Michigan State hopes to slow down Stroud, No. 3 Ohio State

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud drops back to pass against Rutgers during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State coach Mel Tucker is well aware of the pain that Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud can inflict on his struggling Spartans.

“They have arguably the best quarterback in the country,” Tucker said of the No. 3 Buckeyes (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten), who will play their first road game of the season Saturday at Michigan State (2-3, 0-2).

“He’s a very accurate passer and he’s really smart, and he’s tough,” Tucker said. “He’s good with the short throws, the intermediate throws and obviously the deep ball. And he’s mobile, so he can extend plays with his legs and he’s always looking downfield to make plays.”

In 2020, Stroud came off the bench against Michigan State and sprinted 48 yards for his first career touchdown as a Buckeye. Last year, he threw a school-record six touchdown passes against the Spartans in the first half, finishing with 32 completions on 35 attempts for 432 yards.

Stroud is again among the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. He’s leading an offense that’s averaging 529.6 yards per game and ranked No. 3 nationally. Since scoring 21 points in a season-opening win against Notre Dame, Ohio State is averaging 55.7 points in its last four games.

Even though being heavily favored against Michigan State, Buckeyes coach Ryan Day is trying to convince his team not to underestimate the struggling Spartans, who have lost three straight.

“New challenge for us, new test,” Day said. “It’s been unique, here we are in Week 6 and we haven’t played a game on the road. It’s been great. We got in a rhythm, but now we’ve got to go get our first conference road game.”

POTENTIAL RETURNS

Ohio State star receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba has seen little playing time this season after suffering a hamstring injury in the opener against Notre Dame. He has been week to week since.

“We’re hoping to get him back this week,” Day said.

Day said he is also optimistic about the possible return of running back TreVeyon Henderson and cornerback Cameron Brown. Henderson was a late scratch after warmups before the Rutgers game and Brown has missed the last two games.

UPSETS DO HAPPEN

Michigan State has toppled Ohio State 10 times when the Buckeyes entered the game ranked in the AP Top 25, including seven times when the Buckeyes were in the top 10 (No. 7 in 1951, No. 9 in 1971, No. 5 in 1972, No. 1 in 1974, No. 1 in 1998, No. 2 in 2013, No. 2 in 2015). The Spartans have defeated the Buckeyes three times since 2011, the most of any team in the Big Ten.

DEFENSE STEPS UP

Linebacker Tommy Eichenberg broke a two-year drought for Ohio State’s defense when he was named Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week following a 14-tackle performance in the Sept. 24 win over Wisconsin.

That was emblematic of the overall improvement this season of the Buckeyes defense. After last year, Jim Knowles was brought in from Oklahoma State to be the Ohio State defensive coordinator.

Despite some injuries disrupting the secondary, the Buckeyes are 11th in the country in total defense, allowing an average of 263.8 yards per game, and 15th in yards-per-play (4.52).

Eichenberg leads the Buckeyes with 42 tackles and is tied for the team lead with two sacks.

“They’re playing with great confidence,” Day said. “That’s the most important thing.”

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