OK, the fun and games - despite close calls the last two weeks - are now over, and it's on to the Big Ten football wars for Ohio State this Saturday, beginning with a trip to East Lansing to square off with Michigan State at 3:30 p.m. on ABC-TV.
It's been a 4-0 start, but sort of a shaky one for the 2012 Buckeyes, who haven't looked that impressive very often - just sporadically - in the non-conference portion of their schedule. Needless to say, that has to change right now across the board for OSU with the Spartans the opponents this week in the Buckeyes' first road game of the season and Nebraska visiting Ohio Stadium next Saturday night for a prime-time national telecast.
But back to this Saturday and the Big Ten opener with MSU. The more I've read and listened and watched the last couple weeks, my main concern has switched from worries about the OSU offense at the start of the season to now wondering what is going on with the defense.
As far back as I can remember, the Buckeyes have always hung their hat on their defense - tough, rugged, unyielding and especially stingy, giving up points very begrudgingly. So what has happened recently with giving up big plays and bad tackling, a trend that's an ultimate recipe for disaster, that has Ohio State at the bottom of the Big Ten in total defense, surrendering almost 400 yards (394.8) per game.
The OSU offense has done just enough to win lately, but the defense hasn't really been all that bad - in fact coming to the rescue to bail out the offense several times in the clutch with key late interceptions and stops.
In the Spartans, the Buckeye ''D'' Saturday will face more of a prototypical Big Ten rushing offense than several of its recent pass-happy foes as bruising running back Le'Veon Bell spearheads the MSU ground game. But Ohio State can counter that at least threefold with the running capabilities of quarterback Braxton Miller as well as tailbacks Jordan Hall and either Carlos Hyde, if healthy, or Rod Smith.
Both defenses can probably contain the other's aerial assault, as the Buckeyes' passing game is still a work in progress while the Spartans are still stuggling with replacing Kirk Cousins at QB, so getting the ball downfield through the air has suffered the consequences. Neither team really has a consistent big-play deep threat, and OSU has clamped down on long passes since being burned early in the season.
So with the Buckeye defense needing some shoring up to improve its overall performance and Bell needing some help to ignite the MSU offense, the outcome Saturday may hinge on whether the Spartan prevent unit can corral Miller enough, not necessarily with his arm in the passing game, to keep him from breaking off several or more big plays with his feet to spark the OSU offense.
But a tight, taut low-scoring game seems like what this matchup is headed toward again. Remember even last year in Columbus, the final was only 10-7 in the Spartans' favor.
Contact Steve Hemmelgarn at firstname.lastname@example.org