According to the “experts” this game is over before it even starts. Why bother playing it? If you read or listen to those guys, the outcome of the game between the Buckeyes and Wolverines is a foregone conclusion. The Buckeyes have had struggles on defense and along the offensive line at times, while the Wolverines are a juggernaut who has taken college football by storm. Why bother? Here’s why: because it is a rivalry, and you never know what is going to happen in a rivalry. They aren’t won on paper, or in preview articles, and they are most certainly not won on social media. They are won on the field.
Michigan struts into Ohio Stadium ranked number one in total defense and pass defense. Waiting to greet them is the nation’s second-ranked total offense, and third-ranked passing offense. We can sit here and talk all day about Dwayne Haskins being the best quarterback they’ve faced this year by far, and how the Buckeye receivers are the fastest and most athletic group the Wolverines have faced. But, let’s face it, this comes down to can the Ohio State offensive line protect Haskins. Michigan is going to try to make that very difficult. I don’t doubt they’ll bring pressure from everywhere, because if they don’t, he’ll pick them apart. Two linebackers lead the team in sacks, so expect a lot of blitzes. Against Maryland the OSU quarterback showed his willingness to move around to keep a play alive, or pull the ball down and get a few yards rather than taking a sack. He’ll need to do this again Saturday. After Haskins entered the game last year for the injured J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes had a lot of success with the mesh concept where two inside receivers run crossing routes underneath the coverage, and an outside receiver runs a curl into the middle of the defense. Indiana had success as well last week against the
Wolverines. Look for offensive coordinator Ryan Day to go to this until the Wolverines stop it. The play allows Haskins to get the ball in space to speedy guys like K.J. Hill and Parris Campbell. I’m
not completely convinced Michigan’s secondary can match up with their speed. The receivers need to play at the same high level they did last week, and make tough catches when needed. The Wolverines rely on press coverage, so the Buckeye receivers are going to have to do a good job of fighting their way off the line of scrimmage, and getting into their routes. If the offensive line struggles to protect Haskins, Ohio State can’t get into long yardage situations because there simply won’t be enough time to throw the intermediate routs. Being able to run the ball will go a long way in helping with that issue.
Much like they did against Michigan State, the Buckeyes will have to find a way to run the ball against another very stout front seven. Defensive tackle Rashan Gary is a handful in the middle,
as is Chase Winovich on the edge (more on his status later). Devin Bush is a finalist for the Butkus Award for the nation’s best linebacker. Center Michael Jordan has struggled with some snaps when he has a quality defensive tackle across from him. That can’t happen in this game because Michigan will take advantage of that momentary interruption in timing. After seeing Indiana rush for 190 yards and average 4.8 yards per carry, I do think the Buckeyes can have some success on the ground. The return of Mike Weber will help; he missed last week with a thigh bruise. The Michigan native is a little more physical runner than J.K. Dobbins, and loves to play against his home state schools. At some point, I think Day will have the Buckeyes attacking the perimeter with sweeps by the running backs, or the jet sweep action with Parris Campbell that has been so successful.
After struggling to run the ball the last few years, the Wolverines have figured it out this year.
That’s not surprising since offensive line coach Ed Warriner is who developed the Buckeye line that blew open holes for Zeke Elliot on the way to a national title. Karan Higdon is by far their
leading rusher, and averages just over five yards per carry. They are much more of a traditional run team rather than one that relies on RPO’s. Stretch plays, counters, and some zone reads take advantage of quarterback Shea Patterson’s skill set. Considering the success Nebraska had with the zone read against Ohio State, I expect Michigan to run it a little more than you’re used to seeing. The Wolverines do not have an explosive offense; they’re built for ball control. They prefer to pound away with the run game, and wear teams down in the third and fourth quarters. They don’t shift and use motion as much as Maryland, but just like the Terps they like to pull their guards and tackles. That means the linebackers can’t get caught up in traffic like last week, and must be far better with their gap control. That’s a big concern because we all saw what Maryland was able to do. It will be one run after another, and then the Wolverines will throw a play action pass. They’ll take their shot down the field, and throw deep about once a quarter. Patterson completes nearly 67% of his passes, and is one of those dual threat quarterbacks who have given the Buckeyes issues all season. He hasn’t been great lately, but he can be a playmaker. I don’t see any way the Ohio State cornerbacks can play press coverage against these receivers; their top three pass catchers average between 15 and 16 yards per catch. The Buckeyes need to go back to press bail coverage, and not give up big plays.
With all of that being said about the Michigan offense, keep in mind they struggled in the red zone last week, and had to settle for six field goals. This is a good, but not great offense. But, Ohio State’s defense has excelled this year at making bad offenses look mediocre, mediocre look good, and good look great. That can’t happen on Saturday. I don’t think they’re good enough on defense to stop Michigan all afternoon. Slow them at the right times by forcing field goals instead of giving up touchdowns, and make them punt 5-6 times. I think you’re going to see the Buckeyes rotate a lot of defensive lineman in an effort to stay fresh. Haskell Garrett, Jashon Cornell, Tommy Togiai, and the like are going to have to hold their own when giving the starters a breather. Chase Young needs to be the Chase Young we saw against Penn State, and be a disruptive force all day. Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano needs to be creative in the way he attacks their offense to disrupt their blocking schemes, and be quick to make adjustments.
Donovan Peoples-Jones is a dangerous punt returner; he averages ten yards per return. Drue Chrisman’s placement of his punts will be very important. But, the play of gunners Terry McLaurin and Jeffrey Okudah will determine how effective the Buckeyes are in controlling Peoples-Jones.
Ugly Helmet Particulars
Wolverine head coach Jim Harbaugh has never beaten Ohio State; he’s 0-3 against them. For all of the money they’re paying him, that 38-12 record isn’t very impressive.
Shea Patterson has thrown for nearly 2,200 yards with 18 touchdowns and four interceptions. Karan Higdon has rushed for over 1,100 yards and ten touchdowns. He’s Michigan’s first 1,000 yard rusher since 2011. Donovan Peoples-Jones, Zach Gentry, and Nico Collins have 32, 30, and 29 catches respectively. The Wolverines are 47th nationally in total offense, and average 36.6 points per game.
Devin Bush leads the team with 73 tackles to go with nine tackles-for-loss and five sacks. Chase Winovich has 13 ½ tackles-for-loss and four sacks. Linebacker Josh Uche leads the team with seven sacks. Josh Metellus and Brandon Watson are tied for the team lead with three interceptions each. As a team they only have eleven interceptions.
What Do I Think
Michigan’s confidence has crossed over into arrogance. Karan Higdon guaranteed a win earlier this week. While Buckeye players are telling the media they are focused on themselves, and not paying attention to what the Wolverines are saying, I promise you Urban Meyer is using that statement as motivation. Anything can happen in a rivalry, and although I think Michigan is a good team, I don’t think they’re good enough to be this arrogant against their rival on the road.
For Harbaugh it is, if not now, when? He has a veteran team on a roll while the Buckeyes defense has struggled, and a win finally puts them into the Big Ten Championship game and a step closer to the College Football Playoff. There is an opinion this week that this is a huge game for both coaches. Really? What do the Buckeyes have to lose? They’re underdogs, nobody is giving them a chance to win, and they’ve beaten Michigan 15 times in the last 17 years. No, the pressure rests squarely on the shoulders of Harbaugh. A loss, and it is back to square one for he and his program.
The key person in this game may just be Ohio State strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti. The last two times these teams have met, the Buckeyes were clearly the fresher team in the fourth quarter while the Wolverines wore down. Marotti is the best in the country at what he does, and it shows in this game. If the game is close going to the fourth quarter, I don’t doubt the Buckeyes’ superior conditioning will show again.
I remember back in the 90’s when the Buckeyes had such trouble beating Michigan. There were years when they were clearly the better team, but the Wolverines still found ways to win. It was hard for the Buckeyes to get past that mental block, and get over the hump of beating their rival. So, until Michigan shows me they can actually beat the Buckeyes and not just talk a good game against them, I’m going with Ohio State to win a very, very close one.
Linebacker Baron Browning is expected to return after missing two weeks. His presence will add more speed to the defense in passing situations. Left tackle Thayer Munford is expected to be ready, but there hasn’t been any official word. Munford injured his ankle against Maryland, and had to be replaced by Josh Alabi.
The status of Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich has been closely guarded all week. The consensus among their coaches and players is he’ll play. Winovich’s shoulder was injured by a cheap shot from an Indiana lineman he had taken a cheap shot at earlier in the game. Replays showed Winovich stomping on the leg of Indiana lineman Simon Stepaniak (an Ohioan) after a play. When Stepaniak had the opportunity to repay Winovich later on, he took it. Winovich is someone I’ve never liked, and I have no sympathy for him. Karma’s a bitch ain’t it Chase?
Dwayne Haskins was not named as one of the three finalists for the Maxwell Award (national player of the year), or the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award. This makes no sense to me at all. Also, punter Drue Chrisman did not make the finalist list for the Ray Guy Award.
Michigan has a history of whining and crying when things don’t go their way. Years ago it was Bo Schembechler’s incessant crying and complaining about the conference vote that chose to send Ohio State to the Rose Bowl over his team. Then it was his crying about Mike Lantry’s field goals were good, and the officials missed the call. Sound familiar? Kind of like Harbaugh crying two years ago about the spot on the fourth down play in OT against the Buckeyes. Harbaugh was 40 yards across the field and ten yards behind the play, but he had a better look than the official looking directly down the line of scrimmage. My whole point is if a close call goes against the Wolverines, the whining and crying is going to start.
How young is Ohio State this year? They have just twelve seniors who will be making their last appearance in Ohio Stadium on Saturday. Three of those are walk-ons. Seven of the twelve were members of the 2014 national champions.
Addressing The Elephant
By now we all know the elephant in the room is the status of Urban Meyer’s health, and whether or not this is his last season as the head coach of the Buckeyes. Fox Sports Radio’s Colin Cowherd says two sources have told him Meyer will step down. Long time Ohio State beat writer Steve Helwagen is on record saying he thinks it will happen in a month or two. There has been constant speculation, and numerous articles written in the last nearly two months. All tend to focus on Meyer’s health as it pertains to the cyst on his brain. It caused him issues in early October during the Indiana game. Some believe his reactions during games are a sign there is a serious problem.
But, is it really? Since he took over the Buckeyes I’ve watched him react quite similarly to the way he is now. His hands were often on his knees, he’s looked pained and frustrated, has thrown his headset, and has excitedly pumped his fist. I just don’t see THAT big of a difference in his antics. Remember his reaction as the double OT game against Michigan in 2016 ended? He was face down on the turf at Ohio Stadium. That had nothing to do with his health; he was relieved a titanic battle was over, and went the way of his team. Can you imagine if he has a similar reaction to a win on Saturday?
It has been such a trying season for him on and off the field, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were experiencing health issues. But, until I see something more than his usual histrionics and body language, I’m not convinced he’s having problems. I do put a lot of weight into Steve Helwagen’s opinion on this; he’s been a round the program a long time. However, right now I’m leaning more on the side of Meyer returning.
A History Lesson
Because this year is the 50th anniversary of the Buckeyes 50-14 shellacking of the Wolverines, I had planned on taking a look back on that game. But, the other day I heard a radio interview with former Buckeye great Brian Baschnagel, and decided to focus on the 1974 and ’75 Michigan games.
One of the all-time great WPIAL running backs from North Allegheny High School near Pittsburgh, Baschnagel played for the Buckeyes from 1972 through ’75 as a wingback. He was largely overshadowed by quarterback Cornelius Green, fullback Pete Johnson, and two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin. Baschnagel carried the ball just 86 times in his career, but averaged 7.6 yards per carry. He caught only 56 passes in Woody Hayes’ run first offense, and scored ten touchdowns. He was an extremely versatile, and valuable member of those great Buckeye teams.
His versatility may have never been more important than on special teams in the 1974 Michigan game. But, not as a returner. Baschnagel was the holder for all four of Tom Klaban’s field goals
in that memorable 12-10 win over their rival. Michigan scored on their first two possessions to lead 10-0, but the Buckeyes battled back. Klaban would hit on kicks of 43, 25, 47, and 45 yards. Baschnagel’s outstanding hands saved Klaban’s first attempt when the snap was nearly rolled back to him. He cleanly fielded the bad snap, and perfectly placed it on the tee. Baschnagel repeated the process, albeit with better snaps, on the next three attempts, and was flawless in helping Klaban cement a place in Buckeye football history. What I remember most is he raise his arms in celebration almost immediately after the kick was away. Baschnagel rushed just three times for 21 yards that day, but his real value came as a holder on four of the most famous kicks in Buckeye history.
Baschnagel’s senior year of 1975 saw the Buckeyes enter their annual war with Michigan ranked number one in the country. In what Woody Hayes called “Our greatest comeback,” the Buckeyes scored twice in the game’s final minutes to pull out a win. After Michigan took a 14-7 lead with just over seven minutes to play, Cornelius Greene drove the Buckeyes 80 yards in eleven plays for the tying score with 3:18 to play. In the radio interview I listened to, Baschnagel recalled having just one catch in the game, and downplayed his role in the win. That one catch was for 17 yards on third and ten, and kept that game-tying drive alive. Hayes said it the biggest play of the drive. Pete Johnson scored on fourth and goal from the one-yard line with just over three minutes to play to tie the game. On third and long from their own eleven-yard line, Michigan quarterback Rick Leach was intercepted by Ray Griffin, who returned it to the Wolverine three. Pete Johnson scored his third touchdown of the day on the next play for a 21-14 lead with 2:19 to play. Take a look at Baschnagel’s reaction in the picture; he spoke for all Buckeye fans. Ohio State had pulled off a comeback that will never be forgotten, and in the process broke Michigan’s 41-game home winning streak.
Baschnagel was drafted in the third round by Chicago, and played for nine seasons. He was injured in training camp prior to the 1985 season, and spent the year on injured reserve. He continued to travel with the team, assisted the coaching staff, and helped in practice after recovering. Although not on the active roster, he was still awarded a Super Bowl ring for the team’s win in Super Bowl XX. Baschnagel finished his NFL career with 134 catches for over 2,000 yards, and added another 2,000 yards on kick returns.
Theirs And Mine
The top eight of Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Michigan, Georgia, Oklahoma, LSU, and Washington State in the College Football Playoff rankings remain unchanged. But, the committee has moved UCF to ninth in front of Ohio State. Really not much to say about the top four other than I think Notre Dame deserves to be ranked above Alabama and Clemson because they have a far better resume’.
When I read the comments made by committee chair Rob Mullens, I feel like he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth. When asked about Oklahoma’s defensive struggles (they’ve given up 46, 47, and 40 points in their last three games to teams who have a combined 14 wins), Mullens talked about their offense, and how they find a way to win. If that sounds familiar it is because that’s just what the Buckeyes have done most of the season. But, that seems completely lost on the committee. When asked further about Oklahoma and Ohio State he said the committee considers a team’s full body of work, and resume’. Remember this one, ok? Mullens wasn’t finished flapping his gums in two directions at the same time. In his opening comments he spoke of UCF getting a win over a ranked team. Hey Rob!, you mean just like the Buckeyes did the week before against Michigan State? Evidently beating 24th ranked Cincinnati at home is far more impressive to them than winning against the 18th ranked team ON THE ROAD. When Mullens was asked about leap frogging UCF over the Buckeyes, he said the committee feels the Knights are playing as a more complete team right now. Wait, didn’t he say they consider a team’s full body of work, and resume’? Regardless of the Buckeyes’ struggles, they have a far better resume’ than UCF. This is the problem with the committee; the criteria changes from week to week, and team to team.
I’m not here arguing the Buckeyes should be in the top four, or even near it. My problem is with the answers Rob Mullens is giving, and the ever-shifting criteria this committee is using. The system is broken once again because it has devolved into a beauty contest. Who’s the prettiest girl in the room? Isn’t this what we had for all of those years? I really thought having a committee would solve most of the problems, but I was wrong. I know it will never happen, but they need to go to a standardized rating system, and take out the human element.
As I’ve pointed out in my other blogs, my rankings are based solely on who a team has beaten, and who that team has beaten. It’s strictly numbers. Here’s this week’s:
1. Notre Dame
7. Ohio State
9. Washington State
Notre Dame is a clear number one; not even close right now. There’s more separation between Clemson and Michigan after last week. I knew Alabama would probably drop because of playing an FCS team, and they did. But, it is extremely close between Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State, and Alabama.
Just a different way of looking at the situation.
The Buckeye marching band killed it in the Macy’s parade on Thanksgiving Day. Here’s to hoping their football counterparts turn in a similar performance on Saturday. Enjoy the game everyone.