Fans of the Ohio State football team probably don't have to look far in terms of identifying the nation's top running back, as the argument can be made that Chris Wells has a leg up on most of the competition.
But when the Buckeyes travel to take on Michigan State Saturday in East Lansing, Ohio State will be concerned with stopping a running back that gives Wells a run for his money in Javon Ringer.
While Wells may be the easier choice in terms of superior backs, Ringer holds the advantage in regards to statistics. Thus far this season, Ringer leads the nation in rushing yards (1,112) and touchdowns (14).
As Ringer goes, so does Michigan State, especially because the back can carry the ball an upwards of 30-35 times a game. After the loss of big running back Jehuu Caulcrick, Ringer has certainly shown that he is more than capable of carrying the load.
The running back, who has suddenly arrived on the scene as one of college football's premier backs, has drawn attention from just about every coach he has played against this season.
"You can hit him and hit him and hit him and he just keeps coming," said Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis after Ringer put up 201 rushing yards, the most over by a Spartan against the Irish. "I think I learned a long time ago that one attribute that great players have is stamina, and he obviously has great stamina."
With all that is expected from Ringer, that may put even more pressure on Spartan quarterback Brian Hoyer. The senior from North Olmsted, Ohio, has been efficient this season, but nearly as prolific as Ringer.
While Hoyer has thrown for 1,314 yards and six touchdowns, the yardage is rather close to Ringer's and the halfback has accounted for eight more touchdowns, doing so all on the ground.
That being said, the Buckeyes will surely be looking to attack Ringer, making Hoyer's job even more important when he drops back against Ohio State, who sports the best pass defense in the Big Ten Conference.
Hoyer has shown some tendencies to get rattled in the pocket, so the Buckeyes will most likely bring pressure. Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, however, is more than capable of Hoyer's abilities in the pocket, especially because the senior has only thrown three interceptions this season.
That being said, Hoyer has gone three games out of six without completing a touchdown pass, and in Michigan State's only loss to California in the season opener, the senior threw an interception.
Even with a swarming defense like Ohio State's coming to East Lansing, Dantonio knows is quarterback will be ready to play.
"As far as is Brian Hoyer is concerned, he has been ready every single game this season, and there's no doubt that he'll be ready again on Saturday," Dantonio said in his weekly press conference. "With more preparation, more attention to detail, a high level of excitement, all those things, he'll experience the same, and I'm sure he'll be very excited and ready to play."
Through the air, Michigan State's biggest threat is wide receiver Mark Dell, who has an uncanny ability to make big plays. Dell has only caught 20 passes thus far this season, but he has an explosive 443 yards (22.2 yards per catch) and two touchdowns.
Dell came on strong right out of the gate for the Spartans, as he scored against Cal late to bring the game within seven after hauling in nine passes for 202 yards. While Dell remains one of Michigan State's most exciting players, Ringer has received most of the touches, which could be solid reason he hasn't caught more passes.
Along with Dell, receiver Charlie Gantt has made some big plays, as he has found a way to put up solid numbers. Despite missing two games this year, including last weeks 37-20 win over Northwestern, Gantt has brought in eight passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
Before missing the game at Northwestern last week, Gantt scored in both of his previous two games, including an 82-yard touchdown reception at Indiana.
Overall, Michigan State has put up impressive numbers thus far this season, as they average just a tad under 30 points per game. That being said, the Spartans should be ready when the Buckeyes invade East Lansing Saturday.
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at [email protected].
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