MSU's explosive offense prepares to face an Ohio State team that leads the Big Ten in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense.

Oct. 14, 2005

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The way Ohio State offensive guard Rob Sims sees it, the Buckeyes' two losses don't take away from the fact that they belong among the top teams in the country.

"Both of the losses we had this year were both squarely on us, just not doing our job," Sims said earlier this week. "The other teams were very good and they played very well but, I'll still say it, I think we're the best team in the country. We just shot ourselves in the foot two games."

Ohio State's fans are wondering when the Buckeyes will run out of ammunition -- or feet.

Next up for the wounded and 15th-ranked Buckeyes (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) is No. 16 Michigan State (4-1, 1-1).

It couldn't get much simpler: the Big Ten's best defense against its most prolific offense, in a game that neither team can afford to lose it wants to keep alive slim hopes of a conference title.

"It's a big game for us, but we're trying not to make it too big," Spartans wide receiver Matt Trannon said. "We gotta go down there and take care of business if we expect to continue in the race for the Big Ten championship."

The Spartans, led by quarterback Drew Stanton and a stable of tailbacks, are averaging 45.4 points a game. They put 44 points on Notre Dame in a three-point overtime win. A week after scoring 61 points against Illinois in the first Big Ten road game, they sustained their only loss, a 34-31 setback against Michigan, also in overtime.

"Having a good passing game opens up your running game," Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk said of the Spartans' attack. "They have three great tailbacks. They can keep bringing 'em in, keeping them fresh. Their offensive line does a great job of getting out and doing things to open up the running game. When you have running backs like theirs, that's what makes them a good team. They can pass and run."

Stanton leads the Big Ten in passing yards, averaging just under 300 a game, and tops the league in pass efficiency. He has so many potential targets that it's difficult to focus on one.

"The beauty of this offense is you can't key on any one receiver," said Stanton, who may be called upon to run more to free up the passing lanes. "That's kind of by design."

The Spartans have had a bye week to recover from that devastating loss to Michigan. Ohio State is still trying to overcome the lingering effects of last week's 17-10 loss at Penn State.

Asked if that loss has the Spartans sensing problems with the Buckeyes, Ohio State linebacker Anthony Schlegel said, "We're smelling blood, too. They lost to Michigan. We're all the same right now."

While the Spartans rush for an average of 252 yards a game, Ohio State's defense is No. 1 in the country, giving up just 56 yards a game.

Michigan State coach John L. Smith heaped praise on the Ohio State linebacker trio of Hawk, a first-team All-American last year who is playing better this season, along with Schlegel and Bobby Carpenter. Carpenter is being used as a bull-rusher on the outside and is among the Big Ten leaders in sacks.

"To have one guy that good is special," Smith said. "They have three. It gives you a lot of flexibility. They can do a lot of things."

Ohio State won 31-19 a year ago, but the score was deceiving. The Buckeyes scored twice in the final 97 seconds, freshman Ted Ginn Jr. sprinting 58 yards for the go-ahead score with 1:37 left before Ohio State added a late TD after a turnover.

Ginn had earlier returned a punt 60 yards for a score, one of a Big Ten- and school-record four he brought back a year ago. This year, he's returned only one punt farther than 14 yards and doesn't have a return touchdown.

"It bothers you that he might be criticized," coach Jim Tressel said of the fans who wonder why Ginn has mostly been invisible on the field. "Does that mean I think he's been perfect? No. But I think Ted Ginn has done an excellent job for us."

Penn State is unbeaten in the Big Ten, with both Michigan State and Ohio State among seven teams with one loss.

Stanton believes the winner still has a shot at the title.

"The race is wide open," he said. "But we're playing a very good football team and that's all we can think about right now."

by RUSTY MILLER, The Associated Press