Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
Today’s Question: What is the No. 1 key to Ohio State’s victory in The Game?
Jami’s Take: Stopping TTUN’s Running Game
When Bozo the Clow… I’m sorry, Jim Harbaugh finally defeated the Buckeyes last season in Ann Arbor, it was in large part thanks to OSU’s defense and their inability to stop the run.
The defense started the season with what seemed like a miracle turnaround under new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, but they’re not the only ones who improved this year – so too did the Wolverines. And as the season has gone on, some holes have appeared in the Buckeyes’ defense, leaving fans with questions about whether they can stop an offense that seems to be training for a marathon.
Last year, TTUN’s Hassan Haskins matched a Michigan school record with five rushing touchdowns against OSU, helping to boost them to a 42-27 win over our dear old Buckeyes. His 169 rushing yards on 28 carries, coupled with running back Blake Corum’s 87 yards on 6 carries, made OSU’s defense look like the Tasmanian Devil had spun circles around them a few times.
Michigan’s run game was – to put it lightly – dominant. And if Brutus and his gang of nuts hope to leave the Shoe with a win this year, the Buckeye defense needs to absolutely shut down Michigan’s run game.
The Maryland game exposed some holes for the Buckeyes, though it wasn’t the run game that gave OSU some trouble. Despite the close call and Maryland putting up 402 yards in the game (OSU put up 401), Jim Knowles’ defense held the Terrapins to only 84 rushing yards.
But Maryland’s run game isn’t the Wolverines’ run game. Between Corum, who has rushed for 1,349 yards and 17 touchdowns on 227 attempts so far this season, and Donovan Edwards and C.J. Stokes, who average 6.7 yards and 5.5 yards a carry respectively, Michigan’s ground efforts are a whole different beast than what we saw against Maryland.
It’s unclear whether the Buckeyes are ready for it. They’ll have to be if they want any chance of winning The Game, heading to the Big Ten Championship, finishing the regular season undefeated or eating a bowl of cereal with Jim Harbaugh’s tears.
Michigan calls run plays about 62 percent of the time, with an average of 44.7 carries per game. With the No. 4 run offense in the country, Michigan has the potential to run all over the Buckeyes.
I might sound pessimistic thus far about the Buckeyes’ chances, but not to worry – all hope is not lost. The key to victory for OSU is going to be shutting down Corum and Edwards. Because for as much as Michigan shines on the ground, they have room to grow in the air.
While Wolverine quarterback J.J. McCarthy has a speed that makes him a rushing threat, coupled with an incredibly accurate arm all things considered, he has struggled to connect on deep balls this year.
The No. 1 key to winning The Game, then, will be to force McCarthy into situations where he has to throw deep. If his running channels are closed, OSU will have the opportunity to force McCarthy into situations with room for error; errors that could mean turnover opportunities for the Buckeyes or a means to get the OSU offense back on the field quickly.
The other issue with Michigan’s run game is the clock implications. When a team dominates on the ground, they also tend to dominate the clock. By forcing McCarthy into the air, OSU can stay in control of the clock while also potentially forcing Michigan to make mistakes.
The Game will likely need to be hard-fought on both sides of the ball this year, and neither team can afford to get sloppy. So if the Buckeyes can create opportunities for themselves by forcing McCarthy and the Wolverine offense out of their comfort zone, it could be the single-most-important key to another pair of gold pants.
Matt’s Take: Stopping TTUN’s Pass Rush
Everything that Jami said is true and makes complete sense. After all, running the ball is TTUN’s entire offensive identity and Blake Corum is a legitimate Heisman-level weapon when he is healthy. However, I am going to go in a different direction, because, ultimately, I don’t think the story of this game is going to be told when the Skunk Bears have the ball.
We still don’t know if Corum is going to play on Saturday, and if he does, how healthy he will be. However, it feels like a fairly safe bet that Donovan Edwards will be back in the rotation after missing last week’s narrow win over Illinois. But, again, how healthy will he be?
While I believe that there are still a number of areas that the Buckeye defense needs to significantly improve if it wants to win a national title, the unit is already leaps and bounds better than it was in 2021, so even if the Corn and Blue had a fully healthy running back room, I would expect a better showing by the Silver Bullets than they turned in last year.
So, I’m going to look at what Ohio State needs to do on offense to have the best chance to win. There is a reason that C.J. Stroud is the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. When he is at his best, he is without a doubt, the best quarterback in college football throwing to the best collection of wide receivers in college football.
However, what we have seen throughout the season, especially in the second half of the schedule has been that if defenses can get guys in the quarterback’s face, he has a tendency to go full gunslinger and rely on his prodigious athletic gifts to make plays, abandoning his technique and mechanics.
Thanks to the fact that he was been throwing to incredibly talented players like Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, Julian Fleming, and Cade Stover this season (not to mention against overmatched defenses), Stroud has been able to get away with a slightly more reckless approach than would otherwise be advisable. He will not be able to do that against the Harboys.
In last year’s edition of The Game, Aidan Hutchinson recorded three sacks on Stroud and David Ojabo added a fourth. Fortunately for the Scarlet and Gray signal caller, both of those gentlemen are now in the NFL. While the Mitten Men are still a respectable 22nd nationally in sacks per game with 2.82 (coincidentally tied with Ohio State in that category), they are not as fear-inducing as they were a year ago.
So the key to giving Stroud the best opportunity to complete passes is to keep the pocket clean. There is a very good chance that the Buckeyes will be without a starting offensive lineman in the game as right guard Matthew Jones was carted off the field in last week’s game against Indiana. Reading the never insightful tea leaves from Ryan Day’s Tuesday press conference, it sounds like fourth-year player Enokk Vimahi will be starting in his place, with Josh Fryar sticking as the backup for the tackle positions.
So, if Vimahi and the rest of the OSU offensive line — which has been pretty strong all year, allowing only seven sacks all season, good for second best nationally — can keep the Weasels’ pass rush out of Stroud’s way, he should be able to complete passes against a secondary that has been very good this year, playing against practically nobody that could pass their way out of their own shadows.
The defensive improvements for the Buckeyes have been phenomenal and very much appreciated, but this team will succeed or fail because of its offense, and its offense is the passing game. So, if the o-line can give C.J. Stroud the best opportunity to see the field and step into throws, it should be a very good day in The Shoe for the good guys.
Who has the right answer to today’s question?
This poll is closed
Jami: Stopping TTUN’s Running Game
Matt: Stopping TTUN’s Pass Rush