This is it, folks. It is finally The Game Day! After two years of waiting for the Buckeyes’ next chance to beat the snot out of the Winged Helmet Wingnuts, the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes will have their chance as they visit the No. 5 Team Up North in a game that will air form Michigan Stadium on FOX at 12 noon E.T.
As it was always meant to, the game will determine the Big Ten East champion, and likely who will be a part of the College Football Playoff. Also on the line is OSU’s 10-year unbeaten streak against their rivals.
So, since clearly Ryan Day and his staff are just now starting to think about their game plan against the Fighting Hugh Jackmans, I put together a list of three things for both the offense and defense to do in order to insure their victories in the Big House today.
Get rid of the ball quickly and in rhythm
Despite the fact that he is now the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, there have been more than a few moments throughout the 2021 football season in which Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud has looked less than perfect; lest you forget, a very vocal contingent of OSU fans were calling for him to be benched a few weeks into the season.
Though he has most rectified all of his early season stumbles, in the rare moments in which Stroud has looked anything other other than superhuman, a certain amount of defensive pressure has been involved and no team in the Big Ten has as dominant pass rushers as the Mitten State Meerkats.
Their dueling defensive ends — Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo — are tied for the league lead with 10 sacks apiece, averaging 0.91 sacks per game. In fairness, they have not faced an offensive line like OSU’s yet this season. The Buckeyes are second in the B1G in terms of sacks allowed at just 13 (for a 1.18/game average); OSU trails on TTUN who has allowed only nine sacks this year (more on that later).
So, while I would expect Greg Studrawa’s group to give Hutchinson and Ojabo everything that they can handle, it would also behoove the Buckeyes to have Stroud get rid of the ball quickly, especially early in the game. While gone is the Don Brown man coverage scheme that Ryan Day took advantage of for years, the concepts of a two-to-three step drop and hitting a supremely talented receiver on a crossing or mesh route over the middle would allow Stroud to get in rhythm early and avoid having to deal with the heavy footsteps of Weasels’ dominant rushers.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jimbo Harbizzle prefers that his offense runs a traditional rushing-based attack. They average 229.5 passing yards per game, which is good for 71st nationally. Furthermore, the collection of TTUN QB’s Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy are seventh in the B1G in terms of passing plays of more than 10 yards with just 84. For context, OSU has accounted for nearly double that total at 159. The Stripped Polecats are ahead of the vaunted air raid offenses of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Northwestern, Rutgers, and Indiana.
So, if Ohio State can put up a pair if touchdowns in the first quarter, it might be difficult for the Harboys to mount an effective comeback, given how efficient the Buckeye offense is.
Find holes in the zone
As I mentioned before, former defensive coordinator Don Brown was relieved of his duties during the offseason (and for his years of service in Ann Arbor, he was punished with being named the head coach at UMass this week). Replacing him as TTUN’s D-Cor is Mike Macdonald, and Ronald’s younger brother brought with him a completely different defensive scheme.
Gone is the over-reliance on man-coverage and in is an all-new zone scheme. For years, Day treated Brown’s defense like his personal Greatest Hits album; every play that he called would be an absolutely banger and you’d think that there was no way that anything could ever be better, then the next track would come on and everyone would freak out because it was even better than the one that came before.
Now, of course, Day is capable of continuing that trend today, but it will have to look a little different. Sure, Chris Olave will still look to continue his annual tradition of torching the Corn and Blue deep, but rather than the slants and quick-hitters, the wide receiving corps in general will need to find the holes in Macdonald’s zone. If Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba are about to get to those bubbles and make catches, they will also likely have room to make the shifty moves that they are quickly becoming known for.
Neutralize the running game
As mentioned above, this iteration of the Pompous Princes us a team that wants nothing more than to run the ball down their opponents’ literal and figurative throats. Coming into the week, the Weasels rank second in the Big Ten in terms of rushing offense, averaging 218.36 yards per game.
Sophomore running back Blake Corum leads the team with 86.44 yards per game, but he has missed the last two games due to injury. The current expectation is that he will play today, but in his stead, veteran runner Hassan Haskins has become quite the featured back, going for over 100 yards in four of his last six games, including 156 against Penn State earlier this month.
However, looking at the stats, this should play into the Buckeyes’ strengths. Coming into the contest, OSU is the 11th ranked rushing defense in the country, allowing only 102.27 yards on the ground per game. But, those numbers can be deceiving, as most of OSU’s opponents abandon the run fairly quickly, given the Buckeyes’ propensity to score early and often. Nonetheless, the Ohio State defense ranks 12th nationally in both yards per attempt (3.1) and touchdowns allowed (9).
If Matt Barnes and Kerry Coombs’ crew can keep Corum and/or Haskins in check, this will be a very long day for anyone wearing blue and yellow.
Lock down down field
One of the things that Buckeye fans have talked about all season — and dating back to 2020 as well — is the need to have the team’s pass rush get home to help balance out an underperforming secondary. Fortunately, that likely won’t be an issue this afternoon as the Nasty Cats just get rid of the ball insanely fast.
As I said before, the Ann Arbor Whores have allowed only nine sacks thus far on the season, and while their offensive line is quite stout, that has as much to do with the focus on McNamara getting the ball out ASAP. As you can see in the tweet below, when under pressure McNamara is sacked or throws an interception on just 9.2% of the pressures he finds himself in.
Don't expect many mistakes under pressure from the quarterbacks in the Ohio State/Michigan game on Saturday.— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) November 26, 2021
Here's how Stroud and McNamara stack up in a few key categories. pic.twitter.com/GjV5XX7Rkb
So, in knowing that the pass rush is not likely to get home all that often, and the rare pressures that TTUN’s opponents do get don’t often have major impacts, it will be immensely important for Ohio State’s secondary to lock down their men. OSU’s No. 1 corner Denzel Burke will likely be lined up across from the Nervous Chicken’s No. 1 receiver Cornelius Johnson who is averaging — get this — a whopping 49 receiving yards per game this season. Their next best receiver is Erick All who is currently accounting for 32.4 yards on the campaign.
So, if the OSU defensive line isn’t going to be able to put pressure on the quarterback, the secondary will have to play tight coverage on the occasions which McNamara does pass the ball.
Force field goals in the red zone
The Harboys lead the conference and are 11th in the country in terms of offensive red zone conversions. They are scoring on 92.45% of trips inside the 20. But, while that is impressive, the Cowardly Meerkat that is Jim Harbaugh resorts to field goals far more often than he likely should.
His team has 53 red zone trips and has scored on 49 of them; BUT only 31 of those scores have been touchdowns for a 58.49% average. That total — while still competent — is good for just fifth in the league.
If the Buckeye defense bends to the point that the Corn and Blue consistently make it inside the 20, then OSU will need to find ways to keep them out of the painted area. Given Harbaugh’s penchant for running the ball, as things get tighter around the goal line, the Buckeyes will need to be tough with their backs against the proverbial wall.