Buckeyes, Spartans can put up plenty of points

Published 1:26 am Thursday, November 6, 2014

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Solid defense, conservative offense — and punts aplenty.

Fair or not, that’s still the stereotype of Big Ten football — but Michigan State and Ohio State aren’t playing along.

The seventh-ranked Spartans host the 13th-ranked Buckeyes this weekend in what may be the conference’s most anticipated game all year. The winner has the inside track to the East Division title, would be the lone Big Ten team without a league loss and will remain very much in the mix for college football’s four-team playoff.

Email newsletter signup

And stylistically, the way these teams reached this point is noteworthy. Ohio State is fourth in the nation in scoring average at 45.6 points. Michigan State is fifth at 45.5.

“I’ve said since I’ve been here the coaching that goes on in this league is outstanding. You see different ways people are running the football, different ways they’re passing the football,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “Very innovative, cutting-edge offensive football being played in this conference on a week-to-week basis. I think you see the same thing defensively.”

Big Ten teams are averaging 30.2 points per game this season. That still lags behind the Pac-12 and Big 12, but it’s an improvement over where the league was a couple years ago. In 2012, Big Ten teams averaged 27.6 points, the second-worst mark among FBS conferences.

That was Urban Meyer’s first season as Ohio State’s coach. He’s lost only once to a Big Ten opponent since taking over the Buckeyes — in last year’s league championship game against Michigan State.

The Spartans (7-1, 4-0) have not lost to a conference opponent since November 2012.

Michigan State entered last year’s Big Ten title game with one of the nation’s stingiest defenses, only to allow a season-high 273 yards rushing in that game. The Spartans won 34-24 when Connor Cook surpassed 300 yards passing for the first time in his career.

“Going into the game last year, Connor Cook didn’t really put anything exceptional on film,” Buckeyes defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. “Then when he played us, he had a really good game, and I think he’s kept improving since then.”

Over his last 22 games, Cook has thrown for 39 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. The Spartans have reached the 45-point mark five times this season after doing so only once over the previous two years.

Ohio State (7-1, 4-0) has reached the 50-point mark in five of its last six games — not bad for a team that lost star quarterback Braxton Miller to shoulder surgery before the season even started. J.T. Barrett has completed 65 percent of his passes with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

“I feel like with this offense that Barrett works better in this offense. I feel like he has a better arm,” Michigan State linebacker Taiwan Jones said.

Michigan State and Ohio State will be playing the first November night game in the history of Spartan Stadium, so the weather alone might be enough to slow down the two quarterbacks. That doesn’t mean the Spartans and Buckeyes won’t be able to move the ball.

Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford has surpassed 100 yards rushing in five straight games. Ohio State has rushed for at least 200 yards as a team in six straight.

No matter who wins Saturday’s game, the Big Ten isn’t guaranteed a spot in the national playoff. A rough nonconference stretch in September — which included Ohio State’s home loss to Virginia Tech — knocked the league down a notch in the eyes of many observers.

But when Michigan State and Ohio State take center stage this weekend, it will be a chance for the conference to showcase its best teams of the last couple years — and they look eminently capable of providing an entertaining, well-played matchup on both sides of the ball.

“Any time you have offenses that are averaging those kind of points and are capable of doing what they have shown in the past, it’s going to call for a good game,” Cook said. “I think we’re looking forward to it. Ohio State’s looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”