Well, folks, it’s just about time. As God, Woody, and Bo intended, tomorrow’s rivalry game in the Horse Shoe will come with massive implications for both the No. 10 Buckeyes and No. 4 Wolverines. On the line is the Big Ten East’s berth in the Big Ten Championship Game against No. 19 Northwestern, and should OSU or UM win that game, a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff.
If TTUN wins out, they are almost assuredly in the playoffs; Ohio State might need a bit of help, depending on how they look in the next two games. Ohio State has not lost a rivalry game at home since 2000, and the Wolverines haven’t won in the series since Luke Fickell was OSU’s interim head coach. So needless to say, there’s a lot on line tomorrow at noon.
To get an idea as to what exactly the Buckeyes are going to be up against, we talked to Trevor Woods, one of the editors at SB Nation’s Michigan blog Maize ‘n’ Brew about what Ohio State fans should expect from the TTUN on Saturday afternoon.
Land-Grant Holy Land: Until Jim Harbaugh got to Ann Arbor, he’d almost always had exceptional quarterbacks at both the college and pro level, but it’s taken him some time to get the right guy under center at Michigan. Now that he has Shea Patterson, what does he bring to the Wolverine offense — both on and off the field — that had been missing in Harbaugh’s first three years with the team?
Trevor Woods: The best quarterbacks Harbaugh’s had at every stop, be it San Diego, Stanford, the 49ers, and Michigan, they’ve been mobile guys and intense players. Mobility and leadership go a long way in a Harbaugh offense. This was the type of quarterback Harbaugh was, and it’s easier to have a natural bond and teach a QB who had a similar skillset to yourself.
Patterson keeps defenses guessing with the read-option, and RPO, while also proving to be a good pocket passer and absolutely lethal throwing on the run. No matter what happens on Saturday, Patterson is a good quarterback who has shown promise through 11 games.
Finally, the leadership Patterson exhibits has been to the highest degree. Patterson is a vocal guy, someone who holds others accountable and expects execution at all times from himself, he wears his emotions on his sleeve and his teammates love him for it.
Land-Grant Holy Land: One of the biggest problem areas for Ohio State this season has been giving up explosive, chunk plays. However, the Michigan offense ranks 12th in the conference in plays of 10+ yards or more. If the Wolverines are going to have a guy break something big, who is it mostly likely to be, and how will they do it?
Trevor Woods: This is an interesting question, and my answer is going to feature a lot of players based on the fact Ohio State has struggled mightily at times stopping the run and pass this season:
RB’s Karan Higdon and Chris Evans could both break big runs. Michigan’s offensive line has been doing a great job of late and the Buckeyes gave up a whole heck of a lot of yards against Maryland. Shea Patterson could even bust a big read-option run.
Besides the backs, the two receivers who are the most likely to have a huge play downfield will be Nico Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Both wideouts have had their fair share of big chunk plays this season.
Land-Grant Holy Land: Don Brown’s defense is legitimately terrifying, especially against a pass-heavy offense like Ohio State’s. If that defense does have a weakness that the Buckeyes can try to attack, what would it be?
Trevor Woods: Slants, mesh routes, crossers to the middle of the field and hope that the receivers can win in man-to-man coverage. Perhaps a counter run could go for a touchdown if Michigan’s defense over-pursues.
Land-Grant Holy Land: As referenced earlier, UM has one of, if not the best pass defense in the country – depending on the metric – but Ohio State is one of the most productive passing offenses nationally, so something will have to give on Saturday. How will Brown and the defense approach Dwayne Haskins and the pass-happy Buckeye offense?
Trevor Woods: Haskins is a great QB, but it doesn’t matter how great a QB is at any level if his offensive line doesn’t protect him. I have serious doubts that the Buckeyes o-line will give him enough time to do his thing (pick defenses apart).
The approach of Michigan’s defense will be attack, attack, attack. Blitz, blitz, and blitz some more. Usually when Michigan starts struggling for a bit during a game it is just one specific concept, not a plethora at one time.
Because of this, Brown is able to adjust, and the bleeding stops by the time the second half rolls around. I see Michigan coming out with their normal gameplan, man-coverage, blitzing heavy, and if that doesn’t work so well, they’ll be more zone concepts added in with maybe a couple more guys than usual being dropped into coverage and letting the likes of Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich be responsible for getting to the quarterback.
Land-Grant Holy Land: The one area where the UM defense looks relatively vulnerable (and even that is a bit of a stretch) is inside the 10-yard line. Is their ability to stop teams in goal-to-go situations simply a fluke of an otherwise elite defense, or is there something symptomatic going on when they are backed up to their own goal line?
Trevor Woods: The numbers aren’t good inside that area, and it could very well be symptomatic. All I can really say about it is the fact the sample size inside the 10-yard line is still fairly small as Michigan hasn’t given up many points this season. If it is symptomatic, chalk it up to man-to-man D. Personally, I love man-to-man, but when inside the 20, I favor switching to zone defense as the field shrinks. But I’m no Don Brown, don’t listen to my defensive philosophy.
Land-Grant Holy Land: What would it mean to the Michigan fans to have the team’s first win against OSU in seven years be in Columbus, and be one of (if not the) last major stepping stone to the program’s first College Football Playoff berth?
Trevor Woods: It would be huge. Whoever wins this game, it’ll be huge. So much on the line. But it would definitely be a bigger deal for Michigan to win, and for them to lose. What it would be is a major turning point in the Harbaugh era, it would create a new realistic expectation year after year, and that is they can and should beat Ohio State (that is the mentality OSU has year after year and Michigan must adopt that same mindset).
Land-Grant Holy Land: What do you think happens at the Horseshoe on Saturday?
Trevor Woods: If this game was on a neutral field I’d be more willing to be all-in with a prediction, but it’s at Columbus, who will have fans fired up beyond belief. With that said, this is a different Michigan team, and this isn’t the Urban Meyer teams we’re used to seeing.
And yes, all the off the field noise does factor in, too, whether it should or not. Thanks Colin Cowherd... not. I feel Michigan has the better roster and is better at every position on the field (QB is a toss-up, though). This will be a cold game and those type of days favor the better defense. OSU may score some points, but I don’t see them keeping up with Michigan in this one.
The game of football is still a battle in the trenches, and Michigan should be able to just short of dominate the Buckeyes o-line and d-line. Conventional wisdom says this game will be a close one, but if Michigan does their job, plays as they’re capable of playing, they should win this game by at least two touchdowns.
I will finish with saying I hate predictions, but your readers deserve to hear what my gut is telling me. The major key for Michigan will be NO TURNOVERS, if they don’t turn it over they will win.
Best of luck to all the Buckeye fans, players, and I wish you all good health in the days to come
The No. 10 Ohio State Buckeyes will take on the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines on Saturday, Nov. 24 at noon ET in a game to be broadcast on FOX. Land-Grant Holy Land and Maize N Brew will have you covered from both sides of the rivalry as we head into The Game tomorrow.