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.
This week’s topic: What would you set the Ohio State-Michigan line at right now?
Fresh off a second consecutive road victory, and owners of a perfect 9-0 record, the Ohio State Buckeyes are... not rolling? We need a vibe check, Gene, because I feel like they are nowhere near a season-high level. Not after back-to-back (first half, at least) clunkers and an ugly 14-point win over the Big Ten doormat known as Northwestern.
OSU’s offense has forgotten how to run the ball, Ryan Day – according to some – is recycling his worst play-calling hits, nobody is ever healthy, and our damn pets’ heads are falling off! Does that just about sum up the last two weeks? And now we’ve got this team up north running up the same record, winning an impossible slugfest in the fiery pits of hell — AKA Piscataway at night. What does it all mean for The Game?
Not much, in my opinion. Because I was already buying a certain amount of Wolverine hype, and a sloppy 11:00 a.m. local time win in a rain-soaked wind tunnel does not erase what I saw from the Buckeyes throughout September and October. Gene, I thought this year’s version of The Game was always going to be a battle, due to the stakes, as well as recent results. Not to mention a little thing called pure, unadulterated hate. I am not going to change said opinion based on a few funky weeks.
Ohio State is still arguably the best team in college football. C.J. Stroud is a virtual lock to be selected inside the top-5 of the 2023 NFL Draft, Ryan Day knows how to dial it up, TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams are a talented RB duo, and the Buckeyes have a ton of talent up front. Rough weeks happen — just ask Dabo.
While I readily admit that OSU has not looked great running the ball for a few weeks, I would also point out that Iowa still possesses one of the top defenses in the country, Penn State played well, and if you take into account Stroud’s rushing yards against Northwestern, the running game has not been that bad! And I also believe it can be tricky to find your rhythm – as a unit – if the offensive line is blocking for a different guy each week. The offense will get rolling again, and these past 8-12 quarters will eventually be viewed as a blip on the ol’ radar.
On the other side of the ball, Ohio State has been playing fantastic defense, and Jim Knowles exists. So does J.T. Tuimoloau. But this is nothing new. Not in 2022, at least. The Buckeyes have the No. 8 scoring defense in FBS, meaning the season will not automatically come to an end if/when Stroud and the offense struggle. OSU can finally count on getting at least a few stops, which creates additional breathing room and a larger margin for error.
Do we, as fans of the scarlet and gray, look forward to low-scoring slobberknockers? No, not necessarily. But I don’t think we should be absolutely horrified by the thought of such a game, either. I am willing to throw the Northwestern game out, and look at the matchup with TTUN the same way I would have after Week 1, Week 5, or Week 8.
As for the eventual opponent, they are legit. I wasn’t so sure about their quarterback or the replacements on defense, but once the Wolverines began Big Ten play, I found myself willing to admit that Jim Harbaugh has a squad. And the matchup after Thanksgiving might end up being a battle for the ages. But the fact that they smoked PSU has not changed my opinion on them. Because TTUN did not light the world on fire against Iowa, Indiana, or Michigan State. They are a good team, more than capable of locking horns with Ohio State. The same could have been said a month ago.
I know some fans are more fearful of the upcoming rivalry matchup, but I am not. Because I will always be at least a little bit fearful! It is known as The Game for a reason. However, I do believe the Buckeyes would be favored if a spread were established today (I am familiar with futures, but my co-host and I are debating what we think the spread should be right now). The Wolverines must come into The Shoe and take on a team loaded with NFL talent, coached by elite football minds. And that home field advantage counts for something.
I would set the line at OSU –5.5, right in the “Vegas zone” for that reason. Ohio State is the slightly more talented team, and they get a few points for playing in Columbus.
There you have it, Gene. That’s my number, and I am sticking to it... Unless the Buckeyes struggle with Indiana, in which case I might go from 0 to 60 on the panic meter.
I am not pushing the panic button on a 9-0 Ohio State team just yet, but the results of the last few weeks have at least been a tad bit concerning. The Buckeyes were absolutely cruising heading into the bye week, and it seemed as though that would be a perfect time to work out a few small minor kinks here and there as well as get a bunch of guys healthy that had been dealing with small nagging injuries throughout the first half of the season. In the three weeks since OSU had the weekend off, things have instead been trending in the opposite direction.
The Buckeyes had a slow start against Iowa, but they figured it out in a major way as they went on to drop 54 points on the Hawkeyes, who still own one of the nation’s best defenses. Not much cause for concern after that one. Penn State always finds a way to play Ohio State stuff, and they did just that despite Ryan Day’s group still emerging from Happy Valley with a double-digit victory. Small concerns in terms of play-calling after this one, but once again no alarm bells going off. Then came the Northwestern game, where rain and heavy winds led to a 21-7 win on an afternoon most expected Ohio State to win by upwards of 30-40 points.
The results of these games are not the reason I have my concerns. It is instead the way that the Buckeyes’ run game has steadily declined. In addition, receivers not named Marvin Harrison Jr. have seemingly fallen off a cliff. On the other side of the ball, the defense has continued to look solid, but I still have massive questions about the cornerback play — a position group that hasn’t really been tested, but doesn’t yet appear to be up to the task if they are. All of these areas play a major role in my thoughts about Ohio State taking on Michigan at season’s end.
Looking at things empirically, Ohio State currently owns the No. 1 scoring offense in the Big Ten at 45.8 points per game, just ahead of Michigan with 42.2 points per contest. Defensively, Michigan has the edge in scoring defense, allowing only 12.1 points per game to Ohio State’s 15.8. The gap between the two teams when it comes to scoring points and allowing them is incredibly small, and the same goes for yardage. The Buckeyes have the edge in yards per game, averaging 484.1 to the Wolverines’ 465.7, while Michigan once again has the advantage on defense, allowing 242.4 yards per game to Ohio State’s 271.8. The overall statistics are basically negligible.
The larger differences come up when you start to look at things from a style standpoint. Ohio State is far and away the better passing offense, out-gaining Michigan through the air 290.9 yards per game to 215.7, while the Wolverines have the much more impressive rushing attack, outgaining the Buckeyes on the ground 250 yards per game to 193.2. Will those sorts of things matter when the two teams face off at the end of November?
I do think Ohio State is the better team in this matchup, but the flaws the Buckeyes have began to show do concern me. On offense, I question Ryan Day’s ability to call plays when things don’t go the way he plans it, and I need to see the run game improve as well as guys like Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming returning to their early-season form. It would help to get Jaxon Smith-Njigba back on the field at some point as well, but that would require Ohio State having someone actually good in charge of their strength and conditioning program — which they do not have.
Defensively, I still think the Buckeyes are in a good spot. They allowed over 200 yards rushing to Northwestern, but it took them almost 60 carries to do it (just 3.5 yards per carry as a team). I love what I’ve seen from the defensive line and the linebackers, and the safeties have done a pretty great job as well. My questions on this side of the ball revolve around the cornerbacks. I haven’t seen any reason to believe that Tim Walton is the right man for the job, as we’ve seen a guy like Denzel Burke regress pretty heavily from a year ago and seemingly all of the corners are struggling with the same issues. Michigan doesn’t have the world’s most elite passing offense, but its good enough to attack those guys.
All that being said, right now I would put Ohio State at around a 10-point favorite. I’d likely have the Buckeyes at around a touchdown favorite at a neutral site, so I’m giving a few additional points here for home field advantage. There is obviously a ton riding on this game, not limited to a Big Ten Championship spot and a likely College Football Playoff birth. Day has a lot to prove as Ohio State’s head coach, as you simply cannot lose to Michigan two years in a row. I’m sure the entire Buckeyes’ roster still has a bad taste in their mouth from how last year’s addition of The Game went down, and they will come into this one with an additional fire that we haven’t seen in quite some time.
There are issues to be corrected, and like Josh I will be far less confident if things do not improve over the next two games against Indiana and Maryland, but Ohio State has more than enough talent to figure it out. It will take the Buckeyes’ best effort to best their rival on Nov. 26, but this type of game is exactly why so many of these players came to Columbus in the first place.