Defense Must Lead Michigan State Spartans to Big Ten Title

By Tyler Brett
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Mike Carter – USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans improved to 10-1 this week and secured their spot in the Big Ten title game next week against the Ohio State Buckeyes in Indianapolis. It’s a huge accomplishment for MSU to even get this far considering how poorly their offense played at the beginning of the season. But as the year has progressed, the offense has improved by leaps and bounds to get the Spartans the opportunity to punch their ticket for the Rose Bowl next week. But while it has been the offense making strides this season, it’s the defense that will take MSU to Pasadena this January.

Nobody has been as tough on defense as Michigan State this season. They rank as the No. 1 total defense in the country, allowing just 236.6 yards per game and allowing a mere 12.5 points per game to their opponents (fourth best in the country). The run defense has been particularly nasty, ranking No. 1 in the nation allowing just 59.4 yards per game this season, highlighted by their complete domination of the Michigan Wolverines when they allowed negative-48 yards rushing on the day.

In the Big Ten title game, they’ll face an Ohio State team, however, that will present their biggest challenge of the season. The Buckeyes rank as the No. 7 total offense in the country (530.9 ypg) and No. 3 scoring offense (48.7) thanks to the No. 5 rushing offense in college football as they have averaged an eye-popping 314.7 yards per game on the ground. Carlos Hyde has been dominant when on the field, racking up over 1,000 yards rushing this season and 133 yards per game in just eight contests.

The key for Michigan State will be to limit the Ohio State running game and force their offense to win through the air. Braxton Miller has made plenty of dynamic plays this season but is arguably most dangerous with his legs. The Buckeyes’ passing offense ranks No. 77 in the country this season, averaging only 216.2 yards per game through the air in 2013. Taking away the running option for the Ohio State offense will create a ton of pressure on Miller to perform in the passing game, something that he hasn’t proven he can consistently do.

Mark Dantonio has Michigan State on the precipice of a Big Ten title and a rare trip to the Rose Bowl. To finish the job and assure themselves a BCS bowl bid, they must spoil the perfect season of the Ohio State Buckeyes next week in the conference title game. To get it done, he needs the best game yet out of his suffocating defense. Are they up to the challenge?

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