third straight season starting at middle linebacker. In both of the previous seasons, he ended up leading Michigan State in tackles. He's pacing the team again now. Right behind him is disruptive defensive lineman Kenny Willekes, who has 4 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries.
Putting that sort of pressure on opposing signal callers has allowed six different Spartans players to grab interceptions this year. (Fun fact: three of whom are from Michigan and three of whom are from Ohio.)
Offensively, Brian Lewerke has returned to the form of his 2017 campaign. He leads the conference and is 29th nationally in passing yards per game (265.0). He has only thrown one interception to ten touchdowns.
His main targets are Darrell Stewart, Jr. and Cody White, but the Spartans will also throw quite a bit to the tight ends, who have a combined 22 catches this year.
Elijah Collins is their top rusher with 413 yards and an average carry of 5.3 yards, and he's putting up those numbers despite running behind an offensive line that is on their fourth left tackle.
Kevin Jarvis, Cole Chewins, and A.J. Arcuri are all battling injuries. That likely means that Tyler Higby will start again. He's a senior, but with all the players Michigan State has hurt up front, the Spartans have been playing with three true freshman offensive linemen in the two-deep of their depth chart. It's remarkable given all that, that MSU gives up an average of less than one sack (.80) per game.
Ohio State and Michigan State play at 7:30 p.m. with pregame on 610 WTVN starting at 4:00 p.m.
Other Michigan State nuggets:
- There are 28 players from the state of Ohio on the Michigan state roster, and 8 of those are from central Ohio.
- Although the Buckeyes have struggled recently in Columbus against Michigan State, losing two of their last three, Ryan Day seemed to figure something out in his first season as offensive coordinator. Not only did Ohio State win 48-3 in 2017, OSU registered the most lopsided victory ever in the series and piled up more points than they had scored in any home game against the Spartans since 1976.
- The schedule makers may have done Michigan State a small favor by having them face Indiana's athletic quarterback Michael Pennix, Jr. as a warm-up act for seeing Ohio State's even more athletic Justin Fields, but don't expect the Big Ten office to receive any Christmas cards from East Lansing. They also scheduled the Spartans to hit the road against Wisconsin the week after their game against the Buckeyes.