Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, December 3, 2013

The coaches for Michigan State and Ohio State are furiously game-planning for the Big Ten championship game. I asked several Big Ten coordinators who have prepared for and stared down the Spartans and Buckeyes for their off-the-record views and ideas on how to attack each team. Here?s what they said.


To stop that offense, you better be, No. 1, big enough, and No. 2, athletic enough, to make tackles at the d-line position. The d-line needs to be gap-sound and to get off blocks, or those guys will get through there. And I think Michigan State has four linemen who can do that.

Playing Ohio State is like playing Navy: You have to stop the dive. With Ohio State, stop the inside run. If you can stop the inside runs on the A and B gaps, and if you then can stop the screen game, now you are cooking with gas and you have a chance to make some hay on the play-action passing game and quarterback runs. MSU is physical enough that when they hit the quarterback, it?s gonna hurt.

[ MORE: Scouting Report: Big Ten assistants on Michigan State ]

Braxton Miller is good. He has really changed his game in one year. He?s fast, accurate. It?s like having Derek Jeter at quarterback. He can throw it at awkward angles and with some gas on it. He can throw the screen, the seam route, throw with touch. Every time a tight end releases, MSU has to mug him.

It?s all very challenging because Miller is so athletic. He?s just so elusive. If you have him bottled up in the run game or pass game, he can make you miss in a different way than anybody else in the Big Ten. He can jump-cut in a small area, and all of a sudden, you are just grabbing air.

Listen to the Ohio State's Jack Mewhort, Ryan Shazier and Michael Bennett: 

The aspect of Carlos Hyde coming on and being a very good power runner is also backed by the complexity of the offense. They tend to spread you out, so that gives them the screen game. And they also can throw the ball down the field as we saw vs. Michigan. As far as trying to stop them, I think you have to spy someone on Miller. Once he pops through the line, you need to be able to contain him. If he gets going in the run game, it?s a little like Johnny Manziel where he can make so many things happen with his arm and legs. It becomes really difficult to defend.

[ MORE: Read all of our Big Ten title game coverage ]

They are just a well-balanced offense. It?s hard to say you are just going to stop Miller or you just are going to stop Hyde. They have good receivers. Devin Smith is really good. You have to play good, fundamental defense. Northwestern was able to cause a few turnovers, which really allowed Northwestern to be in the game.

The other thing about the Urban Meyer offense, he frequently in third-and-medium or first-and-10 will do the quick quarterback rollout and throw the ball into the flat for a five- or six-yard gain. That?s always been kind of a staple play. But when you play a tight, man-to-man coverage like MSU, that?s not available. That?s something to look for.

Listen to Coach Urban Meyer and Coach Mark Dantonio: 

So, Michigan State needs to take the A- and B-gap running game out, stop the screen and don?t let a tight end get off the line of scrimmage. And the Spartans need to make Miller beat them throwing the ball outside the hash marks.

Against their defense, we got after them with an extra man in the run game with zone schemes. If they want to play coverage, we have an extra runner and if we get things blocked up, we can move. Bradley Roby was good, but we thought we could have some success vs. that secondary throwing the ball.

A lot of teams have put up points on them. Michigan has a below-average offense and was able to put 41 on them. It?s a good matchup. Michigan State has improved on offense, but Ohio State on defense probably has a lot of self-doubt as it pertains to being able to stop anybody.

Special teams will be critical for Ohio State. You can?t emphasize enough the need to not get punts blocked or allow long returns and touchdowns. Ohio State and Urban Meyer are very aggressive at coming after punts. If you just go through your standard operating procedure, there?s a chance you?ll get a punt blocked against them. MSU punts well but its protection will have to be very good. They have to speed up their operation time. If OSU doesn?t block that punt at Northwestern, I think Northwestern wins that game. When we punted vs. OSU, we had an extensive plan to use different formations and tempos and speed up the punt and move the kick point around. We also had some fakes in. You have to be able to slow them down. When it?s 4th and over 10 and you are backed up, they will hit you up. They are good at blocking punts. They practice the heck out of it.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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