After 13 weeks, we’ve finally reached the conclusion to Ohio State’s 2018 regular season. First off, thank god. Also: How did it go this fast? Why has it been so underwhelming, even though they’re 10-1? It’ll be easier to answer those questions (or feel differently) at about 4:30 p.m. ET tomorrow, but until then, we still have one more regular season game to preview.
Tomorrow’s edition of The Game is one of the most fascinating matchups with Michigan that I can remember:
- Both teams are 10-1.
- A playoff spot (maybe) is on the line.
- The opportunity to play Northwestern (!!!!) in the Big Ten Championship Game is at stake.
- Neither Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh can afford a loss here. (We’ll get to that in a second)
Long story short: This is a massive game, and shit’s about to go down.
With that in mind, here are five things I’m thinking about before the 114th edition of The Game.
Don’t want to lose this one
Before Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock squared off in the main event of Wrestlemania 17, Paul Heyman described it as, “The match both men need to win; and neither man can afford to lose.” That’s this game for both head coaches.
Just so I’m being clear before you yell at me: Yes, Meyer still hasn’t lost to Michigan, so it’s not like losing would be the downfall of the program. But given what’s at stake — and everything that’s happened on and off the field the last four months — he absolutely needs a win to change the current discussion about him, and the team in general. Everything about his body language and Ohio State under-performing can go away (for now) with a win. Meanwhile, a loss:
- Would be the first to Michigan since 2011.
- Likely sends Michigan to the playoff at Ohio State’s expense.
- Gives everyone a sense that they’ve finally caught up to/passed Ohio State.
- Fires up lots of chatter about Meyer retiring, whether you want to accept it or not.
For Harbaugh, a win validates everything he’s done to build the Michigan program back up; finally slays his Ohio State problem, and sets UM up as legitimate contenders going forward. On the flip-side, his best Michigan team losing to this Ohio State team in heartbreaking fashion would be utterly hilarious.
If you weren’t aware, this is just the seventh time that Ohio State hasn’t been favored to win a game — any game — in the Urban Meyer era.
The Buckeyes won the previous six outright.
They’ve played some of their most inspired football as dogs, but haven’t been in this position since January 12, 2015. Meyer basically said that they don’t care/it won’t factor into how intensely they prepare for tomorrow, but yeah, absolutely no one’s buying that.
Add the fact that this is The Game, and you know damn well the coaching staff is pumping the idea that everyone is picking Michigan into the players’ heads all week. Whether Ohio State can take that motivation and produce a win is a different story. Do you feel confident betting against Meyer in this situation?
This is from a year ago, but please click that tweet link for a full thread of great Ohio State-Michigan moments. You won’t regret it.
McLaurin’s last ride
Before I give Terry McLaurin his deserved roses, I’ll be honest and out myself as someone who didn’t believe:
83 gonna 83— Colton Denning (@Dubsco) November 25, 2017
My opinion doesn’t mean shit in the grand scheme of Ohio State football, but for three years I didn’t get why he was a part of the receiver rotation over players I thought could bring more to the offense. I finally get it this year.
McLaurin’s busted his ass for four years to get better, and now he’s reaping the rewards as one of the most important players on the team. He’s a legitimate deep threat, and might be one of the best punt coverage specialists in the country. (It also probably doesn’t hurt to have actual coaching at wide receiver this season, too.)
Tomorrow is his last game in The Shoe, and I hope he kills it. The Game is made for players like him, and 83 deserves to have his moment on the biggest stage.
Will the defense show up at all?
I don’t know about you, but giving up [checks notes] 51 points and 535 yards to Maryland doesn’t seem like a great precursor to the defense facing the best offense they’ll see all season.
Michigan’s offense is well coached, and is solid enough all-around to cause major problems at all three levels. I know the players are going to give it their all, but I just can’t help but wonder what sort of game-plan Greg Schiano is coming up with (hint: likely not a good one) and how it probably plays right into UM’s hands.
I’m confident that Dwayne Haskins and Co. can have a good day, but Michigan’s defense is far too good to need them to put up 35 — let alone 52 — to win. Ultimately, how the defense plays is going to determine if the Buckeyes make it eight straight in The Game. If the first 11 games are any indicator, we should all be scared.
That’s it for this week’s I Got Five on it. Long story short: this is as nervous as I’ve been for The Game in a long time, and I’m spending all of today praying that Greg Schiano and Bill Davis have been told that this is a night game. Go Bucks.