For much of the season, Michigan State's defense has been described as the best in the country. Whether you go by stats or appearance, there are many that hold that opinion.
And that includes the folks in Columbus.
"As fine a defense as there is in America," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said during his press conference Monday.
Well, at least the Buckeyes know what they're getting into when they take on the Spartans in Saturday's Big Ten title game. As has been the case much of the season, Michigan State currently leads the nation in total defense, allowing a meager 237.7 yards per game. In scoring defense, the Spartans rank fourth, allowing just 11.8 points per game. Teams are rushing for just 64.8 yards each week (best in the country) vs. Sparty and passing for just 172.9 (ninth).
The Spartans had five defensive players named to at least one All-Big Ten First Team when the rosters were annoucned Monday: defensive lineman Shilique Calhoun, linebacker Max Bullough, defensive back Darqueze Dennard, defensive back Kurtis Drummond and defensive back Isaiah Lewis.
So, in other words, good luck, Buckeyes.
"Probably the best coached defense we'll have played in two years, including them last year," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom herman said Monday. "I think that they are like fine wine. They get better with age. They know the strengths of their defense, they know the weaknesses of their defense. They try to compensate for it. ... I think they understand what you're trying to do offensively and where the pressure points on their defense are in terms of the plays that you're running and the ways that you're trying to attack them. ... And you know, I don't know if there is a first team All American on that defense — maybe there is and I haven't watched them yet on film enough — but they have 11 guys that know exactly what they are doing and they do it really well and they tackle well and they are always in the right spot. Like you said, they are about as sound a defense as you'll see."
But while Ohio State knows that the Michigan State defense is as good as they come, the Buckeyes have a pretty good response. There aren't many offenses better than Ohio State's, which leads the Big Ten in scoring offense, with 48.2 points per game, and total offense, with 530.5 yards a game. Those are eye-popping numbers, just as good as the defensive ones being posted in East Lansing.
While the Spartans might have the nation's top defense, they haven't seen anything like the Buckeyes so far this season.
Ohio State boasts the conference's top quarterback in Braxton Miller, the freshly minted two-time Offensive Player of the Year, and the conference's top running back in Carlos Hyde, who's averaging a league-best 143.3 yards per game on the ground. That's enough to give any team confidence no matter who it's going against.
"I think if I was a defensive coordinator, I'd be thinking a lot about those two because obviously Braxton has his arm and we all know what he can do with his feet and then Carlos Hyde has obviously been running with a lot of passion lately. So I think you've got to prepare for both of those guys," Ohio State offensive lineman Jack Mewhort said Monday. "As an offensive lineman, that's a great thing to know that you've got different guys that can make different plays. ... There's a lot of different weapons, and I think it's hard for defenses to account for all those. And that's a good feeling on offense when you know you have that many different weapons."
Though Miller was excellent last season, he's been something else this year, and both coaches and teammates credit a growth in his leadership abilities, as well as abilities on the field.
"He grows every week not only as a player but as a leader," Mewhort said. "That's something that I always say is great about him is he's always learning more. He embraces the grind, which is really cool about him. I think that he realized that this year was kind of his time to step up, and he's really been good about that. He's always been a calm, even-keeled guy in the huddle, so that's always good out of a quarterback. I think he has a really good command of this offense right now and developing mentally, knowing what's going on, concepts even better and being more comfortable in the pocket. That's just great to see from him, and we're really glad how he's playing right now and obviously winning games because of him."
The Buckeyes are hoping Miller's got at least one more win in him. If so, they could be playing for a national championship.