If I’ve learned anything watching wrestling —aside from that you definitely have a bad take in response to that— it’s that there’s nothing greater than a main event between two rivals with everything on the line. While I can only dream of Urban Meyer giving the double bird/stunner combo to Jim Harbaugh at mid-field, I think the same applies to college football.
The Kick Six, for instance; would it have been an epic finish to any Iron Bowl, regardless of what was on the line? Oh hell yeah, but the fact that it kept Alabama from three-peating and gave Auburn the SEC West title on their miracle run to the national championship game vaults it into the stratosphere of maybe the greatest college football game of all-time.
You think we’d all be reminiscing about the 2006 game a decade later if it played out exactly the same, but between two 8-3 teams? I don’t think these three will be getting Big Ten Network specials anytime soon, despite how much we all deserve a documentary on the Tate Forcier era. The point is, rivalry games like Alabama-Auburn, Ohio State-Michigan, etc. will always be a big deal regardless of the stakes, but they’re infinitely better when everything is on the line. Aside from what we saw in 2006, the 112th edition of The Game is about as high stakes as it gets.
With that in mind, here are five things to watch for tomorrow as No. 2 Ohio State takes on No. 3 Michigan
for the right to main event Wrestlemania have an inside track at the College Football Playoff.
Obvious statement is obvious, but emotions will be running high for everyone tomorrow. With everything at stake, and the nature of The Game itself, The Shoe should be in peak form. We’ll probably even end up with another pre-game scuffle like we’ve seen in recent years. The atmosphere will be one that the players, coaches, those at the game, and maybe even us peasants watching at home will never forget.
Even if Michigan is back™, it’s not a guarantee we’ll see another matchup between the two with as much on the line next year, five years from now, or even the rest of the decade. Much like the 2006 game, a win serves as bragging rights at an even higher clip than usual, to go along with everything else at stake.
For Ohio State; five in a row, a 2-0 record for Meyer against Harbaugh, and a likely shot at their 2nd national championship in three seasons.
For Michigan; clearing the Ohio State hurdle, finally getting to the Big Ten Championship game, and a potential playoff berth.
It’ll be exciting, nerve-wracking, and definitely frustrating at times, but Ohio State/Michigan games like this don’t come around often; Drink it in, maaaaan.
traitor kid who plays for Michigan] is amped up to go back home and play the Buckeyes.” It’s a worn down storyline that’s unfortunately bit Ohio State in the ass a few times over the years, but naturally happens a ton given the abundance of high school talent in the state (BREAKING: NOT ALL OHIO RECRUITS CAN SIGN WITH OHIO STATE). While Michigan still has plenty of Ohioans on their roster, a Michigander on the Buckeyes may flip the script and make the Wolverines pay this time.
It’s well known how bizarre Mike Weber’s path to Ohio State was, but after redshirting in 2015 —and apparently coming close to transferring— the former Cass Tech star has exploded this season. Weber’s been trucking dudes left and right, and is just the third player in program history to rush for over a thousand yards in his debut season, along with the distinct honor of being the first to ever lift Pat Elflein:
It’s hard to say tomorrow’s game will mean more to any one player over another, but as a Michigan native —and former Wolverine commit— it’s easy to tell how bad he wants this one:
"To have one of my biggest games against them, which is what I'm planning on doing, it's gonna be great a feeling," Weber said.
With the Buckeyes’ preference to run —as well as the Michigan defensive line’s tendency to get pushed around at times— he should get ample opportunity make good on those plans and dish out the kind of pain to Wolverines fans that Ohioans know all too well.
Is this thing on?
For Weber to have his moment, Ohio State will probably want to make sure there aren’t 8 Michigan defenders in the box every 1st and 2nd down. The easy way to do that is a successful passing game, —A foreign ability that exists for other offenses, I guess?— which is a scary thought for multiple reasons.
Not only have the Buckeyes been inconsistent throwing the ball, but now face the country’s best pass defense (1st in Passing S&P+), equipped with arguably the nation’s best corner tandem, and a front seven that gets to the passer better than anyone (1st in Adj. Sack Rate). Not the most encouraging prospects for a group that averaged 3.9 yards per attempt against this Michigan State defense.
The Buckeyes can’t fall into the trap of run-run-pass once again, and must make it a priority to at least try and keep Michigan off balance. Three-and-outs are killers against anyone, but especially this defense, as well Michigan’s excellent punt return unit. Field position is going to be at a premium, and J.T. Barrett and co. need to figure out a way to throw early and keep the Wolverines honest.
If they’re able to have even decent success throwing on standard downs, it should be enough to keep the run game relatively open, and help the Buckeyes score enough points to put the game in the hands of their defense.
Does anything in particular stand out to you about Michigan’s offensive percentile performance lately?
After being fairly consistent (and good) the first nine games of the season, the Wolverines’ offense has careened the past two weeks, posting their two lowest yards per play totals of the year, while averaging a paltry 3.8 yards per attempt. Quarterback Wilton Speight’s status is still up in the air as of now, but the Buckeyes should be able to build on the success the Iowa and Indiana defenses had, and give their offense opportunities to score, either through a well-timed turnover, or field position.
Iowa was able to push around Michigan’s offensive line on standard downs, limiting big runs, then holding the Wolverines to a 5 percent success rate on passing downs. It’s a formula the Buckeyes would do well to recreate, and probably gives them their best chance to win.
Which team do you think I’m talking about If I asked you, “Will [quarterback] be able to get [skill players] the ball against one of the best secondaries in the country?” Or, “Can they run against a defensive front that’s even better than ones they’ve struggled with this season?” For all the fear about Ohio State’s ability to score against Michigan’s defense, the exact same can be said for the Wolverines, only they also have an injured quarterback.
It’s very possible the game turns into an old-school, Big Ten slugfest, with the first to score 20 points earning a playoff birth, and Jim Delany’s undying adulation.
It’s already amazing that Ohio State’s defense has been this good, despite losing damn near everyone to the NFL. Tomorrow is a chance for them to leave their own mark on the program and be the reason the Buckeyes are back in the playoff.
Given the odds of a low scoring game, field position may end up being the deciding factor. If so, could there be a more fitting Senior Day for punter Cam Johnston?
Johnston’s long been Ohio State’s secret weapon, pinning opponents deep in their own territory, and putting the defense in position to give the offense an easy scoring opportunity, including last week:
It always sucks to punt, but Johnston’s played a major role the last three seasons in Ohio State’s field position dominance, and another fantastic day from him could be the difference between Ohio State making the playoff, or all of us having to hear from egg-avatars on Twitter how Gene Smith should get a jump on Texas and LSU and hire Tom Herman.
It’s rare that a punter gets as much attention as Johnston has over the course of his career, but even then, he’s still probably undervalued. With the way The Game is likely to play out, he’s going to get a few opportunities to show the Buckeye faithful just how important he is.