Even after the devastating loss to Iowa last weekend, the Ohio State Buckeyes still control their own destiny to make an appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game. Next up are the Michigan State Spartans, who are coming off an gritty, impressive victory over Penn State. Here are six players who will make an impact on this game:
J.T. Barrett, Quarterback
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first.
It’s been a bit of a roller coaster the last few weeks for the Buckeye senior QB. The team was struggling early on against Penn State two weeks ago until he had a quarter for the ages to bring Ohio State back and win the game. After receiving so much hype leading up to the Iowa game, things came crashing down quickly. He completed 52.9% of his passes, his lowest single-game completion percentage of the season, and threw four interceptions after throwing just one in the first eight games of the campaign. On paper, the Michigan State defense is going to be a slightly tougher squad to face than the Iowa D that gave Barrett so much trouble. With a Big Ten championship still up for grabs, J.T. Barrett needs to step up and get the Ohio State Buckeyes back on track this weekend.
L.J. Scott, Running Back
L.J. Scott is one of 26 players on the Michigan State roster from Ohio.
The junior from Hubbard, Ohio, put up big numbers against the Buckeyes last season, totaling 160 yards on the ground with a touchdown. Scott may only be averaging 4.36 yards per carry on the year, but don’t let that fool you. Akrum Wadley had a poor average coming into last week’s matchup with Ohio State and he tallied 118 yards in the upset. L.J. Scott rushed for just under 1,000 yards in 2016, so look for him to attack the Buckeye defensive line that allowed 243 yards on the ground last week.
K.J. Hill, Receiver
While he may not have the flashy numbers some of the other receivers do, K.J. Hill has become a go-to target for J.T. Barrett this season.
As the Buckeyes look to get things heading the right direction again this weekend against Michigan State, expect sophomore receiver K.J. Hill to get his fair share of targets. Despite being 11th on the team in average reception (9.7 yards) and fourth in TDs, Hill leads all receivers with 43 receptions and 417 receiving yards this season. The Spartans rank first in the Big Ten in rushing defense and ninth in passing D, so look for the Barrett-to-Hill connection to be a trend early and often on Saturday afternoon.
Brian Lewerke, Quarterback
Michigan State QB Brian Lewerke has been making quite a statement over his last couple performances.
The Spartans’ sophomore quarterback, Brian Lewerke, currently ranks fifth in the conference in yards per game, averaging just under 250 passing yards per contest. He can make an impact on the ground, as indicated by his 9.22 attempts per game and 386 rushing yards on the season, but it’s his arm that’s been turning heads. He’s eclipsed 50 pass attempts three times this year, including twice in his last two games. In both of those matchups, the first against Northwestern and the second against Penn State, Lewerke reached 400 yards. After watching Ohio State give up 55 points to Iowa last week, expect the Spartans to attack the Buckeye defense in every possible way this weekend.
J.K. Dobbins, Running Back
Michigan State may only allow 2.85 yards per carry, but don’t expect that to factor much into Dobbins’ usage this week.
The Buckeye offense has been trending away from the run in recent weeks. Against Maryland in early October they ran the ball 50 times. That number decreased to 47 the following week at Nebraska. Against Penn State, they ran the ball 39 times, then last week in Iowa the offense had only 30 rush attempts. For a player who’s averaging 7.68 yards per carry with over 900 yards on the season, the fact that Dobbins only got six carries last week is a little puzzling. Expect the Buckeye coaching staff to correct that this week.
David Dowell, Safety
Yet another Spartan from the state of Ohio, David Dowell will be playing with a chip on his shoulder in Columbus this weekend.
The sophomore safety from the Cleveland area has been making big plays in the secondary this season. His four interceptions rank second in the Big Ten, with two of them coming last week against the Penn State Nittany Lions. J.T. Barrett has generally been very cautious with the football this season, but with the way things went last weekend against Iowa, look for Dowell and the rest of the Spartan defense to have their heads on a swivel.