Ohio State vs. Michigan. Meyer vs. Harbaugh. This is the game people have been talking about since December 30th when Harbaugh was named head coach of the Wolverines.
Michigan is facing a 10-1 Ohio State team that seems to be in an interesting situation. Players have already stated they will be leaving the program, and are sending out cryptic tweets in reference to recent events at Ohio State. This will be the start of something truly special moving forward, especially if Michigan can pull off the win.
Rushing Offense against Ohio State
Ohio State’s defensive line is full of experienced four and five star types, none more hyped than soon-to-be first round pick Joey Bosa. The junior defensive end has registered 44 tackles – 15 of them for a loss. He is a handful all by himself and will make plenty of plays on the day. It will be Michigan’s job to contain him.
The Buckeyes also have some of the best linebackers in the country. Raekwon McMillan mans the middle, while Josh Perry and Darron Lee flank the outside. McMillan leads the team with 105 tackles and is capable of making plays sideline to sideline. Getting a blocker on him and using misdirection will be key to keep him away from the ball.
Michigan’s running game has struggled recently with no real explanation. What started out as a year of promising run production has turned into more of a passing system during the last three games. The Wolverines seem to have settled on De’Veon Smith as the starting running back, but that’s not due to his recent production. At this point of the season, Jabrill Peppers might see more time in the backfield than he has all season. It’s the last regular season game, what do they have to lose? Nothing. But they have a lot to gain. A shot at the Big Ten title game and a chance to shut up the Buckeyes for 365 days.
Advantage: Ohio State
Michigan has been struggling lately, and at this time, Ohio State will want to make Rudock beat them through the air. The Buckeyes will sell out on the run until they can no longer do so.
Passing Offense against Ohio State
Ohio State has superb athletes all over the field, and their secondary is definitely no slouch. They allow an average of 164 yards a game passing and do so with some of the more athletic players Michigan has seen all season. Cornerbacks Eli Apple and former Michigan commit Gareon Conley will be in charge of slowing down Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson. Tyvis Powell and stud Vonn Bell are the last line of defense at safety. The defense as a whole has combined for only 10 interceptions on the season, which seems low for a group of this caliber. However, they have allowed only 11 passing touchdowns and broken up 39 passes.
Part of the reason teams struggle to pass on the Buckeyes is the depth of their pass rushers. They have five players with three or more sacks on the year. Leading that group is defensive end Tyquan Lewis with 6.5 sacks.
Jake Rudock is coming in hot! Throwing for 10 touchdowns over the last three games, he has gained the trust of coach Harbaugh and the receivers. In Rudock’s previous meeting with Ohio State, back in 2013 as a member of the Iowa football team, he passed for three touchdowns and one interception. It shows he’s not intimidated by the Buckeyes and will come out ready to make good decisions.
Advantage: Ohio State
The Michigan offensive line is going to be the key to success in the passing game. If Rudock gets some time to make sound decisions, they could see some success moving the ball down field. If not, OSU’s defensive line will be all over Rudock, forcing him to make quicker decisions than he would like to.
Rushing Defense against Ohio State
Ezekiel Elliot had more than 100 all-purpose yards in every game played this season until last week. Against Michigan State, Elliot finished with only 33 yards rushing. After his lowest output of the season, he was clearly unhappy with his 12 carries, stating that it was his last game in Columbus and criticizing the coaching staff in a post-game interview. Even though Elliot has run for close to 1,500 yards and scored 17 touchdowns, this is the prime opportunity to be playing against him- he’s noticeably frustrated and unhappy with his current situation.
Ohio State has some other offensive weapons outside of Elliot as well. Converted quarterback Braxton Miller and quarterback J.T Barrett are explosive and can break away from the defense if given the space.
The Buckeye offensive line is experienced and strong as well. Standing 6’8’’ and weighing 318 pounds, left tackle Taylor Decker is the leader of this group and considered one of the top linemen in the country.
The Michigan defensive line showed up last week against Penn State, redeeming themselves from their poor performance against Indiana, but this week will be the toughest challenge yet. Still without Ryan Glasgow, the Wolverines will depend on more snaps for the usual suspects. Defensive lineman Tom Strobel saw some snaps in place of Glasgow last week, but clearly struggled against bigger lineman. Fully expect the defensive linemen to be interchangeable and play multiple positions along the line to make up for the loss of Glasgow.
The Michigan linebackers have to flat out play better. If they are unable to get off blocks and make plays, it will be a long afternoon for the defense. Ezekiel Elliot is one of the best running backs in the country.
Passing Defense against Ohio State
The quarterback situation at Ohio State has been an issue all year. Having too many quarterbacks turned into a mess, but J.T Barrett has assumed the starting role. Though he’s not having the type of season he had last year, he is still very talented. His weapons are quick, hard to tackle and elusive, so if he’s given time to get them the ball, it could mean trouble.
Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, and Miller are all dangerous with the ball in their hands. Thomas leads the group with 47 catches and eight touchdowns. Considered a potential first-round pick this year, he is a handful for most defenders he faces.
Jourdan Lewis should draw the assignment of Thomas, but that doesn’t shut this offense down. With so many weapons and speed on this team, it’s hard to key on just one guy. Peppers, Channing Stribling, and Jeremy Clark will see significant time in coverage.
The safeties will be counted on more than ever to do their job and not let anyone get behind them – the Buckeyes have the speed to do that.
Lewis should have some extra motivation this week. He was left off the Thorpe Award List (given to the country’s best defensive back) and that just doesn’t make sense. He will be looking to prove himself on a national stage during the biggest game of the season.
Special Teams against Ohio State
Ohio State has yet to return a kick or punt for a touchdown this season. Hate to say it, but they’re due. The athletes on this team do a great job of making people miss and finding lanes to run through.
The Buckeyes have yet to connect on a field goal of 39 yards or longer on the year. They are 0-for-3 on the season from that distance. Punter Cameron Johnston is one of the Big Ten’s best, averaging 43.9 yards a punt.
Michigan’s return game continues to be an x-factor. With Peppers seeing more time on offense, Jourdan Lewis has taken his spot on the kick returns. He has the ability to make people miss and averages 28 yards a return.
Kenny Allen continues to be someone the Wolverines can count on, converting 14-18 of his field goal tries.
The Wolverines have been excellent in the return game all season. Peppers continues to return punts and has had dreams about returning a punt for a touchdown against the Buckeyes for a long time. Ohio State would be silly to even give him the chance.
This week’s prediction comes from my favorite MGofish follower, Tanya (@ilah17).
28 Michigan – 20 Ohio State
Coach Harbaugh and the offensive assistants draw up a great game plan. Defense holds OSU to a couple of field goals. Seniors inspire team to somehow give 110%. They have decided they will not lose at home on Senior Day.
Photo Credit: Patrick Record | The Ann Arbor News
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