Three keys for Ohio State football's game at Michigan State

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra

Potential rust for Ohio State

Ohio State dealt with an unanticipated idle weekend earlier this season when its Nov. 14 game at Maryland was canceled due to an outbreak of coronavirus cases within the Terrapins program. Last weekend's cancellation of the road game against Illinois, however, was a product of the Buckeyes dealing with a spike in cases. They did not return to practice until Tuesday after team activities were paused for three days. Will they have any rust to shake off after a brief shutdown?

Cornerback Shakur Brown has five interceptions this season for Michigan State.

Buckeyes' pass coverage

With inexperience in its secondary, Ohio State has had issues in pass coverage and ranks last in the Big Ten in pass defense, having allowed 291 yards per game through the air. Much of it was triggered by Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who took advantage of a series of blown coverages two weeks ago, completing six passes of 30 yards or more against the Buckeyes. Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi is less efficient but can also find openings downfield. Penix is the only other passer in the conference who has completed more passes of 30 or more yards.

Ohio State ground game

When Michigan State upset previously unbeaten Northwestern last weekend, it stuffed the Wildcats, holding them to 63 rushing yards on 37 carries, an average of less than 2 yards per attempt. Ohio State is hoping it found the right formula against Indiana when Master Teague III emerged as a potential feature back, running for a career-high 169 yards and two touchdowns. The Buckeyes will benefit if they get the upper hand in the matchup.

Key matchup against Michigan State

Quarterback Justin Fields vs. Michigan State secondary

The last time quarterback Justin Fields was on the field, after an unscheduled off week, he threw three interceptions in the Buckeyes’ win over Indiana. Michigan State’s defense isn’t as formidable as the Hoosiers’ group, but MSU has a secondary that can be disruptive. In five games, the Spartans have intercepted five passes, all by cornerback Shakur Brown, and broken up 20 passes, ranking fifth and fourth in the Big Ten in those categories. Fields’ decision-making has largely been spotless in his career, but it could be tested again.

Key stat

Michigan State topped Ohio State three times in the previous decade, more than any other school in the Big Ten, but it has not beaten the Buckeyes in East Lansing since 1999.

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman