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OSU?opens Big Ten play

• Buckeyes, Spartans collide for first time since 2008 campaign

September 30, 2011
By RICH GIBSON - Buckeye Blitz ( , Times Leader

Those non-conference games are mercifully over. Bring on Big Ten Conference play.

Or as a majority players and coaches refer to it: the real season.

And a most interesting one it figures to be for Luke Fickell and his 2011 Buckeyes who must be considered an unproven commodity.

Article Photos

Colorado’s Rodney Stewart, center, runs the ball between Ohio State’s Garrett Goebel, left, and Storm Klein during the third quarter of last Saturday’s game in Columbus. The Buckeyes won, 37-17.

In reality, Ohio State enters Saturday's conference opener against Michigan State in virtually the same manner they entered Sept. 3's season opener vs. Akron.

While the Bucks recorded victories over the Zips, Toledo and Colorado, a disappointing road loss at Miami exposed a number of vulnerabilities Fickell and his staff have addressed.

Where this leaves the Scarlet & Gray prior to Saturday's 3:30 p.m. kickoff is anyone's guess.

From the sounds of it, however, MSU head coach and former Buckeyes' aid Mark Dantonio appears confident the Spartans can come into the Horseshoe and return to East Lansing with a victory.

Even so, Michigan State came up short in its lone true non-conference test at South Bend where the Spartans were 31-13 losers to Notre Dame.

Otherwise, MSU owns pre-conference triumphs against Youngstown State (28-6); Florida Atlantic (44-0); and Central Michigan (45-7).

If Dantonio, indeed, has reason for optimism, his team will be led into Ohio Stadium by experienced, fifth-year senior quarterback Kirk Cousins.

The 6-3, 205-pound senior is off to an impressive start, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes (81-of-117) for 947 yards and five touchdowns.

Earlier this week, Fickell lauded Cousins as one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the Big Ten. "We've been impressed with Cousins throughout his college career," Fickell remarked. "He possesses all the leadership qualites coaches look (in the recruiting process)."

Cousins has a go-to receiver in fellow fifth-year senior B.J. Cunningham an Ohio export who played prep football at Westerville South.

Cunningham (6-2, 215) is averaging seven receptions with 29 catches good for 428 yards and a score. An attractive alternative is 5-11, 189-pound senior Keshawn Martin who has 14 catches for 132 yards.

Cousins rarely looks for 6-5, 245-pound senior tight end Brian Linthicum who owns but four grabs. That could change considering Colorado's Tyler Hansen completed three 20-plus yard gainers to its tight end last week.

Michigan State will rotate two players at tailback, including returning starter Edwin Baker (5-9, 210) and sophomore Le'Veon Bell (6-2, 237). The pair have teamed for 437 yards. Bell has compiled a team-leading six touchdowns.

Fullback Todd Anderson (6-2, 265) is considered an excellent blocking back and has two pass receptions.

Lone senior on the front line is 6-4, 315-pound left guard Joel Foreman. Juniors Chris McDonald (6-5, 300) and Fou Fonoti (6-4, 300) open at right guard and right tackle, respectively.

Executing snaps at center is freshman Travis Jackson (6-3, 275), a Columbus DeSales prep standout.

Junior Dan Conroy has converted five-of-seven field goal attempts while redshirt freshman Mike Sadler averages 39.7 yards a result of 12 punts.

Martin is MSU's primary punt returner while redshirt frosh Nick Hall returns kickoffs.

Defensively, middle linebacker Max Bullough, a 6-3, 245-pound sophomore, has logged a team-leading 24 tackles.

The Spartans' two other starters at linebacker, 6-1, 227-pound junior Chris Norman, and 5-10, 220-pound sophomore Denicos Allen, are also off to productive starts.

In the secondary, redshirt freshman Kurtis Drummond (6-1, 196) has two pass thefts as does 5-10, 195-pound sophomore strong safety Isaiah Lewis.

Michigan State's defensive front wall features one senior starter in 6-4, 288-pound nose tackle Kevin Pickelman. A pair of underclassmen are faring well at end posts - 6-2, 250-pound freshman Marcus Rush and 6-7, 280-pound sophomore William Gholston.

"Michigan State is well-rounded with a nice mix of veterans and talented young players," Fickell advised. "I definitely feel they'll be (season-long) contenders to win the Big Ten."

The Buckeyes counter with a consistent running attack led by tailbacks Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall in addition to true freshman quarterback Braxton Miller.

Hyde leads with 263 yards and three TDs with Hall contributing 171 yards in two games. The 5-9, 175-pound junior is averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

Miller, in his first collegiate start last week, proved his worth as a viable running threat, gaining 83 yards. In three outings, the Dayton-area native has logged 145 yards.

It stands to reason, Ohio State is looking to enhance an aerial attack which has, thus far, generated 627 yards and seven touchdowns.

Against Colorado, Miller completed 5-of-13 throws with two going for touchdowns. Overall, he is 15-of-29 for 235 yards and three scores. Miller has thrown one interception.

Wideout Devin Miller and tight end Jake Stoneburner have eight catches apiece and have combined for all seven TD receptions.

Senior Andrew Sweat has played very well at weakside linebacker where he has logged a team-leading 24 tackles. Sweat has three stops behind the line of scrimmage and one pass theft.

Junior Etienne Sabino has also come up big, registering 19 stops, including four for negative yardage, Sabino has a team-leading two quarterback sacks.

Sophomore safety C.J. Barnett has a pass interception as does redshirt freshman cornerback Bradley Roby.

Placekicker Drew Basil is five-of-seven in field goals with a career-best of 47 yards last week vs. the Buffaloes. Punter Ben Buchanan, meanwhile, is averaging 41.9 yards on 19 kicks.

Following Saturday's contest, OSU faces consecutive road tests at Nebraska and Illinois before an open date (Oct. 22).

The Buckeyes next home game is Oct. 29, a prime-time national TV battle against Wisconsin's Badgers.

Gibson may be reached at



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