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Can the Ohio State offense right the ship against Michigan in The Game?

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Or will the defense carry the Buckeyes in one of the most highly-anticipated editions of The Game since 2006?

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Long projected as a loss by the advanced stats in the first-ever matchup between Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer, The Game is finally here and the narrow-underdog Buckeyes will try and prove the numbers wrong. The margin was always narrow for Michigan both in Vegas and by the advanced stats, but it helps the Wolverines that the game is in Ann Arbor this year.

Michigan's presumed advantages appear to be in efficient run and pass defense and potentially against the Ohio State pass defense, but how do those advantages hold up against the advanced stats?

Can the offense find any rhythm after last week's debacle?

OSU Offense UM Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.29 44 1.28 81 1.26
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 46.3% 21 31.3% 4 40.4%
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 34.3 7 27.2 20 29.9
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.18 28 3.64 9 4.65
OSU Offense UM Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Rushing S&P+ 120.7 11 123.8 9 100.0
Passing S&P+ 114.1 33 126.0 11 100.0

You don't need me or the advanced stats to tell you that last week's offense was a mess. The Buckeyes didn't have any explosive plays whatsoever and one of the poorest rushing efficiencies I've seen in years. Michigan's defense has the ability to play as well as Michigan State's did -- and the Wolverines might even be better.

Looking at the overall metrics, the Wolverines look much weaker at preventing explosive plays than being consistently successful against opposing offenses. They play excellent field position and rarely allow touchdowns in the red zone. In fact, averaging only 3.6 points per opponent drive inside the Michigan forty, they are second in the country in opponent red zone touchdown percentage at just 32% of opponents' drives. One of the last things Ohio State wants is another inefficient day in the red zone.

But even worse would be another day without explosive plays, and thankfully the Wolverines have been worse against explosive runs (108th) and passes (35th) than in total success rate. The issue will be how balanced the Buckeyes can be. Last week the passing offense was unable to connect on anything even in the intermediate range, and Buckeye receivers were unable to break short passes for long gains. So if there's no balance with the passing game, can we count on Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett to hit explosive runs even against a defense that has been known to allow them?

And the unadvanced stats love Michigan's run defense, even against big runs -- they have allowed just 48 10+ yard runs (38th) and nine 20+ yard runs (16th). The Michigan defensive line is one of the best according to both opportunity rate (sixth, measuring the number of 5+ yard runs) and adjusted line yards (fifth, designed to capture the defensive line contribution stopping the run). There's no guarantee that Zeke and J.T. can change this trend, especially if Michigan goes all-in to stop the run. If that's the case and the box is loaded, that means there's more pressure on J.T. to make more reads in the passing game and for the receivers to break at least a few receptions for big gains.

Can Jake Rudock carve up the Ohio State pass defense?

UM Offense OSU Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.30 42 1.22 55 1.26
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 45.0% 30 32.2% 7 40.4%
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 34.8 3 25.2 2 29.9
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.06 45 3.69 10 4.65
UM Offense OSU Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Rushing S&P+ 106.9 51 115.7 30 100.0
Passing S&P+ 121.0 22 142.1 3 100.0

Michigan's offense has been nothing special, though Jake Rudock is on a streak of really impressive games, throwing for over 250 yards in each of his last three games.

But to be fair, that's come against Indiana, Rutgers, and Penn State. And while he's clearly shown improvement and his average yards per attempt increased against the former two defenses, he came back down to Earth a little against the Nittany Lions. The main thing is that the Michigan offense has relied on him and the passing game more recently, as he threw the ball 46 and 38 times in the last two games. I think that will be the case against Ohio State as well. While the Buckeyes are 30th in rushing S&P+ compared to third in passing S&P+, Michigan's run game has really hit hard times since the beginning of the season. Michigan hasn't broken 150 total yards since facing Northwestern, and only broke 3.7 yards per carry against Indiana's defense.

Further, Ohio State's pass defense is far more susceptible to explosive pass plays (103rd in passing IsoPPP) than allowing regular efficient passes. As we've noted all year, the Buckeye secondary and pass rush (fifth in adjusted sack rate) has pressured opposing quarterbacks in to often throwing sub-50% completion percentage games, even if they get in a big play or two. That's what I'm predicting again here for Jake Rudock and the Michigan passing offense. Michigan's offensive line is actually solid in pass protection this year (21st in adjusted sack rate) and the trio of Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and Jake Butt may be hard to handle if Rudock has 35+ passing attempts.