The Buckeyes officially began the Braxton Miller era last Saturday in Ohio Stadium -- and in a way -- hit the reset button on their 2011 season.
Better late than never as they say...
After three weeks of indecision that culminated with an embarrassing loss in Miami to the now 1-2 Hurricanes, coach Luke Fickell and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman finally pulled the plug and took the failed Joe Bauserman, starting-quarterback-experiment, off of life support in favor of Miller.
The week five depth chart no longer lists the starting QB as Joe Bauserman OR Braxton Miller -- but just Miller. After his showing against Colorado, the coaching staff has finally made it official -- This is his team now.
Miller's debut against the Buffaloes was far from perfect, but the offense moved the ball -- often literally on the legs of Miller -- and scored 37 points -- which could have actually been 45, but unlike Miami against OSU the previous week, Ohio State instead showed class and ran out the clock rather than going for a touchdown to run-up-the-score in the final seconds.
Buckeye fans got a promising glimpse into the future (and the present) as Miller hooked up with wide receiver, and fellow true freshman, Devin Smith for two touchdowns in the win.
Miller needs to play within himself, protect the football, and do a lot less of this, and a lot more of this and this instead -- and the Buckeyes should definitely be in the mix for the Leaders division crown and another Big Ten title.
Brief Game Outlook / Players of Note
Ohio State and Michigan State have each lost their only road games so far this season -- both to teams they probably should have beaten (Miami-Fl and Notre Dame respectively) -- but, those losses are in the past, and there's no time to dwell on those defeats as the two rivals kick off inter-divisional conference play this week in The Horseshoe.
The Spartans currently lead the nation in total and pass defense, giving up just 172 yards per game and 101 yards through the air (albeit against a fairly weak OOC schedule).
They also rank eighth in fewest points allowed per game (11.0) and the defense leads the Big Ten with six interceptions in four games.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown for 935 passing yards, with five touchdowns and two interceptions. His passer efficiency rating is 148.
Wide receiver and Biletnikoff Award candidate B.J Cunningham (pictured at left) leads the Big Ten with 29 catches for 428 yards and has scored once.
The running back duo of Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker have combined for 433 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.
Ohio State is currently 16th in the nation in total defense. They rank 18th in fewest points allowed per game (15.8). The defense has four interceptions and 10 QB sacks through four games.
In a little over two games, Miller has 235 passing yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He also has 145 yards rushing with a current passer efficiency rating of 147.
Smith appears to be everything Duron Carter was supposed to be at wide receiver. He leads the Buckeyes with eight receptions for 183 yards and three scores.
TE Jake Stoneburner has been quiet the last two weeks, but is still second on the team with eight catches for 94 yards and four touchdowns.
Carlos Hyde leads the team in rushing with 263 yards and three touchdowns, but Jordan Hall is close behind with 171 yards rushing and a touchdown in just two games since coming off a two-game suspension to open the season.
Ohio State and Michigan State both play traditional Big Ten football -- they like to run the ball and mix in the pass. Bell and Baker vs. the Buckeye defense and Hyde and Hall vs. the Spartan defense could decide this game.
Both defenses will be challenged, but the team whose defense can best limit and contain the opposing running backs (and the occasional dual-threat QB) will likely win the game.
Ohio State—Michigan State History Lesson
• Ohio State is 67-7 in Ohio Stadium since 2001.
• Ohio State is 27-12 all-time vs. Michigan State (14-7 at home).
• Ohio State has won the last seven meetings against Michigan State.
• Ohio State is 70-23-4 in Big Ten openers since joining the conference in 1913.
• Ohio State defense has held opponent to fewer than 10 points 30 times since 2006.
• Ohio State's defense has allowed just five 100-yard rushers in their last 38 games.
• Ohio State has held 64 of 77 opponents to 21 points or fewer since the start of the 2005 season.
• Ohio State's defense has allowed just one 100-yard rusher in the past 25 games at Ohio Stadium.
• Michigan State is 10-10 on the road since 2007 under coach Mark Dantonio.
• Michigan State is 20-12 overall vs. conference opponents since 2007 under Dantonio.
• Michigan State last beat Ohio State in Columbus over the then-No. 1 Buckeyes in 1998.
• In the most recent meeting, then-No. 12 Ohio State dominated then-No. 20 MSU, 45-7, in East Lansing in 2008.
Final Thoughts and Score Prediction
In the 24-6 loss at Miami, Ohio State didn't have a passing game or a quarterback -- now, all indications are that they do (even if he is a work-in-progress).
In the loss at Notre Dame, Michigan State did have a passing game and a quarterback (Cousins threw for 329 yards and a touchdown) -- but, they still lost 31-13.
The Spartans could only muster 29 rushing yards against ND, while their own defense yielded 114 rushing yards to the Irish.
The Ohio State defense all-but-NEVER gives up 100 yards rushing at home, and the Buckeye "O" is averaging 184 yards rushing per contest. Those trends should continue on Saturday.
So, what do you get when you put together everything you just read?
Ohio State 34
Michigan State 20
"To be a champion, you have to believe in yourself when no one else will" - Sugar Ray Robinson
Accompanying article image copyright Getty Images