Ohio State Buckeyes: 5 things to know about the game, series with Michigan State

Ohio State football is set to go on the road for the first time this week.

The third-ranked Buckeyes are headed to Michigan State, where the challenge might not be what was expected before the season started.

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Here are five things to know about the game and the series:

1. The Spartans are scuffling badly lately.

Michigan State started the season ranked 15th in the Associated Press poll but is nowhere near the top 25 after losing three games in a row.

The slide started with a 39-28 loss at Washington, continued at home with a lopsided 34-7 home loss to Minnesota and was extended last week at Maryland 27-13.

Two games into the conference season, they are practically eliminated from the Big Ten East Division race as they still have to play Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.

2. Third-year coach Mel Tucker sounded much like the former Jim Tressel assistant he is after the game Saturday.

“We knew going into the game and coming out of the last game we weren’t far away on some things, but we have to play complementary football,” Tucker told reporters in College Park (per the Detroit News). “We talk about that all the time and it seems like it’s cliché, but that’s how you win football games. You get a stop on defense, get the ball back to offense, go down to score. The offense goes down and scores then you get out there on defense, get a stop, get the ball back.

“We didn’t do that. When we were stopping them, then we were not moving the ball. That’s what it is.”

Tucker is a Cleveland native who played at Wisconsin in the early 1990s and spent four years coaching defensive backs at Ohio State from 2001-04 under Tressel.

3. The roster is in flux.

The Spartans surprised college football last season with an 11-2 record that included an upset of Michigan and earned Tucker a massive new contract that goes through the 2031 season and is worth $9.5 million.

Hitting the transfer portal hard was a big part of his success last season, most notably the addition of star running back Kenneth Walker III. Tucker did so again this offseason, but the results have not been close to the same so far.

Some of that likely is attributable to injuries.

The Detroit News noted defensive linemen Jacob Slade, Jeff Pietrowski, Khris Bogle and Jalen Hunt missed the Maryland game, and standout safety Xavier Henderson and linebacker Darius Snow were already out.

UNLV transfer Jacoby Windmon, the only starting defensive lineman available last Saturday, has been a standout for the defense with eight tackles for loss, including 5.5 sacks.

4. The Spartans don’t have much to change their hat on.

Statistically, MSU has been a disaster.

The Spartans rank 88th nationally in scoring (27 points per game) and 92nd in total offense. They are 99th in rushing, 72nd in passing and 77th in pass efficiency.

Michigan State’s success in the prior decade was built on defense under then-coach Mark Dantonio, but they’ve been even worse on that side of the ball this season.

The Spartans rank 54th in scoring (22.6 points per game) and are tied for 100th in total yards allowed per game. They are tied for 63rd in rushing defense and 115th in pass defense (275 yards per game) after ranking among the worst in the nation at stopping the pass last year as well.

On the bright side, MSU leads the nation in net punting.

ExploreRecapping the last Ohio State-Michigan State game

5. The series has featured some upsets.

Ohio State leads the series 35-15, including six wins in a row.

The Buckeyes’ last loss, a 17-14 stunner in 2015 that eventually sent Michigan State to the Big Ten Championship Game and the College Football Playoff, is one of several notable upsets by MSU in the series.

Top 10 Ohio State squads lost to unranked Michigan State teams in 1971, ‘72, ‘74 and ‘98. The second-ranked Buckeyes were also favored and riding a 24-game winning streak when they dropped a 34-24 decision to No. 10 Michigan State in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game.

Michigan State’s last home win against Ohio State was a 23-7 domination in 1999.

SATURDAY’S GAME

Ohio State at Michigan State, 4 p.m., ABC, 1410

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