What a game. Michigan gave Ohio State everything they could handle and more, but it’s November 28th and 11-1 has never felt so sweet.
A few stats to sum up one of the best editions of The Game maybe ever:
- Ohio State’s defense knew that they’d see a good amount of Jabrill Peppers on offense, and they were ready. Peppers rushed for just four yards on four carries and didn’t make an impact on offense all afternoon.
- Despite their best efforts, Michigan could not run the football. Eight different Wolverines carried the ball at least once, but as a team Michigan rushed for just 91 yards on 43 carries. There was a lot of talk about whether or not the interior of the Buckeyes’ defense could contain the Wolverines’ rushing attack and they responded with their finest performance of the season.
- Tom Herman has a theory when it comes to game management. “If you win the turnover battle and the explosive play battle in the same game, you win that game 98 percent of the time.” Well, Ohio State won both of those battles and prohibited the Wolverines from racking up hardly any chunk plays. They allowed one 16-yard rush and two receptions over 20 yards, but never gave up the type of game-changing play that Michigan needed to put the game out of reach.
Let’s take a look at three of the biggest plays from the silver bullets.
“I remember, they ran #5 to my side last year a couple times then next thing ya know they were punting the ball...He REALLY killed us.” — Former OSU LB Darron Lee on Jabrill Peppers.
During the 2015 edition of The Game, Michigan utilized various screens, run/pass options and sweeps to get the ball into Peppers’ hands in space. He gained a respectable 54 total yards on nine touches.
The creativity that was shown last season was gone on Saturday. Peppers mostly lined up at quarterback when he was in on offense and didn’t do much besides running the read option and one quarterback power. He’s an electric athlete in space, but he’s not good enough to simply run past the Ohio State defense regardless of the play design.
Facing a huge third down from the Buckeyes’ five-yard line, Michigan dialed up a “read option” for Peppers at quarterback. The Wolverines had a seam up the middle if Peppers had given the ball to the running back, but he decided to keep it. These are the issues that arise when a linebacker attempts to play quarterback. Upon keeping the ball, Peppers attempted to beat two unblocked Buckeyes, Sam Hubbard and Malik Hooker, to the corner. It didn’t work.
Hubbard, knowing full well that Peppers would likely keep the ball, stayed at home and forced Peppers to backtrack all the way to the 10-yard line in an attempt to break free. Hubbard is quite the athlete himself and he managed to trip up Peppers for a huge four-yard loss. Even if Hubbard hadn’t made the tackle, Hooker was in a great position to make the play thanks to his solid inside-out angle.
Michigan’s usage of Peppers reminded me of how Ohio State used Braxton Miller for stretches last season. Despite game-breaking speed and the (alleged) ability to throw, all that really came out of the personnel group was a bunch of regular quarterback runs against a stacked box. Kudos to the Buckeyes for stuffing Peppers every chance they got, but it was a disappointing game plan from the Michigan offense.
The ESPN ballots are in, and it's unanimous: Ohio State's Malik Hooker is our Big Ten defensive player of the year. — ESPN’s Austin Ward.
While the Buckeyes’ offense put together a strong opening drive, they failed to move the ball with any sort of success for the remainder of the first half. This made Michigan’s decision to throw the football from their own end zone, with a quarterback that supposedly had a broken collarbone, that much more confusing.
On 1st and 10, Ohio State dialed up a nifty pressure that saw Jerome Baker attack the center, before Raekwon McMillan came late from depth to knife through the A-gap. Michigan kept seven blockers in to protect quarterback Wilton Speight, but the play-action fake didn’t allow the Wolverines’ running back to make it to McMillan in time. Hooker took care of the rest.
McMillan had a nice hit on Speight, but it was McMillan’s ability to attack the football that caused the turnover. Rather than go straight for the kill shot, McMillan raised his left hand up and was able to deflect the pass before sending Speight to the turf. Ohio State had Hooker and Chris Worley within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage to take away any short passes, and the tipped ball found it’s way into the waiting arms of Hooker who did the rest.
Ohio State was able to shut down nearly every offense they faced this season by playing cover four and rushing four defensive lineman. They likely could have used this same strategy with some success against the Wolverines, but by mixing in well-timed blitzes that allowed their freak athletes at linebacker to rush the quarterback, Ohio State gave their playmakers a chance to create turnovers. Needless to say, they came through in a very big way.
“We're actually harassing Jerome Baker that he didn't get his into the end zone...We told Jerome, 'I thought you were all the all-state Mr. Ohio tailback and you couldn't quite find the end zone.'“ — Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell.
Ohio State has used Baker as a quarterback spy with great success this season, but with Speight not being a running threat, Baker was able to instead use his athleticism in coverage.
The Buckeyes were in man coverage on this 2nd and 14, with McMillan and Baker patrolling the middle. The decision to allow McMillan and Baker to roam free with no man coverage responsibility not only helps with any passing routes down the middle, but it also allowed the linebackers to focus on a potential run. After reading pass, Baker does a great job of flipping his hips and getting depth to get underneath the Wolverines’ receiver who was running what seemed to be a skinny post.
It’s hard to say if Speight ever saw Baker, but regardless, Baker had to sky in order to corral the pass. Upon coming down with the ball, Baker proceeded to bob and weave all the way inside the 15-yard line. There may not be a more athletic trio of linebackers in the country than McMillan, Worley and Baker, and their ability to work into passing lanes makes the Buckeyes’ lock-down corners that much better.
The Buckeyes will have a talent advantage on defense against nearly every team in the country. In big games like this, talent won’t be enough. Hats off to Luke Fickell and Greg Schiano for not only calling blitzes to create turnover opportunities, but also for giving their athletes built-in freedom in coverage to do what they do best: make plays.
The final: 30-27 Ohio State.
Defensive player of the game: Raekwon McMillan.
Defensive play of the game: Malik Hooker pick six.
Next victim: TBD