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Michigan State's pass defense faces huge test in Ohio State, Justin Fields

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Iowa's Sargent vs. Michigan's Hudson matchup to watch (0:22)

Iowa running back Mekhi Sargent and Michigan linebacker Khaleke Hudson are a big matchup to watch in Saturday's showdown. (0:22)

As if it weren't already difficult enough to play at Ohio State, in the Horseshoe, Michigan State is going to have to do it at night in what the Buckeyes are deeming a black-out for their fans.

The atmosphere is going to be electric in a ranked matchup featuring No. 4 Ohio State and No. 25 Michigan State, with the Spartans a 20-point underdog. If MSU is going to have a chance at winning this game, it will need an outstanding performance from its secondary and linebackers to shut down Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, a 95 rating in the PlayStation Player Impact Ratings.

A first-year starter for the Buckeyes, Fields has been responsible for at least four touchdowns in five consecutive games, and he's only the third Big Ten player in the last 20 years with a pass touchdown and a rush touchdown in five straight games. He joined Antwaan Randle El, who did it for Indiana in 1999, and former Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, who accomplished that feat in 2013.

Fields has been on fire this season, throwing 16 touchdowns and no interceptions while helping Ohio State to four straight wins by 40 or more points, which is tied for the longest streak in the AP Poll Era since 1963. Oddly enough, Ohio State also had the same streak in 1974.

As a 20-point underdog, Michigan State has its hands full trying to keep points off the board. Luckily for the Spartans, head coach Mark Dantonio has won three of the last four games where his Michigan State team was a double-digit underdog. The only loss in that category, however, came to Ohio State in 2017 when the Buckeyes were an 18-point favorite.

Michigan State knows it can rely on its run defense, which is ranked No. 2 among all FBS teams in rush yards allowed per attempt and No. 4 in rush yards allowed per game. The pass defense hasn't been bad, but has shown holes, especially in the last game against Indiana.

Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (a 72 rating) completed a season-high 79% of his pass attempts against Michigan State, throwing for 286 yards and three touchdowns. The Spartans are ranked 37 in pass yards per game through the first five weeks and No. 44 in pass touchdowns allowed, giving up six on the season.

The Michigan State defensive front could help by bringing some pressure, but Fields has compiled his list of stats while being sacked, under duress or hit in 32.9% of his dropbacks, and has faced a blitz in 31.4% of his dropbacks, so the pressure has not made him flinch yet.

This will be the toughest test of the season so far for Michigan State and the team is going to need its best performance out of its pass defense coming off of its worst of the season. It's a big ask that will come in a hostile environment against a team that doesn't seem to be slowing down on offense.

Fields won't be the only one Michigan State's defense will need to worry about, but if it's going to have success on Saturday, and a shot at winning, the Spartans are going to need to figure out how to slow down the Buckeyes' quarterback and make him uncomfortable.

It's something that hasn't been accomplished yet, but if there is a Big Ten team who has given Ohio State the most trouble, Michigan State is on the list. The Spartans are tied with Penn State and Purdue for the most wins against Ohio State since Dantonio arrived in East Lansing in 2007 with three.

Dantonio's defense has given up the fewest points per game against Ohio State in the conference during that span, and it's going to need to do much of the same if it stands any chance at winning on Saturday.