The whole season has come down to this. After stumbling out of the gate and dropping its second game of the season, Ohio State has since righted the ship, and now looks every bit like the national title contender we expected them to be heading into 2021. The Buckeyes are fresh off an emphatic victory over No. 7 Michigan State, defeating the first of the two teams they will see from the state up North, 56-7. It was a complete-team performance, and it appears as though Ryan Day’s group is peaking at the right time.
On offense, Ohio State put on a clinic. The Spartans came to Columbus with the nation’s worst-ranked passing defense, and boy did C.J. Stroud take advantage. The redshirt freshman QB went a casual 32-of-35 passing with 432 yards and six touchdowns with no turnovers. In the last two weeks against a pair of ranked Big Ten opponents, Stroud has completed 63 of his 73 pass attempts (a cool 86%) for 793 yards and 11 TDs with no picks. After a bit of an up-and-down start to his tenure as a starting quarterback, Stroud is now sitting here as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner — a -200 favorite, per DraftKings.
You can’t talk about the Ohio State offense without mentioning this outstanding trio of wide receivers. It was another ridiculous day for the now-dubbed Earth, Wind and Fire, as all three put up over 100 yards against Michigan State. Chris Olave led the pack with seven catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns, breaking David Boston’s school record for career TD receptions in the process. Garrett Wilson was right behind him with seven catches for 126 yards and two scores, while Jaxon Smith-Njigba had a team-high 10 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. The Buckeyes didn’t have to run the ball all that much, but when they did their starting duo of TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams averaged 7.5 yards per carry.
As impressive as the offense was, the defense was almost equally so. The Ohio State front held Heisman hopeful Kenneth Walker III to just 25 yards on six carries, while MSU quarterback Payton Thorne completed less than 40% of his passes for 158 yards and one touchdown (which came against the backup unit). Larry Johnson’s unit up front registered only two sacks, but they did a great job allowing nothing on the ground, batting down passes and pressuring Thorne into balanced throws all afternoon. Across the board, we saw another step in the right direction for a defensive unit that has been slowly improving each and every week.
What we also saw on Saturday was a chance for this group to be even better. With so much garbage time in the second half, Day got to empty his bench, and a number of players behind in the depth chart poured in some impressive snaps. Kourt Williams really flashed when given the opportunity, and there is a legitimate argument that he should be Ohio State’s full-time starting safety. Other young guys, like Tyliek Williams, Craig Young and Cam Martinez, also showed tremendous potential in that second half, as did veteran Marcus Williamson, who saw additional playing time with the struggling Sevyn Banks out with an injury.
Overall, you had to love what you saw from Ohio State in their biggest game of the season to date, and it sets up an even bigger one on this road on Saturday.
Ohio State vs. Michigan: Week 13 betting lines
(All odds courtesy of the DraftKings Sportsbook)
Spread: Ohio State -7.5
Everyone knows the story of this matchup. While Ohio State-Michigan is one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports, it has been incredibly lopsided for really the last two decades. The Buckeyes have won each of the last eight meetings between the two programs, and 15 of the last 16 dating back to 2004. The Wolverines’ last win in the rivalry occurred in Ann Arbor in 2011, but they have lost each of the last four battles in the Big House. It has been especially ugly for Michigan in that last two editions of The Game, losing by a combined score of 118-66.
While things have gone incredibly poorly in this rivalry for the boys in Maize and Blue in the Jim Harbaugh era, this year’s team looks different. Michigan currently sits at No. 6 in the country, as is almost certainly set to move up with losses by Michigan State and Oregon this weekend. The Wolverines are 10-1 on the season, with the lone loss coming against the Spartans on the road. UM led 30-14 in the third quarter of that game, but let it slip away as Kenneth Walker III helped lead the comeback effort in a 37-33 win for MSU. They have looked solid since that loss, most recently defeating Maryland 59-18 after a 21-17 battle against Penn State the week prior.
The Wolverines strengths this year are the run game and their defense. Michigan ranks No. 15 in FBS with 218.4 rushing yards per game, led by a two-headed backfield of Blake Corum and Hasan Haskins. Cade McNamara has also played pretty well for them at quarterback, throwing for over 2,100 yards with 14 TDs to just two interceptions. After losing Ronnie Bell to a season-ending injury early in the season, UM has had a number of receivers step up, including leading wideout Cornelius Johnson and recently freshman Andrel Anthony. Erik All is also a receiving threat at tight end as the teams second-leading pass-catcher.
On defense, Michigan’s strength is its front seven, where its efforts are spearheaded by defensive end Aiden Hutchinson. The senior edge rusher leads the team with 11.5 tackles for loss while also registering nine sacks. The team also features a strong linebacker core, with David Ojabo totaling a team-high 10 sacks and Josh Ross the team’s leading tackler with a whopping 80 total stops. Safety Daxton Hill is the leader of the secondary, sitting second on the team with 53 total tackles and adding a pair of interceptions. Overall, the Wolverines rank No. 9 in the country in total defense, but will face a tall task against Ohio State’s high-powered offense.
A lot is on the line this week, with a trip to Indy in store for the winner of this likely Top 5 matchup. There is a chance this game also has a little extra heat than usual, as the Buckeyes feel Michigan dodged The Game last season during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. Will Ryan Day fulfill his quest to drop 100 on his team’s most hated rival with an offense that has seemed unstoppable for two straight weeks, or will Jim Harbaugh finally get his first win over the Buckeyes with his best team in Ann Arbor thus far?
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.