The Big Ten’s East Division title will be in play on Saturday when Michigan State travels to Ohio State with the Spartans and Buckeyes each sitting on one conference loss.
Mark Dantonio’s squad took care of one challenger last week by booting Penn State 27-24 with a late field goal, handing the Nittany Lions their second straight loss. But that was a home game.
This week finds Michigan State (7-2, 5-1) traveling to Columbus, Ohio to face an Ohio State (7-2, 5-1) team that was unbeaten in conference play until self-destructing last week in a 55-24 loss at Iowa. That setback came just one week after the Buckeyes had rallied at home in the fourth quarter to beat Penn State, 39-38.
If Urban Meyer’s team is going to reach the Big Ten Championship game, it can’t lose again. But then, that same pressure is on the Spartans.
The odds makers favor the Buckeyes by more than two touchdowns, not that Dantonio cares about that.
“It’s gone to 16, huh?” he said. “I really think that that’s for other people. I watch film and I watch our players. I know we need to get better and we need to do some things better on the field.”
Perhaps more interesting is the fact that the road team has a habit of prevailing in this rivalry game. The Spartans won in Columbus in 2011 (10-7), 2015 (17-14) as well as winning a Big Ten Championship game meeting in Indianapolis in 2013 (34-24). Meanwhile, Ohio State won at East Lansing, Mich., in 2012 (17-16), 2014 (49-37) and 2016 (17-16).
“Michigan State has always, even before I came here, has always recruited the State of Ohio,” said Dantonio. “I think when players go back, just like when we’re in Michigan playing down the road there a little bit, there’s a little bit extra incentive … I just think that we’ve had good football teams here. We’ve won three Big Ten Championships. So we’ve established ourselves as a pretty good team so we’ve been able to compete, and we’ve eked some out.”
Added Meyer: “Usually it’s just a prize fight, so the tougher team usually wins. And we’ve got to understand what we’re going to play against. Great respect for them and they’re playing well.”
As good as quarterback J.T. Barrett was in the Penn State game for the Buckeyes, he made mistake after mistake against the Hawkeyes, including a Pick-6 on the first play of the game. He finished with four interceptions.
As costly as it was to give Iowa an early touchdown, Meyer thought it was just as fatal when the Hawkeyes capitalized on another interception late in the half to set up a touchdown drive.
“I I felt like he forced it, especially right before the half,” said Meyer. “That was a devastating one. We’re not a sling ’em type group, we’re a highly efficient throwing team. And he’s been great up to this point.”
Barrett admitted he began pressing once Ohio State fell behind by two scores at halftime.
Down 31-17 at the break, Iowa ended up scoring 29 unanswered points in breaking a 17-17 tie before the Buckeyes tallied their only points of the second half.
“A lot of it was just trying to make a play instead of letting guys around me make those plays,” Barrett said. “I was just pressing the issue too much.”
Dantonio expects Barrett to bounce back from that disappointment, especially being back at Ohio Stadium.
“(Barrett) has had an outstanding career and he’s been very, very successful and he’s won a lot of football games,” said Dantonio. “It usually starts with how do you defend him and all the different things he brings to the table. So we’re going to try and do that and get ourselves focused for it.”
MSU quarterback Brian Lewerke leads a disciplined offensive attack for the Spartans, completing 61 percent of his passes for more than 2,200 yards and 16 touchdowns with just five picks.
Ohio State leads the conference in scoring offense and total offense with 43.8 points and 549 yards per game. The Buckeyes are eighth in scoring defense (22.3 ppg) and fourth in total defense (323 ypg).
Michigan State is 11th in scoring offense (24.1 ppg) and fifth in total offense (403 ypg). The Spartans are sixth in scoring defense (20.1 ppg) and third in total defense (303.7 ypg).
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
All times Central
Michigan State at Ohio State, Saturday 11 a.m. CT, FOX
Rutgers at Penn State, Saturday 11 a.m. CT, BTN
Indiana at Illinois, Saturday 11 a.m. CT, BTN
Nebraska at Minnesota, Saturday 11 a.m., FS1
Michigan at Maryland, Saturday 2:30 p.m. CT, BTN
Iowa at Wisconsin, Saturday 2:30 p.m., ABC
Purdue at Northwesern, Saturday 6 p.m., ESPN2
- Wisconsin (9-0, 6-0): Last Week – W, at Indiana, 45-17. The Impact – Jonathan Taylor proved he’s plenty healthy, rushing for 183 yards and a touchdown and the Badgers let Alec Ingold provide the knockout punch with three TDs on four carries and an 18-yard catch. Depite being unbeaten, Badgers are still only No. 8 in the playoff poll.
- Michigan State (7-2, 5-1): Last Week – W, Penn State, 27-24. The Impact – Spartans outlasted a 3 1/2 hour weather dealy and Matt Coughlin kicked a 34-yard field goal on the final play to hand Nittany Lions a second consecutive loss.
- Ohio State (7-2, 5-1): Last Week – L, at Iowa, 55-24. The Impact – J.T. Barrett admitted to “pressing” and Buckeyes were flattened at Iowa after he tossed four interceptions, including a Pick-6 on first play. The performance was hard to fathom after his heroics week earlier against Penn State.
- Penn State (7-2, 4-2):Last Week – L, at Michigan State, 27-24. The Impact – Saquon Barkley was held to 63 yards – none in the first half – by Michigan State’s defense and quarterback Trace McSorley was intercepted three times. So much for the Nittany Lions’ return to power and Barkley’s chances of winning the Heisman.
- Michigan (7-2, 4-2): Last Week – W, Minnesota, 33-10. The Impact – The Wolverines broke out the big plays as Karan Higdon and Chris Evans combined for nearly 400 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Evans scored on runs of 60 and 67 yards and Higdon had touchdowns scampers of 77 and 5 yards.
6. Iowa (6-3, 3-3): Last Week – W, Ohio State, 55-24.. The Impact – Nate Stanley, who had 17 TD passes beforehand, threw five against the Buckeyes as Hawkeyes became bowl eligible in impressive fashion. Iowa nearly tripled its scoring average of 18.8 points in Big Ten action.
7. Northwestern (6-3, 4-2): Last Week – W, at Nebraska 31-24. The Impact – Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats became first FBS program to be extended to overtime three straight weeks and win each of the games, beating Iowa, Michigan State and Nebraska. They’ve also won four straight league games after 0-2 start in Big Ten.
8. Nebraska (4-5, 3-3): Last Week – L, Northwestern, 31-24. The Impact – QB Tanner Lee has thrown 17 touchdown passes – seven to Stanley Morgan Jr. – but he’s also tossed 13 interceptions.
9. Minnesota (4-5, 1-5): Last Week – L, at Michigan, 33-10.The Impact – After a 3-0 start, P.J. Fleck’s Gophers have lost five of six. The 23-point loss at Michigan had to be disappointing for him because Minnesota’s previous losses were by a combined 31 points.
10. Purdue (4-5, 2-4): Last Week – L, Nebraska, 25-24. The Impact – QB David Blough is done after dislocating his left ankle and fracturing the fibula. With back-to-back games at Northwestern and Iowa before Jeff Brohm’s team hosts Indiana, the Boilers are done, too.
11. Rutgers (4-5, 3-3): Last Week – W, at Michigan, 31-24. The Impact – The Scarlet Knights have become the Big Ten’s biggest surprise, rallying from a 1-4 start – including a loss to awful Eastern Michigan by winning three of four games. Qualifying for a bowl game seems unlikely, but it’s at least a possibility entering the final three weeks.
12. Indiana (3-6, 0-6): Last Week – L, at Wisconsin, 45-17. The Impact – The good news for the Hoosiers is they finish up with Illinois, Rutgers and Purdue. The bad news is that two of those three games are away from Bloomington.
13. Maryland (4-5, 2-4): Last Week – L, at Rutgers, 31-24.The Impact – With home games against Michigan and Penn State and a road trip to Michigan State, the Terps needed to win last week to have any chance of breaking even this season. Max Bortenschlager passed for 150 yards and a touchdown, but his 48-yard Pick 6 in the second quarter ultimately proved to be the difference.
14. Illinois (2-7, 0-6): Last Week – L, at Purdue, 29-10. The Impact – Lovie Smith’s team has lost seven in a row but has a chance to at least momentarily escape the Big Ten cellar when the Illini host Indiana on Saturday.
(Projected winners in bold caps)
Michigan State at OHIO STATE
Rutgers at PENN STATE
INDIANA at Illinois
NEBRASKA at Minnesota
MICHIGAN at Maryland
Iowa at WISCONSIN
Purdue at NORTHWESTERN
Last Week: 5-2
Overall: 60-18 (76.9)
Note: Each week during the college football season, I’ll be updating how things are unfolding in the Big Ten by Wednesday, the SEC by Thursday and ACC by Friday.