Breaking Down The Tape: Michigan State/Ohio State


Nov 8, 2014; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans quarterback Connor Cook (18) throws a pass during the second quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports


  • Connor Cook is an exceptional passer – Not that there was any doubt before watching the tape, but Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook can flat-out throw the football. For example, on Michigan State’s first drive, Cook had no problem throwing the ball deep to wideout Keith Mumphrey with two defenders looming nearby. Not only did he complete the pass, but the ball was right on the money to Mumphrey.
  • Michigan State’s offensive line is a stout group – Michigan State’s offensive line isn’t just one of the top units in the Big Ten, they’re one of the best groups in the entire nation. On Saturday, they only allowed one sack to Ohio State, who had 24 sacks coming into the game. One of the main reasons that this group is so successful is their left tackle Jack Conklin. Conklin found himself matched up against Buckeyes star defensive end Joey Bosa on several snaps. Bosa leads the Big Ten in sacks with 10, but didn’t get near Cook very often.
  • Eating clock – The Spartans have a knack for mixing in the run with the pass. Entering the Ohio State game, Michigan State led the FBS in time of possession. However, the Buckeyes nearly turned the tables on the Spartans, and time of possession was nearly split down the middle. Michigan had the football for 30:23 while Ohio State had the ball for 29:37. Part of the reason for Ohio State’s success was the mixture of run and pass. Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett really worked their magic against a very stout defensive unit.


  • Very vulnerable against the run – The Spartans are the fourth best run defense in the Big Ten (114.6 yards-per-game), but didn’t play the part against the Buckeyes. Ohio combined to rush for 268 yards with running back Ezekiel Elliott accounting for 154 of those yards. As a team, the Buckeyes averaged 6.5 yards-per-carry, and just had no issues finding open running lanes. On several ocassions, Elliott was able to weave his way through Michigan State’s defense, and make some impressive plays. Now part of Ohio State’s success was due in large part to quarterback J.T. Barrett’s ability to run the ball as well as throw. Barrett himself was able to rush for 86 yards against this talented defense, showing that they can be run on.
  • Vulnerable down the field – Over the course of the season, the Spartans have been consistently strong at defending the pass as they’ve only allowed 196.9 passing yards-per-game. However, on Saturday, the Buckeyes were able to torch the Spartans for 300 yards through the air. Obviously, a good deal of that success is due to the solid arm of Barrett. He was able to find the likes of Devin Smith and Michael Thomas downfield as the duo combined for nine catches on the evening. If an opposing team has talented receivers that can get into the secondary and get open, they can have a decent amount of success.
  • Turnover margin – In any football game at any level, the number of turnovers can play a huge role in the outcome. However, for Michigan State, it’s something that they live by. The Spartans rank second in the NCAA with a 1.56 turnover margin, and have come up with 24 turnovers (14 fumble recoveries & 10 interceptions) this season. The Spartans have scored a whopping 165 points off turnovers as well. When you have a ball-hawking safety lurking in the defensive backfield like senior Kurtis Drummond, it makes things a lot easier. The second team All-American is one of three Spartans (Trae Waynes and R.J. Williamson) with two interceptions on the season. Drummond is a guy that always has to be someone that the opposing quarterback is thinking about. The reason turnovers played such a big role in the Ohio State game is because Michigan State was able to get two fumble recoveries. If the Spartans are able to find themselves on the positive side of the turnover battle, it can go a long way in deciding the outcome.