Big Ten football championship: Strength vs. Strength

By JIM NAVEAU Published:

COLUMBUS -- The narrative hasn't changed and probably won't change right up to the kickoff of the Big Ten championship game between Ohio State and Michigan State on Saturday night.

Since the two teams clinched their division titles, their matchup has been portrayed as something like a bigger, grander, infinitely more important version of Urban Meyer's circle drill, where two players crash into each other until only the winner remains in the circle.

The unstoppable force against the immovable object. Ohio State's nationally ranked offense against Michigan State's defense, which ranks No. 1 nationally.

Winner take all.

Michigan State ranks first nationally in total yards allowed (237.7 yards a game) and Ohio State's offense is sixth nationally in total offense (530.5 yards a game).

The Spartans are also first in rushing yards allowed per game (64.8) and OSU is No. 2 in rushing yards (321.3).

Only two teams have scored more than 17 points against Michigan State and OSU hasn't scored fewer than 31 points in a game.

Michigan State has allowed only five rushing touchdowns. Ohio State has scored 40 rushing TDs.

Only two running backs have rushed for more than 100 yards against Michigan State this season. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde have each rushed for more than 100 yards in their last three games.

Ohio State is averaging 345 yards a game rushing since its season low of 192 yards against Wisconsin. Only Nebraska and Minnesota have rushed for more than 100 yards against the Spartans.

"They are like fine wine," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said about Michigan State's offense. "They get better with age."

MSU coach Mark Dantonio says Ohio State has "a great offense, a tremendous offense."

"It will be exciting for our defense to match up with them," he said.

The last time the two teams played, Ohio State won 17-16 on Sept. 29, 2012 in East Lansing.

Ohio State's offense and Michigan State's defense have both improved since that day. But the Buckeyes were able to move the ball on the ground and in the air in a game that OSU coach Urban Meyer says was a turning point in the season.

Miller ran for 136 yards and Hyde, playing a limited role in his first game back from an injury, rushed for 49 yards on 11 carries. And with the game on the line, Ohio State converted three straight first downs in the final four minutes to run out the clock. Hyde ran for two of the first downs.

The passing game also came up big when Miller connected with Devin Smith on a 63-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to give Ohio State a 17-13 lead.

Miller has completed only 49 percent of his passes in the last three games and the top two receivers on the season, Corey Brown and Smith, have been quiet. Smith has one catch in each of the last three games and Brown has one catch in each of the last two games.

"A lot of people don't think our receivers can do something in this game against this defense. We're going to work extremely hard this week to prove to everyone how good we really are," Smith said.

"We're explosive. Last year, we weren't really that explosive. Now we can score at any point during the game. Both teams, us and Michigan State, have improved. I think it all comes down to who wants it.

"I think if we come out as explosive as we've been all year, we'll get the job done."

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