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  • Dwayne Haskins is rewriting the Ohio State record books with his passing this season, and even Michigan State's stout defense will have trouble keeping him in check.
By Sam Chase
November 07, 2018

Ohio State Buckeyes (-3.5) at Michigan State Spartans

Sat. 11/9, 12:00 p.m. ET

Three things to know before betting on Ohio State-Michigan State:

1. There's been some bad energy around the Ohio State football program all season, and it has finally started to manifest on the field. A 16-point win over Minnesota four weeks ago was closer than it seemed, a 29-point loss at Purdue the week after that was an obvious disaster and the Buckeyes nearly lost to 1-7 Nebraska last week while coming off a bye. After covering in three of its first four contests, Urban Meyer's team has now lost five straight against the spread.

Nonetheless, OSU is 8-1 on the year and continues to field one of the nation's best and most consistent offenses. Ohio State still has an outside chance at a College Football Playoff berth if it can reverse course and run the table. Such a run would need to start this week at Michigan State. The 6-3 Spartans have lost to Arizona State, Northwestern and Michigan, but they have won two straight over Purdue and Maryland. However, Michigan State faced both those teams at advantageous times. Purdue was coming off its win over Ohio State and was due for a letdown, and Maryland was still reeling from a week of turmoil over the in-then-out tenure of coach DJ Durkin.

Ohio State and Michigan State have met each of the past four Novembers, a stretch in which the Buckeyes have gone 3-1 straight up and 2-2 against the spread. While no one around the Buckeyes is encouraged by the team's recent struggles, teams that have lost against the spread in five straight games—like Ohio State now has—are 36-10 ATS (78.3%) when playing teams that are coming off a cover.

2. Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins has been overshadowed this season, but nothing can take away from the incredible season he's having. He set the OSU single-season record for completions against Nebraska and can break the single-season yardage mark with 278 against MSU. Haskins is first in the country in touchdown passes (32), fifth in passer rating (170.6), sixth in completion percentage (69.7) and 11th in yards per attempt (8.8). He also has a deep group of speedy wideouts who can convert screens into long gains and take the top off a defense for deep throws downfield. Ohio State's running attack is less potent (4.52 yards per carry, eighth in Big Ten), but still reliable. On the whole, the Buckeyes offense is 12th in the country in yards per play (6.75).

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But Michigan State's defense is elite, too, ranking 25th in the nation in yards per play (4.84). The Spartans' run defense is very stiff, allowing an FBS-low 71.67 rushing yards per game on a minuscule 2.53 yards per carry. But given that the Buckeyes run on only 47.7% of their plays (104th in FBS), they won't engage the Spartans' run D that often. And while the MSU pass defense is solid, Haskins will be a challenge unlike anything the Spartans have faced. OSU is 14th in the nation in yards per pass (8.9). Only one Michigan State opponent to this point (Purdue) is in the top 25 in that category.

3. To say Ohio State's defense has struggled in its last two games would be an understatement. The Buckeyes surrendered a combined 80 points to Purdue and Nebraska. The less said about those two games, the better. Since it still ranks 45th in the nation in scoring defense (23.8 points allowed per game), OSU can try to argue those regrettable performances were outliers.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Michigan State's offense doesn't exactly strike fear in opponents. The Spartans haven't scored 30 points in a game since September, and their per-play average of 4.55 yards is ahead of only Northwestern and Rutgers in the conference. Spartan quarterback Brian Lewerke has a passer rating of 113.9, 114th in the country. And running back LJ Scott, once one of college football's most promising underclassmen running backs, has averaged only 3.3 yards per carry in the four games he's been healthy enough to play.

Even in Ohio State's weaker performances, no defense has shut down Haskins this season. There's little reason to believe MSU will do so here.

Pick: Ohio State -3.5

Confidence Level: High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)

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