The 2017 edition of The Game is here, and —what a surprise— there’s a lot on the line for both teams.
For Ohio State: A sixth straight win over Michigan, another double digit-win season, and a possible playoff berth still in the balance.
For Michigan: Avoiding another offseason of takes about Jim Harbaugh’s inability to beat his rivals, ending a five-game losing streak in The Game, and the chance to close what’s been an up-and-down regular season on a high note.
The Game is the best rivalry in college football because the intensity is always there, no matter what. It’s always the hardest played game of the season, regardless of what’s at stake. It just so happens that tomorrow’s game has a hell of a lot in that regard, and should be one we remember for a long time.
With that in mind, here are five things I’m watching for tomorrow during the 2017 edition of The Game:
The uniform forecast is FROSTY
This really has nothing to do with the game itself, but Ohio State is sporting some slick new uniforms tomorrow, and it’s a shame that they can’t take the field to this, because good lord, these unis are icy.
The Buckeyes have sported cocaine white alternates a couple of times in their last few trips to Ann Arbor, and these are my favorites of the bunch. They’re the road version of the set from the Penn State game, so they’re bound to bring a little bit of good luck, right? The LeBron James-sponsored cleats are also great, but I’m not sure anything can top the FUN ZONE’S Braxton Miller wore in 2013.
Of course, my opinion could change if Ohio State loses, but if we still can’t get a night game between these two, at least we’ve got some variety on the uniform front.
The odds of a fight breaking out are high
It seems we see a fight or some sort of dustup every year in The Game —whether it’s before, or during— and it wouldn’t be a shock to see another one after UM running back Karan Higdon’s comments earlier this week:
"I think everyone knows we definitely won that game" -- Higdon on last year's game— angelique (@chengelis) November 20, 2017
Ohio State probably heard him:
Just based on reactions tonight at Ohio State, I can almost guarantee you they've been made aware of the Michigan players who said the Wolverines were the true winners of last year's game.— Lori Schmidt (@LoriSchmidt) November 22, 2017
No one on the Ohio State side has said anything in response yet, but we’re going to find out just how high emotions are running when the two teams take the field, and it’ll be interesting to see if anything gets out of control early on.
Michigan likes to get sexy with its tight ends and fullbacks
Michigan uses a Fullback/H-Back to manipulate opposing Linebackers into the wrong gaps with a subtle fake into the backside A gap before curving back towards the play side. pic.twitter.com/DEv8Hj8kA2— Kyle Morgan (@NoHuddleScouts) November 23, 2017
Michigan makes up for their lack of offensive creativity —from a conventional, 2017 offensive perspective— with how they use their tight ends and fullbacks in both the running and passing game.
The GIF above illustrates that although UM has the reputation as a ground-and-pound team, there’s more to the offense than just lining up 2,000 pounds of beef and bulldozing ahead. There are subtle intricacies their fullbacks use that help confuse linebackers and safeties, and open up running lanes. This should be of particular concern to Ohio State, given the way that Iowa’s similar offense was able to manipulate the middle of the Buckeye defense.
Two of Michigan’s top three receivers this season are tight ends, so it’s imperative that Tuf Borland, Chris Worley, and Jerome Baker play much better than they did against the Hawkeyes. Also, please don’t be the team that breaks this beautiful streak from the Michigan offense::
The last time a Michigan wide receiver caught a touchdown pass was in Week 2 against Cincinnati. https://t.co/J0rW5CSYI8— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) November 19, 2017
Mike Weber goes back to Michigan
I'm decommiting from the university of Michigan thank you Michigan for the love and support I'll remake my decision at the army bowl— Mike Weber (@mikeweberjr) November 22, 2014
Just over three years after decommitting from Michigan, Mike Weber finally has the chance to play in Ann Arbor. If his recent play is any indicator, it should be a hell of a moment for the Cass Tech alum.
Weber looks completely healthy for the first time in his whole Ohio State career, and has rushed for 270 yards and four touchdowns the last two weeks. More impressively, he’s showcased a bit of elusiveness, plus breakaway speed that definitely wasn’t in his arsenal through his first seven games this season, or even when he won the Big Ten Freshman Player of the Year Award in 2016.
Michigan’s run defense has been excellent for the most part, but Wisconsin was able to wear them down a bit last week, running for 123 second half yards. It’d obviously be great if Ohio State could have that type of success from the start of the game, but Weber’s bruising running style —combined with his recent big play ability— suits the physical matchup tomorrow will be.
Woody and Bo would love the line play in this game
Speaking of physicality, it wouldn’t be right to preview The Game without talking about the battle in the trenches. Like most Ohio State-Michigan contests, whomever wins along the line of scrimmage will probably win The Game.
The most intriguing matchup is between the Buckeyes’ offensive line and the Wolverines’ defensive line. In Maurice Hurst, Rashan Gary, and Chase Winovich, UM has arguably the best trio of linemen in college football, and limiting the negative plays they can create (51 combined run stuffs) will likely be the key to Ohio State’s offensive success.
Since the Iowa debacle, Ohio State’s offensive line has been impressive, helping the Buckeyes gain 660 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns over the last two weeks. It’s an improvement that hasn’t gone unnoticed:
They’ll need to be at their best against Michigan’s strong front, who’s only given up more than 200 rushing yards once this season.
If we’ve learned anything from Ohio State’s offensive struggles under Urban Meyer, it’s that they usually stem from not being able to run the ball (or, choosing not to run the ball), so we may find out pretty quickly whether the offensive line is up to the challenge, and just how successful the Buckeyes will be tomorrow.