EAST LANSING — There aren’t many teams that run the ball better than the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. Actually, there is only one.
The Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten) rank second in the nation, behind Army, in rushing yards per game with 321.3. So, when it comes to the Ohio State defense, they’ve basically seen the best rushing attack the country has to offer every day for the past five months.
But it’s that same OSU defense that has acknowledged the rushing attack of 10th-ranked Michigan State, their opponent in this Saturday’s Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis, as being one of the most noticeable facets of the Spartans’ (11-1, 8-0 Big Ten) offense.
“They are really good at running the ball,” said Ohio State’s first-team All-Big Ten linebacker Ryan Shazier, who leads the Big Ten in tackles (122). “They have a good O-line and they have playmakers.”
The offensive line has been the most consistent group for the Spartans’ offense this year as their ability to control the line of scrimmage and open up holes against almost all of their opponents has been astounding. But it’s the progress of one of those playmakers that Shazier mentioned, MSU junior running back Jeremy Langford, that has really taken their rushing attack over the top.
Langford leads the Big Ten in rushing touchdowns with 16, also, he ranks fifth in the Big Ten with 1, 210 yards on the year. The 6-foot-0, 206-pound running back from Wayne, Mich., has been on a tear as of late as he has rushed for over 100 yards in Michigan State’s last seven games and has been the MVP of the MSU offense.
“He’s a really good runner,” Shazier said. “He’s a pretty fast guy. He just reads the holes that open for him. He does what he needs to do and he has 100 yards in the past few games he’s been running. He is a good running back and finds the holes that he needs to find.”
It’ll be important for the Spartans to establish the run early, not just because it will help open up the passing game that has been very inconsistent this season, but because they need to be able to maintain long, clock-eating drives to keep Ohio State’s first-team All-Big Ten quarterback Braxton Miller and first-team All-Big Ten running back Carlos Hyde off the field.
Miller and Hyde have combined for 45 of Ohio State’s 75 offensive touchdowns on the season, and as a whole, the Buckeyes’ offense hasn’t scored less than 30 points all year — they ranked third in the country with 48.2 points per game.
And while the Michigan State defense has been stellar — rank first in the nation — against many different kinds of offenses, they haven’t quite seen an offense with this much fire power at all times.
While the Buckeyes have several wrinkles in their offense that have contributed to their dominant play this season, according to Michigan State’s first-team All-Big Ten linebacker Max Bullough, it’s the fundamentals that will allow the MSU defense to conntain the likes of Miller and Hyde.
“It’s the old cliché about guys have to be disciplined, guys have to trust that the other guys are doing their job and then you have to make plays,” he said. “You have to make plays when the guy is in front of you. You can’t get juked out, or whatever it is. You have to make the play when it’s in front of you. The coaches are going to have us in the right positions. We’ll make the proper adjustments. We’ll be where we need to be.
“In terms of Hyde, it’s about being physical every play. It’s about being downhill in the run game as linebackers, being physical at the point of attack up front, our safeties coming down at the right angles and all of that stuff.
“And with Braxton Miller, it’s about guys doing their job and then finishing the play. We always talk about turning those 50-yard touchdowns he gets against other teams into 12- or 15-yard gains and living another down, giving us a chance to adjust, keep them out of the end zone. We always talk about: limit those big plays, keep those low, but also when they do happen, don’t allow them to be the game-changing plays.”