Ohio State's defense gets back to normalcy today facing a traditional Big Ten foe rather than the flair it has face in its early non-conference schedule.
COLUMBUS -- Ohio State's defense has faced more flair than force this season, punctured by a volley of screens, quick passes, and misdirection.
Today at Michigan State, the Buckeyes will gladly reacquaint with an old standby: up-the-gut Big Ten football.
"I think our defense is kind of built for this," coach Urban Meyer said. "It's not built for sideline-to-sideline dink and dunks."
That is his hope, at least, as 14th-ranked OSU prepares for its critical conference opener in East Lansing.
Through four games, the expected strength of this team has looked surprisingly average. The Buckeyes (4-0) are allowing a league-worst 394.8 yards per game.
"That's not the Ohio State defense over the last 10 years that was as good as there is in the country," Meyer said. "That's very alarming, and that's something that's got to change real fast."
A defense led by its touted front is ready for the change of pace. For the first time this season, the Buckeyes will face an offense largely without frills -- a run-first, pro-style set that will pose as much a test of wills as strategy.
The key is slowing Michigan State tailback Le'Veon Bell. The 6-foot-2, 244-pound junior from Groveport (Ohio) Madison, who rushed for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago, is Mr. Everything for the No. 20 Spartans (3-1). With MSU breaking in first-year quarterback Andrew Maxwell, Bell touched the ball 50 times in the Spartans' opening win over Boise State and has barely slowed since. Last week, he rushed for a career-high 253 yards -- and returned punts -- against Eastern Michigan.
Bell, who was not heavily recruited by OSU, is third in the nation with 152.5 yards rushing per game. Meyer said the Spartans' bruiser reminds him of a more athletic incarnation of former Heisman-winning Wisconsin back Ron Dayne.
The Buckeyes are allowing less than four yards per carry versus 10 yards per pass completion, though they have not seen a back quite like this one. Safety Orhian Johnson said the key to dragging Bell down is to "get him before he gets started."
Otherwise, for a Buckeyes defense that has endured their share of tackling issues, it could be a long afternoon.
"If it turns into a 200-yard rushing day where they just block you into next week," Meyer said, "then we're going to lose the game."
EXTRA POINTS: The Buckeyes will head north at close to full strength. Defensive starters Bradley Roby (shoulder), C.J. Barnett (ankle), and Michael Bennett (groin) and running back Carlos Hyde (knee) are all expected to return. ... ESPN's College GameDay will broadcast from East Lansing today -- the 30th time the show will originate from the site of an OSU game. Only Florida, with 34 appearances, has more.
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