NOTE: CollegeFootballPoll.com's Dave Congrove is a nominating member for the Outland Trophy, presented by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. The Outland Trophy is considered to be the Heisman equivalant for those who strive to be the nation’s best interior lineman on offense or defense. Semifinalists for the 2019 Outland Trophy will be announced on Wed., Nov. 20 and the three finalists will be revealed on Tues., Nov. 26.
Michigan State (4-1) at Ohio State (5-0), 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC: Our weekly Outland Trophy sojourn takes us to the iconic horseshoe at Ohio Stadium for our feature game that highlights the Big Ten slate as well. Ohio State’s junior left tackle Thayer Munford (#75, Cincinnati, Ohio) is a linchpin in one of the country’s top-10 offenses. On the other side of the ball, there’s one of the nation’s top nose tackles in Michigan State senior Raequan Williams (#99, Chicago, Ill.). In a conference known historically for outstanding linemen, this game features two of this year’s best.
Since 2012, the Buckeyes are 60-5 in Big Ten games, with two of the losses coming to Michigan State in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game and in Columbus in 2015. If Michigan State is to win again Saturday, it will likely be because of its defense up front led in part by Williams, who is coming off one of his best games with a season-high five tackles against Indiana. The 6-4, 303-pound nose tackle recorded a sack for the third consecutive game and had 1.5 tackles-for-loss. One of MSU’s four team captains, Williams is tied for fourth in the B1G in sacks (3.5) and eighth in sacks per game (0.70). His 5.0 TFL’s are 11th in the B1G and he has 14 total tackles.
Williams and fellow tackle Mike Panasiuk have started alongside each other on the interior of MSU’s line for 34 consecutive games, dating back to the Ohio State game on Nov. 19, 2016. They helped create one of the nation’s toughest defensive fronts, as MSU ranked first or second in rushing defense the last two seasons. The 2018 team led the nation and ranked fifth all-time at MSU giving up 77.9 yards per game with Williams earning first-team All-Big Ten honors after recording career-bests in tackles (53), TFL’s (10.5) and pass breakups (5). He now has 126 tackles in 42 career games with 10.5 sacks and 26.5 TFL’s.
Ohio State’s streak of four consecutive wins by at least 40 points – tied for the longest by a B1G team since the end of World War I, according to sportsreference.com – is certainly in jeopardy Saturday. And, just as we highlight MSU’s defense, we must also note that Ohio State is second nationally in total defense, allowing 223.8 yards per game and fourth in scoring defense yielding but 8.6 points per game.
Munford, an All-Big Ten tackle in 2018 and OSU’s lone returning starter on the line, is certainly a key for an offense that continues to perform at attention-grabbing levels following a record-breaking 2018 season – and will be running right at MSU’s defensive strength. Ohio State’s 368 rushing yards last week at Nebraska was its most since it ground out 410 against Rutgers in 2016. The Buckeyes aver-age 281.6 rushing yards per game, seventh nationally, and have scored touchdowns on 23 of their 28 trips into the red zone this season, or 82 percent of the time.
Iowa (4-0) at Michigan (3-1), 12 p.m. ET Saturday on FOX: Beyond the scoreboard, our eyes are on the expected return of Iowa left tackle Alaric Jackson (#77, Detroit, Mich.), who is on this week’s depth chart as the reserve left tackle in what would be his first game back since the Sept. 7 season opener. Jackson suffered a knee injury and has missed three games, prompting fellow Watch List member Tristan Wirfs (#74, Mount Vernon, Iowa) to move from his usual right tackle spot (19 career starts) over to the left side, where he’s listed to start again on Saturday. Three-year letterman Levi Paulsen has started at right tackle in the three wins since the opener.
Michigan saw the return of its starting left tackle, senior Jon Runyan (#75, Philadelphia, Pa.), last week at Wisconsin after a two-week absence with an undisclosed injury. Runyan was Michigan’s 2018 Hugh H. Radar Award winner as the team’s top offensive lineman last year, high praise against a Wolverines line that claims four Watch List members. Each received at least All-Big Ten honors in 2018. Runyan is joined on the left side by senior left guard Ben Bredeson (#74, Hartland, Wisc.) alongside center Cesar Ruiz (#51, Camden, N.J.) and guard Michael Onwenu (#50, Detroit, Mich.), part of a Big Blue line that paved the way for the fifth-best yardage total in school history in 2018 with 5,457 yards.
Texas (3-1) at West Virginia (3-1), 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on ABC: WVU lost guard Josh Sills (Sarahsville, Ohio) for the season with a shoulder injury Sept. 7 at Missouri. He expects to earn a redshirt season for 2019. Colton McKivitz (#53, Jacobsburg, Ohio) anchors the WVU line again with a 39th start Saturday, this one a sixth consecutive start at left tackle for the 6-7, 312-pounder. Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger is off to a tremendous start thanks in part to center Zach Shackelford (#56, Belton, Texas) and graduate transfer left guard Parker Braun (#73, Hallsville, Texas). The development of its rushing game has keyed the 3-1 start, as sophomore Keaontay Ingram has emerged coming off a career-high 114 yards against Oklahoma State last week. Paced by the line play, Ingram and Ehlinger each surpassed the 1,000 career-yard rushing mark last week.
For Iowa State, we look again at Ray Lima (#58, Los Angeles, Calif.), a two-year captain, three-year starter and a two-time All-Big 12 selection who is also on the Bronko Naguski Trophy Watch List. Lima (Lee-muh) has 66 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss in his career, including four tackles against Northern Iowa in ISU’s season-opening overtime win. He saw only limited action last week in ISU’s 72-20 win over ULM.