Ohio State's mission in trying to throttle Michigan State's offense on Saturday won't be as easy as saying A-B-C. But the key, Curtis Grant indicated, could be in taking on the challenges as in 1-2-3.

Ohio State's mission in trying to throttle Michigan State's offense on Saturday won't be as easy as saying A-B-C. But the key, Curtis Grant indicated, could be in taking on the challenges as in 1-2-3.

"You have to concentrate on stopping one thing at a time," the senior linebacker said. "Right now, we're focusing on stopping the run. But they can pass. You've got to make a team one-dimensional when they're good at two things."

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Michigan State, whose resuscitation under coach Mark Dantonio was predicated on building one of the stauncher defenses in the nation, now leads the Big Ten in total offense (515.2-yard average), just ahead of Ohio State (505.1). In scoring, the Spartans (45.5 points per game) are a tick behind the league-leading Buckeyes (45.6).

Michigan State's offense operates behind second-year starting quarterback Connor Cook, receiver Tony Lippett and tailback Tony Langford, each of whom played big roles in a 34-24 upset of the Buckeyes last season in the Big Ten championship game.

The difference in this matchup compared with last year could be the play of Ohio State's defense. Coach Urban Meyer ordered last year's format blown up and brought in new co-coordinator Chris Ash to restructure the defense into an aggressive, pressuring unit.

Heading into this week's game, the Buckeyes lead the Big Ten with 14 interceptions. The four starters in the secondary (cornerbacks Doran Grant and Eli Apple, safeties Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell) have two each, as does linebacker Darron Lee.

Defensive end Joey Bosa leads the league in sacks with 10, and he has been on a recent tear, amassing 61/2 in the past three games. But Michigan State has allowed only five sacks all season.

Ohio State is fourth in the conference in total defense (300-yard average), just behind No. 3 Michigan State (279.4), and the Buckeyes are fourth in scoring defense (19.9). But the biggest indicator of the Buckeyes' renaissance is in pass defense, where they are No. 2 (181.4-yard average) in the league and No. 13 nationally. Last year, they finished No. 112.

In the Big Ten title game, the Buckeyes were laced by several big passes from Cook, who topped 300 yards. Doran Grant said last year's poor performance won't have an effect this year.

"Our motivation is to continue doing what we've been doing these last several weeks, and that's lining up and playing ball," Grant said. "Straight up."

For him and Apple, that will include going head to head at times with Cook's favorite target, Lippett, who at 6 feet 3 has averaged more than 20 yards on his team-leading 42 catches.

Doran Grant's approach, he said, will be "just fundamentals and playing ball. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what stats are what, it's still a football game. You've got to line up and play."

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports