Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Ohio State played its first four games of the season in the shelter of Ohio Stadium with more than 100,000 cheering fans.
This Saturday’s trip to play No. 20 Michigan State, however, will provide the team’s first road test. Some players think an unfriendly atmosphere will pose an obstacle.
It’s the first time the Buckeyes have played in East Lansing, Mich., since a 45-7 OSU victory during the 2008 season. OSU is 13-5 all-time in games at Michigan State.
Redshirt senior safety Orhian Johnson said the first road game of the year is always “a good test.”
“Going up to Michigan State is definitely going to be a little bit tougher with that kind of atmosphere,” Johnson said, “but I think it’s something that we need right now and I think the guys on the team right now are looking forward to it.”
Buckeyes first-year coach Urban Meyer said sometimes too much is made of contests away from home.
“I think going on the road is sometimes overrated. I think it’s a quality opponent when you go on the road. Going on the road against a team that you’re far superior, that’s not a big deal. Going on the road against this outfit, this is a significant challenge for us,” Meyer said.
MSU returns 14 starters from a team that went 11-3 in 2011 and represented the Legends Division in the inaugural Big Ten Championship game, losing 42-39 to Wisconsin.
This season MSU is 3-1, and 2-1 at home, with its only loss coming to then-No. 20 Notre Dame.
Their defense returns nine starters and has allowed 233.5 yards per game in the 2012 season, good enough for sixth in the country. The Spartans’ offense relies on the legs of junior running back Le`Veon Bell, who has rushed for more than 200 yards in a game twice this season.
OSU co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Everett Withers made it clear that the key to preparing for a road game is to stay in the same routine as any other week.
“I think the first thing you do, you have to understand that your practice should not change. Work on your practice schedule just like you normally do,” Withers said. “You prepare like you are going to prepare here, your practice days – Tuesday through Thursday – you go get on a plane and you go fly, you get in the hotel just like you’re going to get over in the Blackwell and you do the same thing on Friday night and you get up and go play a game.”
When OSU visits Spartan Stadium, it will be in a venue and atmosphere only two players, redshirt seniors defensive lineman Nathan Williams and linebacker Etienne Sabino, have experienced.
“It’s going to be exciting. Away games are always fun,” Sabino said. “It’s going to be a hostile crowd. Michigan State is a good team and we’re a good team.”
That inexperience of playing at MSU might be amplified with the amount of freshmen on the Buckeyes’ depth chart. There are nine true freshmen and five redshirt freshmen listed in OSU’s two-deep.
“We’re playing more freshmen than any school in America. And sometimes it looks awful at times, but it’s our job to coach them through that and get them to be sophomores real fast,” Meyer said.
Senior fullback Zach Boren said this is a time where the veteran players have to support the younger Buckeyes.
“It’s a lot different playing away from home, especially in a hostile environment like Michigan State. I think that’s where leadership takes over and that’s where some of us older guys have to really step in and be really be more hands-on with them because you only have 70 guys on away trips, you aren’t 105 strong,” he said. “So it’s one of those things where we just have to make sure those guys are ready and we have a good week at practice and those guys are mentally ready for the game.”
Redshirt junior center Corey Linsley agreed.
“We’re just going to mentor them through it. It’s a different mentality going into away games. It’s definitely going to be a great time for the young guys to learn how to prepare to go to an away game,” Linsley said. “It’s more traveling, it’s less meeting time and there’s more to handle.”
The Buckeyes are scheduled to take their first road trip to East Lansing, Mich., and open Big Ten play Saturday at 3:30 p.m.