- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Quick hitters from Ohio State coach Urban Meyer's weekly appearance on the Big Ten teleconference ahead of his conference debut against Michigan State on Saturday (TV: ABC, 3:30 p.m.).
Strong WILL: The results came right away after Ryan Shazier was plugged into the lineup late last season as a true freshman, and the Buckeyes linebacker has picked up right where he left off as a reliable tackling machine this season.
But even with a couple of Big Ten games under his belt a year ago and four non-conference starts to prove his breakout performances then were no fluke, none of those games might have offered quite the kind of test waiting for him at Michigan State this weekend.
And that might turn Meyer's debut in the league into something of a litmus test for his leading tackler against a traditional offense that will likely put more pressure on Shazier than he's previously had to deal with in his young career.
"It’s a much different game than he’s been asked to play," Meyer said. "We’ve faced a lot of the isolation teams, which means they’re trying to isolate you in space and throwing the bubble screens and quick screens and all that, so this will be a different type of ball game.
"Is he ready for this? He better be."
There really weren't any indications that Shazier couldn't handle his responsibilities on the weak side during Ohio State's perfect start through four games.
The style of offenses the Buckeyes faced might have changed his responsibilities at times and forced him to make more open-field plays, but he had few issues with that while racking up 40 tackles, good for third in the Big Ten. And while the Spartans might force him to play more often in traffic, Meyer clearly isn't anticipating that slowing down Shazier.
"This will be a great test for him," Meyer said. "Thinking back in his career, has he ever started a game where the [weak-side] linebacker, you know he’s going to be in the fray the entire time and you’re not going to be asked to be a space player?
"I have a lot of confidence in him obviously, because I think he’s a great kid and a great player."
Stingy Spartans: If the Buckeyes need statistical evidence to prove the point, there's no shortage of it.
Michigan State comes into the weekend with the best total defense in the league and leads the Big Ten by allowing less than 12 points per game.
If that's not enough, there's clear proof on tape that also has Ohio State's attention as it prepares for the toughest test for its new-look offense to date.
"The film doesn’t lie," Meyer said. "They know exactly what they’re running into on defense.
"It’s the best defense in the Big Ten, best running [defense] in the Big Ten and one of the toughest environments. That’s been made clear, now it’s just a matter of Tuesday and Wednesday practices getting ready -- that’s the best thing we can do is have great practices today and tomorrow."
Something will have to give in the matchup of the league's stoutest rush defense and an Ohio State attack that has prominently featured its ground game early in the season.
Michigan State has held its four opponents to an average of just less than 70 yards per game rushing, and the Buckeyes have tripled that on average with just shy of 230 yards per contest so far. And for the offensive side, Ohio State should only be strengthened by the return of Carlos Hyde from a knee sprain, giving Meyer his full complement of players in the backfield alongside quarterback Braxton Miller for the first time this season.
"Every indication is [Hyde] will be cleared to play," Meyer said. " ... Braxton is our best outside presence and he needs something inside, and that’s where Carlos Hyde can run through tackles and on contact still get real positive yards. That’s a necessity in any offense in the inside run game."
He said it: "That’s very alarming. That’s not Ohio State defense over the last 10 years. Last year was not great, the previous years before that were as good as there is in the country. That’s very alarming, and that’s something that’s got to change real fast." -- Meyer on ranking last in the Big Ten in total defense after four games
5dDan Murphy and Austin Ward