Well, a week ago I posed some pretty solid questions (#humblebrag), and pretty much everything I asked was answered on the field.
This time around though, the questions are going to be a bit bigger. The Buckeyes head into B1G play for the first time ever under Urban Meyer, and find themselves on the road in East Lansing against B1G preseason favorites Michigan State. Both teams have underwhelmed at this point, and are coming off very mediocre performances against some NCAA bottom feeders.
Still, ESPN's College GameDay will be in town to build up some more hype around what could be one of the most important games in the conference this season. The B1G is begging to find a favorite for the conference to stand behind, and Saturday's game will likely produce the "best team in the conference."
So let's take a look a deeper look into the game.
If the Buckeyes can duplicate that feat, it will force Andrew Maxwell to carry the Spartans, something he has yet to show he is capable of. At this point in his career he much more of a game manager, and is coming off of a pretty lousy game against Eastern Michigan. So keep an eye on the scoreboard at the end of the first quarter. The Buckeyes need to get off to a hot start for sure.
#2 - What is La'Veon Bell's ypc when the dust settles? This question is kind of a given, but it aligns with the previous question well. I really think that the Buckeyes only lose this game by committing turnovers and allowing Bell to run wild. I mean seriously, if Joe Bauserman and last year's porous defense can keep the Buckeyes in the game with a much better Michigan State squad, this year's squad can definitely walk into East Lansing and grab a win. Need more proof? Notre Dame's young offense hung 20 on this same team, then only scored 13 against Michigan's defense.
Okay, back to the point. Bell is the biggest key to the game. If the Buckeyes find a way to bottle him up they have a great chance to walk away victorious. I think they can do it too. I know, I know this defense has proven themselves as arm tackling champions, but I do believe Fickell's defensive scheme is much more suited to stop this style of attack than any of the teams they have previously faced. I do expect Dantonio to have some tricks up his sleeve, but Bell is the key. If the Silver Bullets keep him under 4.5 a carry, they win. Mark it down.
#3 - How much is Braxton trusted? Yes, Braxton has looked really good so far. Last week, he was even trusted to audible a dozen or so plays. Still, the Buckeyes have yet to play a totally respectable opponent with a good defense. Enter Michigan State. I'm interested to see how much the staff will trust Braxton this week against the Spartans, on the road. Will he audible with all the crowd noise? I'm not so sure. Even more importantly, how many shots will be taken down the field? The staff has said numerous times that Braxton is behind in reading defenses in the passing game, so I'll be interested to see what the game plan is. I'm sure Braxton will be running the ball a lot, but that still doesn't show the same level of trust as the two aforementioned areas.
Also of note - I'm interested to see who steps up in the receiving ranks. That unit will be tested in a way they haven't been all year.
#4 - Can the offense put an end to the three and outs? The offense has looked like world beaters with the game on the line, but haven't been able to show consistency throughout the game. Some believe the staff has been handcuffing the offense a bit and restricting Braxton after all of his early season carries. There is a lot to support that theory too. The greatest proof will be this Saturday though. This is one of the biggest games on the schedule, and the offense will definitely be under the microscope against arguably the best defense in the conference.
So keep an eye on Braxton and company. They need to play with more consistency and urgency. Also important to note - they need to put together some drives that eat up some clock. It's been feast or famine with this crew. They either score in two minutes and or go three and out in the blink of an eye. In the process, the defense has been on the field a lot the last couple of weeks, which can't happen again this week. Bell gets stronger as the game goes along which isn't a good combination with a tired defense with the game on the line. So I'll be watching to see the amount of clock the offense can chew up.
#5 - How do Hall and Hyde look together? For the first time all year we get to the offense playing at full strength. In the offseason everyone was excited at the possibility of Hall and Hyde in the backfield, and it was perceived as the strength of the team. After Hall's freak injury and Hyde going down in week two, the backfield became a liability, but it will back to what was envisioned this week. So, how will these two look together? Will Hall be used in some more creative ways now that he has Hyde to compliment him? We shall see...
#6 - Can the linebackers set the edge? The defense has been most often exploited in the run game when teams run off-tackle. Hankins and company make the interior of the line hard to push around, and I think they will push the Spartans offensive line around. So if the back seven is able to set the edge and force Bell back inside I think it will go a long way in answering my second question.
That's asking a lot, though. Ohio State's linebackers have proven that assignment football is not their strength, and their bad tackling and bad angles have plagued them. Another episode of that this Saturday, and Michigan State will be able to scheme away from the Buckeyes strength. Still, I have some hope. Last season's anemic defense was able to slow a similar attack that Wisconsin brought into the Shoe, and as I previously stated I think Fickell's defensive attack is suited well to slow the Spartans down. That only happens with solid, consistent linebacker play for four quarters.
So, there you have it. That's what I am looking for this Saturday. What about you?