So far 2012 has been an emotional rollercoaster for Buckeye faithful. Throughout the first four games of the season, Buckeye fans have been forced to suffer through long stretches of frustration only to be followed by moments of brilliance and glimpses of the Ohio State Buckeye team that everyone is waiting to see under Coach Urban Meyer.
Take for example last week's outing against UAB. The Buckeyes slogged through an entire half of mistake ridden football only to score two touchdowns in two minutes before heading to the locker room. Just as frustrating is the lack of answers as Meyer tells us that the three things that concern him most are, "Offense, defense and the kicking game."
As the Buckeyes head to East Lansing to meet the Michigan State Spartans, the time has come for Ohio State to "play angry" as Meyer called it at the beginning of the season. Now that Michigan has proven to be, well, Michigan and Wisconsin finds themselves struggling the Ohio State/Michigan State Big Ten season opener could be the most important conference matchup of the season.
Michigan State demonstrated weakness in their passing game against Notre Dame and again in their struggles against Eastern Michigan. And while the Buckeyes have had their problems in the secondary, they have also forced seven turnovers so far this season which could play big in this game.
That leaves Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell and it's not like Ohio State defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers haven't spent the week (if not the entire season) preparing for him. Their ability to not only contain Bell but wrap him up and bring him down (a problem in past games) will be a huge factor. Expect the Buckeyes to put all efforts into stopping the Spartan running attack forcing Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell to prove himself in the air.
If the Buckeyes can contain the Spartan ground game and force them to pass, it could be a long day for Michigan State.
So far this season the Ohio State offense has centered on the play of quarterback Braxton Miller. He's provided a much needed spark and turned the game around on more than a few occasions. Miller's total carries has actually become a point of controversy among Buckeye fans. Concern over his 27 carries against UCF was met by criticism that he wasn't getting enough touches in games that followed. Whatever the case, stopping Miller will be a primary focus for the Michigan State defense.
Miller won't be the only threat coming out of the backfield though as Carolos Hyde is expected to return from injury. For the first time this season, both Hyde and Jordan Hall will be available to handle ground duties. So far this season Michigan State has done well against the run and they will be looking to make Ohio State face a formable secondary.
Early in the season the receivers were a problem for the Buckeyes but since then they have come of age. Michigan State will be the first true test as they face off one on one against an effective Spartan secondary. Go to man Devin Smith has already earned his spot on the highlight reels for the season with an amazing one-handed touchdown catch in the season opener against Miami. If he can establish confidence early, expect big things from him in this game.
Corey "Philly" Brown is also establishing himself in the receiving corps and look for Jake Stoneburner in the short game as Meyer looks to move the ball around.
Offensively for Ohio State, it may come down to the high pressure, quick attack passing game that the Buckeyes have been working to develop since Meyer came on board. Expect short, quick scoring drives in an attempt to put the Spartans on their heels early and keep them there.
Although the Buckeyes have been up and down so far this season, they know the gravity and importance of this game. Practice time is over and Meyer has made it perfectly clear what is expected and what it will take for Ohio State to come out on top. If the Ohio State football team lives up to the potential Buckeye fans know it can produce, Michigan State is in trouble.
Prediction: Ohio State 24, Michigan State 17.