Photo courtesy: USA Today Sports
Yesterday, we looked at the roads traveled by Ohio State and Michigan State to the Big Ten Championship Game. Now that we know how they got here, let's delve into the key players on both sides of the ball. Who has to come up big for the Buckeyes to get to their title shot? Who's Sparty counting on to play spoiler?
Key Defensive Player, Ohio State: Ryan Shazier. Watching the middling Michigan offense march up and down the field last weekend had to be an eye opener for fans who have only casually paid attention to OSU this season. The Spartans' offense won't strike much fear into the hearts of opposing defenses, but it's a grinding unit that will aim to keep OSU's defense on the field and the Buckeyes' dynamic O off of it. OSU will be counting on the talented Shazier to help keep the Spartans behind the chains on early downs, forcing MSU into obvious throwing situations.
Key Defensive Player, Michigan State: Shilique Calhoun. The Buckeyes are at their best on offense when Braxton Miller is freed up to make plays with both his arm and his legs. Responsibility for keeping the OSU quarterback contained will fall on MSU's defensive linemen, who have to stand their ground to help key Miller at bay. The sophomore Calhoun has been Sparty's most impactful lineman, leading the team with 7 sacks and coming in second with 13.5 tackles for loss.
Key Offensive Player, Ohio State: Braxton Miller. It's no fun to single out the most well-known player on the field for either team here, but OSU's quarterback is the straw that stirs the Buckeyes' drink. If Miller can't get off, MSU will have a really good shot at pulling off the upset. Look for Urban Meyer to ride Miller hard down the stretch and count on OSU's field general to make plays if the game is close late.
Key Offensive Player, Michigan State: Bennie Fowler. While the Spartans prefer to bludgeon opponents with their running game, beating OSU with a one-dimensional offense will be nearly impossible. The Buckeyes have shown they're vulnerable in the secondary in the last two years, which is a weakness that MSU needs to exploit. Fowler provides MSU with its most dangerous receiving threat, averaging 16 yards per catch. Sparty needs the senior wideout to shake free of the OSU DBs to help stretch the field and keep the Buckeyes' safeties honest.