Grinz on Green Blog: Ohio State
Dec. 5, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist | @GrinzOnGreen
EAST LANSING, Mich. - This may be hard to believe, given the way the Big Ten Championship Game is being imagined, but Michigan State does have an offense and Ohio State does have a defense.
When the Spartans' nation-leading defense and the Buckeyes' Big Ten-best offense aren't commanding center stage with their heavily ballyhooed strength vs. strength throw-down Saturday night - the conference website promoting the game has photos of MSU cornerback and league Defensive Back of the Year Darqueze Dennard and OSU quarterback and Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller -- their respective counterparts may just steal the show at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis
The MSU offense, which appeared to be in disarray earlier in the season, has become the most improved in the conference, if not the nation, according to Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
Connor Cook even earned second-team All-Big Ten quarterback honors, which was unthinkable back when head coach Mark Dantonio announced he was one of four players competing for the job. Furthermore, Jeremy Langford has not only come out of the returns bin - he was tried on defense and at wide receiver before moving back to tailback - to rush for 1,210 yards, he leads the league with 16 rushing touchdowns.
The defense, which scored four of MSU's first five touchdowns this season, is no longer also its best offense.
"You look at the stats and see we've beaten every Big Ten opponent by double digits, so that's not just our defense," said Cook. "Our offense is putting up points, too. And the offense has won Big Ten games this season. At Nebraska we played really, really well as an offense. At Iowa..., at Illinois.
"We have an offense here at Michigan State - not just a defense. So, when we hear stuff like that, we take offense to it and have that extra motivation that's going to make us play a lot harder Saturday."
Pun intended or not, Michigan State's offense is 10th in the Big Ten while Ohio State is still fourth in total defense even after allowing a jaw-dropping 603 yards by Michigan in last Saturday's 42-41 victory in Ann Arbor.
"I see the best defense we're going to play this year," Warner said. "I see an Ohio State defense that is more athletic than anybody we've played, they're going to put pressure on you, they lead the conference in sacks (39).
"Say what you want about what happened last week, (U-M quarterback) Devin Gardner played very well and Michigan played very well offensively. My hat's off to Michigan much more than me looking at Ohio State and saying this is not a good defense, because they are."
Warner isn't selling his offense short, either.
"Obviously, we started out very slow but as we got things going we feel like we're in pretty decent shape offensively," he said. "I think we play better when we have a chip on our shoulder, so that's something we talk about.
"The neat thing about (Cook) is he's just scratching the surface. There's a lot of mistakes he's made throughout the course of a season that all first-year starters are going to make, that if he overcomes those things, he can be even better."
GoG Notes & Quotes:
"Shoot, people said this week we're soft and we've been soft the last three weeks," Narduzzi said. "You don't give many points up; I don't know, last time I looked we're just looking for wins.
"We're trying to stop people the best we can, and I give other people credit. Even last week, we're happy with 249 yards in 40 minutes of time-of-possession (by Minnesota in MSU's 14-3 win). I felt like our defense played pretty darn good."
The Spartans have not given up a touchdown in five of their last six games, the lone exception being the 41-28 victory at Nebraska.
The Buckeyes scored six touchdowns against Michigan alone, with Miller running for three and passing for a pair. Miller is eighth in the Big Ten in rushing (89.1 yards per game), ninth in passing (175.9, just below Cook's 176.6) and third in total offense (265), but Narduzzi's defense has been successful against dual-threat quarterbacks.
"I think it's how we're built," said Narduzzi, who scoffed at the notion that MSU runs a very simple defensive scheme exceptionally well. "There's always wrinkles in. You just can't see them with the naked eye. There will be wrinkles that you won't be able to tell.
"We look basic up front, and I think everybody that walks into the game says `Oh, pretty easy.' We talk all the time how simple we are, but the (Minnesota) offensive coordinator came up to one of our graduate assistants last week and said, `Tell Narduzzi I hate game-planning against him.' It looks easy, but I think when you get out there it becomes a little bit more complex."
Freshman quarterback Damion Terry, who helped MSU beat Michigan by imitating Gardner on the scout offense, and freshman wide receiver Trey Kilgore have been taking turns preparing Narduzzi's defense for Miller during this week' live, full-contact scrimmages.
"If we're going to beat them up, at least we take it easy on one," Narduzzi said. "Trey Kilgore was a quarterback in high school (Cincinnati St. Xavier) and does a great job, too. We hit that guy, and then put the other guy in and hit him for awhile."
And, Gerald Holmes, a 6-foot, 212-pound tailback and redshirt junior fullback Ty Hamilton (6-0, 236) have been giving their best impression of Big Ten-leading rusher Carlos Hyde (6-0, 235). The Buckeye back has rushed for 1,290 yards on 165 carries and has been tackled behind the line just twice for minus-5 yards.
"Holmes is giving us a good look there at tailback and Ty Hamilton gives us a bigger, downhill guy," Narduzzi said.
Senior outside linebacker Denicos Allen is looking forward to Hyde's straight-ahead style.
"We kind of like downhill runners, which I feel like Hyde is," Allen said. "We're kind of used to it."
Senior offensive tackle Fou Fonoti was seen wearing red pajama pants earlier this week, but couldn't care less if his wardrobe choice made observers wonder if he knows OSU's colors are scarlet and gray.
"I'm a festive guy," Fonoti said. "I love Christmas."
Ohio State's offensive line has been praised as the best in the Big Ten, which is a compliment to MSU co-offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, who was the Buckeye offensive coordinator from 2001-11.
"Their offensive line is very good," Narduzzi said. "Bollman recruited them all so he gave us an update personnel-wise. It's two years removed. We know they're athletic, but it's nice to know what their strengths and weaknesses are. There's no question that helps."
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