In its last matchup against the Michigan State Spartans, Ohio State completed just eight passes in a 34-24 loss in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Entering Saturday’s rematch, senior tight end Jeff Heuerman said the passing game will be essential to pulling the upset over No. 7 Michigan State.
“I think you have to throw it effectively. Throwing it effectively will open up the run game and vice versa, running it will open up the passing game,” he said Wednesday. “So I think they kind of work hand-in-hand.”
In preparation for the Spartans, OSU coach Urban Meyer said he does not expect Michigan State to change its defense too drastically because of how talented it is.
“I think any time you face a defense like this, there will be new adjustments,” Meyer said Tuesday during the Big Ten teleconference. “There will not be a new defense.”
The Spartans boast the third-best defense in the Big Ten, allowing just 279.4 yards per game. They are led by redshirt-junior defensive lineman Shilique Calhoun who has been named a Chuck Bednarik and Lombardi award semifinalist along with OSU sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa.
Senior wide receiver Devin Smith said Wednesday that while he believes the Spartan defense has improved, he doesn’t see much difference in its scheme.
“We know that they like to blitz a lot, they like to play press so we are just going to try and take advantage there,” Smith said. “We have worked (on) a bunch of different things in practice so we are just looking to go out there and show it on Saturday.”
Watching the Spartan defense has been a struggle for Smith, who said he is looking forward to Saturday.
“I don’t really watch much of Michigan State this year just for the fact that what happened last year and they (are) kind of still on my mind,” Smith said Wednesday. “We want to hurry up and get to Saturday.”
Smith went as far as to say that Saturday’s matchup is the biggest game he has played in during his career at OSU.
“Probably No. 1 to be honest. With what happened last year and what we are going up against, and the circumstances that we are in, I thinks it’s right up there,” he said.
While Smith is having trouble watching the film, fellow senior wide receiver Evan Spencer said Wednesday that he has seen things on the tape that he believes the Buckeye offense can take advantage of.
“They have their certain things that we are going to try to exploit and I’m sure they do ours for their side of the ball,” Spencer said. “I think that we will be very successful as a receiver room and as an offense as a whole just because of our preparation and the way we have looked throughout the week.”
Echoing Spencer, Smith said he believes taking shots downfield will be a way for OSU to open up its passing game.
“I think that’s key. We just got to take every opportunity that we can and go in on Saturday and be ready,” Smith said.
Taking chances downfield was something the Buckeyes couldn’t seem to do against the Spartans last year as they accumulated just 101 yards through the air.
In an eerily similar circumstance, the Buckeyes completed just nine passes against Virginia Tech earlier this season, ultimately resulting in a 35-21 loss.
While the quarterback is different this year for OSU, Smith said he believes redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett will be ready for the challenge the Spartans will present.
“He is taking it like it is just a regular game,” Smith said. “He knows what this game means to this whole program and he just came in here all week and just worked hard and he is ready.”
In addition to his preparation, Meyer added that Barrett “looks great,” after suffering a sprained MCL in the first half against Penn State less than two weeks ago.
Meyer also said that he reminded his players this week that Saturday’s matchup encapsulates why they came to OSU.
“I just had a conversation with our players. This is why they are trained. Every second of everything we do in the program from off-season to summer conditioning to training camp, we are training you for moments like this,” Meyer said. “Compete for a championship in November.”
The Buckeyes and Spartans are set to kick off in East Lansing, Mich., at 8 p.m.