COLUMBUS — As is often said in and around college football, the month of November is meant to separate the contenders from the pretenders. For No. 4 Ohio State (9-1), the final month of the regular season has shaped up to be among the most competitive stretches in recent memory for the Buckeyes, with three consecutive ranked matchups closing out the final three weeks of the season.
After casually sidestepping the first potential landmine with their 59-31 win over then-No. 19 Purdue last week, the road ahead is set to get even more treacherous beginning on Saturday when No. 7 Michigan State (9-1) travels to Columbus. All eyes figure to be on the matchup, which will carry critical College Football Playoff (CFP) consequences both for the two teams playing in it and all those teams who currently find themselves needing help to break into the CFP’s top-four rankings.
Of course, at Ohio State, games of such magnitude are a yearly right of passage for the players who sign with the program, and the Buckeyes are fully embracing the opportunity to take center stage this weekend.
“This is what it’s all about, being in November and having (ESPN’s) Gameday in town for a top-10 matchup. This is why you come to Ohio State,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said during his Tuesday press conference.
While much of the focus leading up to the game figures to be on Ohio State given its position in the CFP rankings, the implications of Saturday’s game are equally important to Michigan State, both in the conference and nationally. With no shortage of urgency to go along with an already talented team, Day acknowledged the challenge awaiting his team.
“It’s a huge challenge because they’re very, very good. They’re a top-10 team in the country, playing for a chance to go to Indianapolis. We’ve got everything on the line here,” Day said.
Day added, “They’re a very good team. They play with really good energy. I think they’re really believing in what (head coach) Mel (Tucker)’s doing up there. He’s certainly turned that roster quickly over to a championship-level roster, and they have really good players. They play well and have good scheme, so it’s a challenge across the board.”
Spartans running back Kenneth Walker III has become a household name this season after transferring to East Lansing from Wake Forest prior to the season. All the junior back has done in his first season is rush for more than 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns, which leads the country.
Against bitter rival Michigan last month, Walker had his defining moment with a 197-yard, five-touchdown performance in the win over the Wolverines. Should he have a similar moment on Saturday, Walker may just run his way to Heisman Trophy lore in New York next month.
“He has great patience,” Day said of Walker. “He’s running the ball better than just about anybody in the country. Their line does a good job. They have a very good offense and he’s a big part of it. He makes guys miss in the hole, so we’re going to need to do a good job up front in defeating blocks, and then it’s going to take more than one guy to bring him down.”
Add in a capable passing attack led by quarterback Payton Thorne, as well as a pair of quality receivers in Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor, and the Michigan State offense is expected to be formidable against an Ohio State defense that has had its moments of ineptitude this season. However, while Day has always shown the utmost respect for the week’s opponent, he knows his team’s fortunes ultimately will be decided by how his own team plays.
“We always say it’s always been about us,” Day said. “And so it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. It’s about our preparation and who we are. If we’re playing at our standard then a lot of good things happen. That’s what we focus on.
“But at the same time, we have a lot of respect for every team that we play. We knew this six-game run here at the end of the season, if you don’t show up then you’re going to get beat. That’s just the bottom line. And we’ve tried to own that, bring it every week, and be consistent. That’s what greatness is, bringing it every week.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.