Planning for success: Ohio State

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- What Tom Herman sees on all the tapes defensively hardly ever changes from Michigan State, but that doesn't mean he's going to stop watching.

There are different offensive approaches to attacking the Spartans, obviously, and over time there may be some subtle variations and tendencies for the Ohio State offensive coordinator to take note of on film.

So recent games are valuable. Opponents with a similar system to the one the Buckeyes run are even better. There's even plenty still to be learned by watching the last matchup of the two Big Ten powerhouses in the conference title game last December. And while the main takeaway from all that scouting of the Spartans for Herman might be his appreciation for their ability to focus on one thing and do it really well over and over again, the key to planning for success against them during the week is trying to find what has worked against the vaunted unit so it can be duplicated on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ABC).

"I think you try to take things from this year as much as you can against similar offenses," Herman said. "So really, the Nebraska and Oregon games [against Michigan State] were kind of the big ones that you try to focus on a little bit.

"Other teams are going to line up in your formations and similar formations and try to do some of the things that you do, too. But you really want to focus on how did [Michigan State] defend these two teams that you feel like you're most similar to."

Like usual, for the most part the general answer was pretty well aside from some rough patches late against both the Ducks and Huskers. And more specifically, it was with the vaunted Press Quarters system that has annually helped Michigan State become one of the most respected units in the nation even without necessarily rolling out a roster stocked with elite recruits or surefire NFL draft picks.

Herman has prepared to take on the Spartans twice previously since joining Urban Meyer's first coaching staff with the program, and perhaps no team has had more success slowing down the Ohio State offense during its record-setting rampage over the past few years with the two teams splitting those meetings.

The last one in particular has been a hot topic for the Buckeyes given the stakes in the Big Ten championship game a year ago and the pain they felt after coming up short. And that matchup was certainly worth adding to the film rotation for Herman this week given some of the issues that popped up against the Spartans while converting just 1 of 12 opportunities on third and fourth downs and watching a potential berth in the national title game slip away during a scoreless fourth quarter.

"There's quite a bit of value, because there's still a lot of what we do that is similar," Herman said. "I think you want to make sure that you have a general idea of what they felt like they were going to do. Just maybe how they were going to fit blocks and fit schemes, align to different formations, that's probably the biggest thing you take away from those films.

"But again, it doesn't change much from week to week, so it's a little bit different with these cats."

That consistency does, however, come with potential benefits for the Buckeyes.

They have seen just about every conceivable defensive scheme possible during the first eight games of the season with such a young roster and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett at quarterback, and a couple opponents have further complicated the issue by adding wrinkles during bye weeks leading up to games against the Buckeyes. The Spartans could potentially do the same after an off date last weekend, but based on everything Herman has watched on video and his own experience, he and Ohio State should know exactly what to expect this weekend.

"There's good and bad, because usually when defenses are this locked into one particular scheme, it means they're pretty damn good at it," Herman said. "It'll be good because schematically [Barrett] will know where the pieces are and he'll know what's happening or what to expect.

"They play the same defense, for the most part, snap after snap after snap and then they mix in about 25 or 30 pressure to keep you on your toes, and that's it. ...Now it just comes down to executing."

Herman has seen more than enough of the Spartans on film to know what they'll be executing. The plan is to have found enough answers for their system by Saturday to make the next tape he watches an Ohio State win.