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Ohio State vs Michigan State football preview and forecast: Will the Buckeyes get off to a quick start?

Ohio State vs Michigan State football preview and forecast: Will the Buckeyes get off to a quick start?

Before The Game at the end of the regular season, Ohio State has successfully passed its most difficult tests.

The Buckeyes won consecutive road games against Wisconsin and Rutgers and now return home for a two-game stretch against Michigan State and Minnesota.

The goal over the next two weeks is simple: remain undefeated heading into the regular-season finale versus Michigan. Before that, though, Michigan State is next for the Buckeyes. They are a 31.5-point favorite over the Spartans, who ended a six-game losing streak last week with a win against Nebraska.

Here are a few things to watch.

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Working Emeka Egbuka back into the offense

Before the season, Egbuka had never missed a game of football. No matter how much he was hurting, he always found a way to get back onto the field. Then he injured his ankle Oct. 7 against Maryland and missed the next three games.

Speaking with the media Wednesday, Egbuka said he came close to playing against Penn State. He didn’t practice that week, instead choosing to rehab the entire time, often getting to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center at 7 a.m. and leaving at 9 p.m.

He said he was available for Penn State in an emergency situation, but Ohio State didn’t use him.

Egbuka didn’t make much of an impact in his return last week. Rutgers played a Cover 2 shell with two high safeties most of the game, which made it difficult for many vertical routes. Egbuka had four receptions for 29 yards.

Still, his presence on the field is important for the Buckeyes, who have added a former 1,000-yard receiver to the lineup. After easing him in last week, Ohio State is working to get him back to his full potential.

Ohio State has passed its toughest tests before The Game at the end of the regular season.

The Buckeyes won consecutive road games against Wisconsin and Rutgers and now return home for a two-game stretch against Michigan State and Minnesota.

The goal over the next two weeks is simple: remain undefeated heading into the regular-season finale versus Michigan. Before that, though, Michigan State is next for the Buckeyes. They are a 31.5-point favorite over the Spartans, who ended a six-game losing streak last week with a win against Nebraska.

Here are a few things to watch.

Working Emeka Egbuka back into the offense

Before the season, Egbuka had never missed a game of football. No matter how much he was hurting, he always found a way to get back onto the field. Then he injured his ankle Oct. 7 against Maryland and missed the next three games.

Speaking with the media Wednesday, Egbuka said he came close to playing against Penn State. He didn’t practice that week, instead choosing to rehab the entire time, often getting to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center at 7 a.m. and leaving at 9 p.m.

He said he was available for Penn State in an emergency situation, but Ohio State didn’t use him.

Egbuka didn’t make much of an impact in his return last week. Rutgers played a Cover 2 shell with two high safeties most of the game, which made it difficult for many vertical routes. Egbuka had four receptions for 29 yards.

Still, his presence on the field is important for the Buckeyes, who have added a former 1,000-yard receiver to the lineup. After easing him in last week, Ohio State is working to get him back to his full potential.

“That was the first time he’s been back in,” coach Ryan Day said. “Now he’s good and he’s had a full week of practice, and now we have to get back to when he was a huge part of, and an impactful player on, the offense.

That should help an Ohio State offense that is trying to play with more consistency in the first half of games. When Egbuka was healthy, he was a major threat in the red zone. He’s a physical receiver who is a strong blocker, but he also gives the Buckeyes the option of a jet sweep and is strong enough to catch passes in traffic. His catch against Notre Dame, which set up the Chip Trayanum game-winning touchdown, is a good example.

 

He has three touchdowns this season, and two of them have come in the red zone.

Saturday was the first time this season Ohio State had a 100 percent touchdown rate in the red zone (four for four). For the season, the Buckeyes have scored a TD on 22 of 26 trips (61 percent) to the red zone. Egbuka’s presence will provide a boost in that area.

Red zone defense shining

Ohio State had one of its worst defensive games of the season against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights ran for 5.4 yards per carry, the highest mark by an opponent in 2023. The Buckeyes did, however, shine in the red zone, limiting Rutgers to one touchdown and three field goals in six trips inside the 20-yard line.

Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles likes to say, “If we have an inch to defend, we’re going to defend it.”

And that’s what Ohio State has done this season.

The Buckeyes have allowed only 10 touchdowns on 22 red zone trips by the opposition, which ranks 14th nationally (45.4 percent). In the last four games, they have given up just four red zone touchdowns in 12 trips. This season’s success continues a positive trend — in 2021, they ranked 124th in defensive red zone TD percentage and improved to 74th in 2022.

Ohio State’s defensive excellence isn’t limited to the red zone. The Buckeyes rank second nationally in stop rate, which measures the percentage of a defense’s drives that end in a punt, a turnover or a turnover on downs.

So the Buckeyes are doing a good job limiting scoring opportunities, but when those opportunities do arise, they are keeping teams out of the end zone.

That is a formula for success.

Ohio State’s first-half struggles against Rutgers have been well documented, and a big part of that was its ineffectiveness on third down. The Buckeyes started the game 0-for-5 on third down and didn’t convert one until the second half.

Michigan State has not been very good this year. The offense is last in the Big Ten in scoring, at 18.2 points per game, and the defense is 11th in the league, giving up 26.6 per game. The Spartans, however, have been solid on third down, ranking fifth in the conference at 31.9 percent. Only two teams have exceeded the 40 percent mark against Michigan State — Michigan (63 percent) and Minnesota (46 percent).

It will be important for Ohio State to be efficient on third down Saturday and set the tone early to avoid another slow start.

Prediction

The Spartans haven’t scored more than 24 points against a Power 5 opponent this year and they’ve given up more than 30 points three times.

This should be the week Ohio State puts a complete game together on offense. I don’t think Michigan State is going to move the ball much, giving the Buckeyes good field position and a chance to establish a rhythm early.

This is an easy one for the Buckeyes.

 

 


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