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Posts Tagged ‘The Horseshoe’

The Game preview: #3 Michigan at #2 Ohio State

Friday, November 25th, 2016


um-osu-game-preview-header(Dustin Johnson)

Ten years ago, No. 2 Michigan met No. 1 Ohio State on a crisp fall day in Columbus in what was being called The Game of the Century. With the Big Ten championship game and College Football Playoff still years away, the winner of The Game would earn a spot in the BCS Championship Game.

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Quick Facts
Ohio Stadium – 12p.m. ET – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (5th season)
Coaching Record: 164-28 (60-5 at OSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Ed Warriner (5th season)
Co-Defensive Coordinators: Greg Schiano (1st season)
Luke Fickell (12th season)
Last Season: 12-1 (7-1 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: OSU 42 – UM 13
All-Time Series: Michigan 58-48-6
Record in Columbus: Michigan 27-26-2
Jim Harbaugh vs OSU 0-1
Last Michigan win: 2011 (40-34)
Last Ohio State win: 2015 (42-13)
Current Streak: Ohio State 4
Ohio State Schedule to date
Opponent Result
Bowling Green W 77-10
Tulsa W 48-3
at #14 Oklahoma W 45-24
Rutgers W 58-0
Indiana W 38-17
at #8 Wisconsin W 30-23
at Penn State L 21-24
Northwestern W 24-20
#10 Nebraska W 62-3
at Maryland W 62-3
at Michigan State W 17-16

After delivering a rousing speech to the team on Thursday night, Bo Schembechler passed away on Friday morning, the day before the game. The loss of the patriarch of Michigan football sent shockwaves around college football and completely changed the tone of the game. Whether it made an impact on the outcome of the game will never be known, but the game turned out to be a shootout. Michigan marched down the field for the game’s first touchdown. Ohio State answered and took a 28-14 halftime lead. Michigan fought back to within four, but was unable to pull it out as Ohio State won 42-39.

We all know the long and painful story from there. Michigan went on to lost the Rose Bowl to USC, then lost the first two games of the next season to Appalachian State and Oregon. Lloyd Carr retired at the end of the season and Michigan suffered through seven seasons of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke.

Ohio State, meanwhile, went on to win four Big Ten championships, two BCS bowls, and play in three national championship games, winning one of them. During that span, they’ve beaten Michigan all but once, when the Wolverines pulled off a 40-34 win in Hoke’s first season, which was also a transition season between Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer.

Jim Harbaugh returned to Michigan in December 2014 and immediately locked in a solid recruiting class in short time and then turned a 5-7 team into a 10-3 team that beat SEC East champion Florida in the Capital One Bowl. But he wasn’t able to beat Ohio State, falling 42-13 in Ann Arbor. Now, 30 years after his infamous guaranteed victory over the Buckeyes, he takes his Wolverines into Columbus to try to earn a spot in the Big Ten championship game.

Ohio State comes in with an identical 10-1 overall record and 7-1 conference record as Michigan. The Buckeyes’ only loss was a 24-21 defeat at Penn State just a couple weeks after Michigan beat the Nittany Lions by 39 points. But OSU has beaten now-8th-ranked Oklahoma and 6th-ranked Wisconsin, both on the road. Add in a 62-3 thumping of now-16th-ranked Nebraska, and Ohio State has proven it can play with anyone.

Like that Game of the Century a decade ago, this year’s matchup figures to be a monumental battle between two of college football titans. In college football’s greatest rivalry, what more could you ask for? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Ohio State has the ball

Despite losing their running back, quarterback, tight end, most of the receiving corps, and their left tackle to the NFL, Ohio State’s offense hasn’t really missed a beat. It leads the Big Ten and ranks fifth nationally in scoring (43.8 points per game), leads the Big Ten and ranks eighth nationally in rushing (263.1 yards per game), ranks fifth in the Big Ten and 68th nationally in passing (230 yards per game), and leads the Big Ten and ranks 21st nationally in total offense (493.1 yards per game).

That the Buckeyes lost last season’s quarterback is slightly overstated given that junior J.T. Barrett is back. He started his freshman season, going 11-1 in 2014 before ending his season against Michigan and watching Cardale Jones lead the team to the national title. Jones won the starting job last season, but Barrett saw ample playing time, including a four-touchdown performance in last year’s Michigan game.

This season, Barrett leads the Big Ten with 24 passing touchdowns, though he ranks sixth in yards per game (209.5) — one spot behind Wilton Speight’s 215.6 — and third in pass efficiency (147.7) — one behind Speight’s 148.9. He has completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 2,304 yards and just four interceptions. But he’s coming off his worst passing performance of the season against Michigan State, in which he completed just 10-of-22 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. Still, he’s even more dangerous with his legs as he rushed for 105 yards. He has thrown for more than 200 yards in seven of 11 games, including a five-game stretch leading up to the MSU game, and he’s also tied for the team lead with eight rushing touchdowns.

Michigan fans will be familiar with redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber, the Detroit Cass Tech product who originally committed to Brady Hoke, decommitted in favor of Ohio State, and nearly switched back to Michigan after Harbaugh was hired. But he stuck with the Buckeyes and has rewarded them with a 1,000-yard season in his first campaign. He currently ranks fourth in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 95.1 yards per game. He has rushed for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns on 6.3 yards per carry. But after opening the season with three 100-yard games in his first four, he has just one in the last seven games. He rushed for 111 yards on 14 carries at Michigan State last Saturday. Penn State and Wisconsin held him to a combined 3.6 yards per carry.

The receiving corps is lead by the dangerous H-back Curtis Samuel. The junior from Brooklyn, N.Y. has 61 receptions for 790 yards and seven touchdowns — all team highs — and he also has 84 carries for 650 yards and seven scores. His 14 total touchdowns rank third in the Big Ten (non-quarterbacks) and he ranks second in the conference behind Penn State’s Saquon Barkley with 132.5 all-purpose yards per game. Sophomore Noah Brown is the team’s second leading receiver with 27 catches for 345 yards and seven touchdowns, while senior Dontre Wilson has 26 for 343 and five. Junior tight end Marcus Baugh is the only other Buckeye receiver with 20 or more receptions with 21 for 242 yards and two scores.

Ohio State’s offensive line is good but not great. They’ve given up one more sack than Michigan’s has this season, but some of that success is a result of Barrett’s mobility. Senior center Pat Elflein and junior right guard Billy Price are the are the best linemen on the team. Elflein was a second-team All-American last season. Sophomore right tackle Isaiah Prince and freshman left guard Michael Jordan are the weaknesses on the line where Michigan’s talented defensive front will attack. Junior left tackle Jamarco Jones has improved throughout the season and is a solid bookend.

When Michigan has the ball

The Buckeye defense ranks second in the Big Ten and third nationally in scoring defense (13 points per game), fourth in the Big Ten and 18th nationally against the run (120.3 yards per game) second in the Big Ten and third nationally against the pass (159.5 yards per game), and second in the Big Ten and fourth nationally in total defense (279.8 yards per game).

Like on the offensive side, despite losing much of their defense to the NFL, the Buckeyes still present the best and most athletic defense Michigan has faced yet this season. But they’re not as great at getting to the quarterback as they have been in years past, ranking just sixth in the Big Ten and 57th nationally with 24 sacks — two-thirds of Michigan’s total. Junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis leads the way in that category with 7.5 sacks, while the other end, sophomore Sam Hubbard, has three. Reserve ends, junior Jalyn Holmes and freshman Nick Bosa, have another six combined. The interior of the OSU line is lead by redshirt freshman Dre’Mont Jones and junior nose tackle Michael Hill who have a combined 59 tackles and five tackles for loss, but no sacks. Freshman backup tackle Robert Landers is also talented with 7.5 tackles for loss and one sack on the season.

There’s no dropoff at linebacker where junior Raekwon McMillan is one of the best middle linebackers in the country. He’s Ohio State’s leading tackler with 71, has 4.5 tackles for loss, one sack, four pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. He’s much more athletic than your typical middle ‘backer. Sophomore WILL Jerome Baker and junior SAM Chris Worley are solid with 103 combined tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, and six passes defended.

The secondary is lead by sophomore safety Malik Hooker, who leads the Big Ten with five interceptions and is dangerous with the ball in his hands, having returned two of them for touchdowns. He ranks third on the team with 60 tackles in addition to 4.5 tackles for loss, half a sack, and nine passes defended. He’s all over the field, both in coverage and run support. Junior Damon Webb — another Cass Tech star that got away from Michigan — is the other safety and he has 48 tackles, two for loss, one interception, and four passes defended. Junior Gareon Conley — a former Michigan commit — and sophomore Marshon Lattimore are the corners and both are very good.

The other third

Fifth-year senior punter Cam Johnston is one of Ohio State’s best weapons, leading the Big Ten in punting average by a whopping 4.5 yards! He’s averaging 46.3 yards per punt with 13 of 43 punts over 50 yards and nearly half (21) downed inside the 20. Senior kicker Tyler Durbin has been the Big Ten’s most reliable placekicker, converting 16-of-17 field goals, the only miss being the block at Penn State. But the former walk-on’s long all season has been 45 yards.

Sophomore receiver Parris Campbell is a dangerous kick returner even though he hasn’t taken one all the way yet. He averages 26.6 yards per return. Wilson is the main punt returner, averaging 6.3 yards per return.

Prediction

I’ll start with a disclaimer. This prediction is based on Speight being able to play the whole game. If he’s unable to play, or if he’s knocked out of the game, I predict a Michigan loss. But I’m hedging my bets on his shoulder not being quite as bad as Harbaugh let on the past couple of weeks.

In a game like this where both teams rank among the nation’s best both offensively and defensively, and both teams will come in full of emotion in a rivalry game, I like to think that they’ll both keep doing what the are good at — what got them there.

As we saw in this week’s The Numbers Game, Ohio State’s defense has been susceptible to big plays, especially in the run game where they rank 77th nationally, giving up 5.91 explosive runs per game. In fact, they’re slightly worse in that regard than Indiana, which entered last week surrendering 5.7 per game — 70th nationally. We all know what Michigan’s running game did to the Hoosiers, racking up seven explosive runs including De’Veon Smith’s scampers of 39, 34, and 25 yards. We also know that on drives in which Michigan has an explosive play they score 73 percent of the time.

Michigan’s offense averages 11.36 explosive plays per game and OSU’s defense surrenders 8.09 per game. Let’s say Michigan’s offense gets eight and scores points on 75 percent of those. Even if they’re all field goals, that’s 18 points. But Michigan will score at least one touchdown, so now we’re into the 20s. Two puts them at 26 points — two touchdowns and four field goals — and I think that’s enough to win the game.

Michigan’s defense surrenders just 6.09 explosive plays per game — fifth nationally — while Ohio State’s offense averages 11.09 (16th). The Wolverines haven’t surrendered more than nine explosive plays in non-garbage time this season. But even so, even if Ohio State’s powerful offense gets its average of 11, Michigan’s defense gives up points just 35 percent of the time. That equates to four scores and I doubt all four will be touchdowns as Michigan has surrendered just 14 all season. Three touchdowns and a field goal is 24 points.

Sure, it may be slightly ridiculous to base a prediction on explosive play stats, but they’ve been pretty accurate all season. And now we have 11 games worth of data to use. If Speight plays, Michigan’s offense will be able to move the ball well enough to put up some point on the Buckeyes, even if they settle for field goals. Senior Kenny Allen will come up big by making all of them. Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno will empty the kitchen sink trying to soften the Buckeye defense for Smith to get the running game going.

On the other side, Michigan will surrender a few big plays, likely including the 50-yard touchdown run up the middle that has become standard for OSU in this game. But by and large, the U-M defense will hold strong and keep the Bucks out of rhythm.

The game live up to its billing, going down to the wire. Allen boots a game-winning field goal, Michigan escapes the snake pit with its first win in 16 years, and heads to Indy for a rematch with Wisconsin. Of course, if Speight doesn’t play, this could be all moot.

Michigan 26 – Ohio State 24

First Look: #2 Ohio State

Monday, November 21st, 2016


osu-cheerleader-fall

Michigan rebounded from its loss to Iowa with a workmanlike win over Indiana on Saturday. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but it showed resilience, and finding a way to win without starting quarterback Wilton Speight will give the Wolverines some confidence heading into Columbus on Saturday.

Ohio State comes in with an identical 10-1 record overall and 7-1 in the Big Ten. Like the classic Michigan-Ohio State battles of old, The Game will have a major impact on the Big Ten title race. If Michigan wins, the Wolverines head to Indianapolis to face Wisconsin (assuming the Badgers beat Minnesota). If Ohio State wins and Penn State beats Michigan State, the Nittany Lions will win the East and head to Indy. If OSU wins and Penn State loses, the Buckeyes will play for the title. In other words, Michigan just needs to win.

Let’s take a look at how the teams compare through the first 11 games of the season.

Ohio State & Michigan statistical comparison
Ohio State | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 43.8 | 42.3 5 11
13.0 10.9 3 1
Rushing Yards 2,894 2,588 1,323 1,195
Rush Avg. Per Game 263.1 | 235.3 8 19
120.3 108.6 18 10
Avg. Per Rush 5.7 | 5.2
3.4 3.0
Passing Yards 2,530 2,374 1,755 1,507
Pass Avg. Per Game 230.0 215.8 68 82 159.5 137.0 3 1
Total Offense 5,424 4,962 3,078 2,702
Total Off Avg. Per Game 493.1 451.1 21 38 279.8 245.6 4 1
Kick Return Average 24.1 17.3 14 121 18.4 21.0 25 | 78
Punt Return Average 5.2 16.0 96 6 3.1 7.6 11 63
Avg. Time of Possession 34:25 33:06 4 15 25:35 | 26:54
3rd Down Conversion Pct 51% | 44% 9 | 42
29% | 21.0% 7 1
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 17-100| 16-103
30 24
24-169 | 36-247 57 9
Touchdowns Scored 62 60
15 | 14
Field Goals-Attempts 16-17 14-19
13-15 | 7-13
Red Zone Scores (50-56) 89%|(53-58) 91% 29 | 16
(21-30) 70%|(13-19) 68% 8 5
Red Zone Touchdowns (37-56) 66%|(40-58) 69% (9-30) 30%|(8-19 42%
Off. S&P+/Def. S&P+ 38.6 36.1 14 25 15.1 | 5.6 7 1

I won’t sugarcoat anything. Ohio State is the best team Michigan has faced this season. That doesn’t mean they aren’t susceptible — they almost lost to Michigan State this past Saturday — but there’s no denying that they’re a more talented team than Michigan has faced to date. And the numbers show that.

Wisconsin has a defense to rival Ohio State’s, but not the offense. Colorado has a top-30ish offense and defense, but not on OSU’s level. Same with Penn State.

The Buckeyes’ lone loss was a 24-21 defeat in Week 7 at Penn State. At the time, it looked to be a bad loss as the Nittany Lions were just 4-2 coming into that one with a loss to Pitt and a 39-point loss to Michigan. But Penn State has reeled off four straight wins since that upset of Ohio State and sits poised to capture the Big Ten East division crown if Ohio State beats Michigan on Saturday.

The Buckeyes rank fifth nationally in scoring offense, averaging 43.8 points per game — a point and a half more than Michigan. They have topped 60 points three times and surprisingly, none were against Rutgers, through they did score 58 against the Scarlet Knights. They’ve eclipsed 50 points in four of 11 games, but have been held to 30 or fewer points in four of their last six games. Their lowest point total of the season came this past Saturday when they managed just 17 points at Michigan State.

Ohio State does it mostly with their rushing game, which ranks eighth nationally, averaging 263.1 yards per game. That’s about 28 yards more than Michigan averages. OSU has topped 200 rushing yards in nine of 11 games with only Wisconsin (185) and Penn State (168) holding them under 200. By comparison, Michigan has tallied under 200 yards five times, including against Wisconsin (130), but ran all over Penn State to the tune of 326 yards. Against common opponents, Ohio State has averaged 255 rushing yards, while Michigan has averaged 271.

The passing game isn’t nearly as dominant, despite a senior quarterback with a lot of experience. The Buckeyes rank 68th nationally with 230 passing yards per game. They average about 14 more passing yards per game than Michigan. But that’s a result of Wilton Speight’s injury forcing John O’Korn to play this past Saturday, as the Wolverines entered the IU game averaging 231.5. Ohio State has thrown for fewer than 100 yards twice and 152 yards or fewer in four of 11 games. They had a season-high 417 passing yards in the season opener against Bowling Green’s 110th-ranked pass defense. Their most impressive performance was a 352-yard output against a decent Nebraska defense three weeks ago. Against common opponents, Ohio State has thrown for three more passing yards per game than Michigan (206 versus 203).

Defensively, the Buckeyes feature an elite defense that isn’t quite on Michigan’s level, but not far behind. They rank third nationally in scoring defense, allowing 13 points per game. Only four opponents have scored more than 20 points and they’ve held five to 10 points or fewer.

The rush defense ranks 18th nationally, allowing 120.3 yards per game, about 12 more than Michigan’s 10th-ranked run defense allows. Wisconsin and Michigan State both topped 200 yards on the ground against the OSU defense with 236 and 207, respectively. Wisconsin averaged 5.1 yards per carry and Michigan State averaged 5.9 — both about a yard more per carry than their respective season averages. The Buckeyes have held six of 11 opponents under 100 rushing yards, but those six opponents have an average Rushing S&P+ ranking of 63. Michigan’s defense has held eight of 11 opponents under 100. Against common opponents, Ohio State has allowed 132 rushing yards per game, while Michigan has held opponents to just 89 rushing yards per game.

Ohio State’s pass defense allows just 159.5 yards per game, which is good for third nationally. It’s 22.5 yards more than Michigan’s top-ranked pass defense allows. Three of 11 opponents — Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Northwestern — have topped 200 passing yards. The Buckeyes held Rutgers to just 33 passing yards (Michigan held them to five) and also had the fortune of knocking Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong out of the game early, and thus, holding the Cornhuskers to just 126 passing yards. Against common opponents, OSU’s pass defense has allowed about six fewer passing yards per game than Michigan has.

On special teams, Ohio State is pretty solid all around, ranking 14th nationally in kick return average, 25th in kick return defense, and 11th in punt return defense. The one weak spot is that they rank 96th in punt returns, averaging 5.2 yards per return. Michigan ranks sixth in that category thanks to Jabrill Peppers’ average of 16 yards per return, which means he essentially gives the Wolverines an additional first-down worth of field position on each return. The Buckeyes are also consistent with field goals (16-of-17), red zone scoring (89 percent), and third down conversions (51 percent, ninth nationally).

As you can see, this game is destined to be a dog fight for 60 minutes. Michigan’s defense will keep the Wolverines in the game. The main question will be whether or not Wilton Speight is healthy enough to play. If he is — and has full mobility — the Michigan offense can move the ball similar to the way MSU did. But if Speight can’t go, Ohio State will do a much better job shutting down Michigan’s running game than Indiana did, and O’Korn will have to make plays with his arm. That’s not a good proposition for the Wolverines.

Michigan-Ohio State game preview

Friday, November 28th, 2014


Game Preview_OhioState_banner

For many years, Michigan and Ohio State ended the regular season with a clash that decided the Big Ten title. When the two rivals meet tomorrow afternoon in Columbus, they’ll both have something to play for beyond just bragging rights, but their goals couldn’t be more different.

Michigan missed an opportunity to gain bowl eligibility with a 23-16 loss to Maryland last Saturday, which means the Wolverines will have to beat the Buckeyes to extend their season. Ohio State, on the other hand, is still vying for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

UM-OhioState-small-final
Quick Facts
Ohio Stadium – 12 p.m. EST – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 138-26 (34-3 at Ohio State)
Offensive Coordinator: Tom Herman (3rd season)
Defensive Coordinators: Chris Ash (1st season)
Luke Fickell (9th season)
Returning 2013 Starters: 11 (4 offense, 7 defense)
Last Season: 12-2 (8-0 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: OSU 42 – UM 41 (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 58-46-6
Record in Columbus: Michigan leads 27-25-2
Record in Ohio Stadium: Ohio State leads 24-21-1
Brady Hoke vs OSU: 1-2
Last Michigan win: 2011 (40-34)
Last UM win at OSU: 2000 (38-26)
Current Streak: Ohio State 2

Ohio State already has the Big Ten East division wrapped up, but trails Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Mississippi State, and TCU in the rankings. Only the top four will get in. Ohio State will get a chance for another big win in next week’s Big Ten Championship game, but if they struggle with a 5-6 Michigan squad at home, it would be hard to make a case for moving the Buckeyes ahead of any of those other teams unless they lose.

TCU took care of business on Thursday night with a 48-10 win over Texas, and only has Iowa State remaining. Mississippi State visits in-state rival Ole Miss tomorrow, but the Rebels have lost three of their last four after opening the season 7-0. Unless Alabama loses to Auburn tomorrow, MSU won’t reach the SEC Championship game. If the Crimson Tide can top Auburn, they’ll face Missouri or Georgia next week for the SEC title. Oregon, like Ohio State, faces a 5-6 team, Oregon State, and then the Pac-12 Championship game. That leaves Florida State, the reigning national champion and the only unbeaten team.

A lot can happen this week and next, but in order to avoid getting left out, Ohio State has to beat Michigan and look good doing it. Playoff committee chair Jeff Long started a controversy when releasing this week’s rankings by describing the committee’s use of “game control” as an evaluation metric, which is essentially rewarding teams for running up the score. A 42-41 win over Michigan like last year will not win Ohio State any points in that category, so Urban Meyer will look to keep his foot on the gas pedal and send Brady Hoke packing.

As fans on both sides are fully aware, anything can happen in a rivalry of this magnitude. Because of this, OSU fans are approaching tomorrow’s matchup with caution, despite having won 11 of the last 13. Michigan fans, meanwhile, have already set their sights on Jim Harbaugh and can’t wait until the game is over to close the book on yet another lost season.

Does Michigan have a chance to knock off the Buckeyes in Columbus for the first time since 2000? Or will Ohio State simply take care of the inevitable, ensuring Michigan a third losing season in the last seven years? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Michigan defense vs Ohio State offense: When Ohio State has the ball

Although they lost running back Carlos Hyde, Ohio State entered the season with high hopes offensively, mostly because of senior quarterback Braxton Miller who would be entering his fourth season as a starter. The two-time defending Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year was near the top of most preseason Heisman trophy watch lists. But after re-injuring his throwing shoulder in fall camp, Miller was forced to spend the season on the sidelines.

Enter J.T. Barrett.

The redshirt freshman, who hadn’t seen the field since his junior year of high school thanks to a senior-year injury of his own, was thrust into action much earlier than expected. And while there were some early-season hiccups that resulted in a loss to Virginia Tech — which could ultimately cost the Buckeyes a shot at the national title — he has had one of the most impressive seasons in the country. The Wichita Falls, Texas native has completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 2,658 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, and has rushed for 849 yards and nine scores. Two more solid performances and he will likely earn an invitation to New York at season’s end.

Barrett ranks second in the Big Ten in passing yards per game, first in passing efficiency, and first in total offense. He may not match Miller’s 2012 rushing total of 1,271 yards, but he has far and away surpassed Miller’s best numbers.

But it hasn’t been a one man show in Columbus. Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott picked up right where Hyde left off with 1,061 yards through 11 games. He ranks sixth in the Big Ten in rushing with 96.5 yards per game and fifth with 5.9 yards per carry. He has topped 100 yards in five of the last eight games, including a 23-carry, 154-yard, two-touchdown performance against Michigan State.

Ohio State doesn’t have a receiver that ranks in the top ten in the conference in yards or receptions, but the Buckeyes have a group of very solid receivers. Senior Devin Smith is the big-play receiver, leading team with 610 yards on just 25 receptions. Sophomore Michael Thomas has 12 more catches, but five fewer yards. Both have eight touchdowns. Freshman Jalin Marshall has emerged as a threat as the season has gone on. He caught just six passes for 39 yards and two touchdowns in the first five games, but has 18 for 308 yards and four scores in the last six. Elliott has actually caught the second-most passes on the team (25) for 201 yards. Tight end Jeff Heuerman, who caught a touchdown against Michigan last season, doesn’t have nearly the production he had a year ago but is still a threat with 16 catches and two touchdowns.

The offensive line was a major question mark entering the season, but has progressed pretty well throughout and has had the luxury of starting the same group all 11 games. After giving up eight sacks in the first two games — seven in the Virginia Tech loss alone — the Bucks have allowed just 15 in the last nine games. Some of that has to do with the progression of Barrett, but the line has done its part. Left tackle Taylor Decker is the anchor alongside redshirt freshman Billy Price, junior center Jacoby Boren, redshirt sophomore guard Pat Elflein, and fifth-year senior right tackle Darryl Baldwin.

Michigan offense vs Ohio State defense: When Michigan has the ball

Last season, Ohio State’s defense didn’t do much to help its offense, but new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash has helped shore it up. While it’s still not where Meyer wants it to be, it ranks 30th nationally in scoring defense (22.5 points per game), 41st against the run (147.8 yards per game), 15th against the pass (182.5 yards per game), and 19th overall (330.4 yards per game). It also ranks 18th in sacks (32).

It all starts up front for the Buckeyes with one of the best defensive lines in the nation. The group took a hit when last year’s sack leader, defensive end Noah Spence, was suspended for failing a drug test after last season’s Big Ten Championship game. Slated to miss the first two games of the season, he failed another test and was summarily suspended for the entire season. The other end, sophomore Joey Bosa, has been an absolute star, leading the Big Ten with 11.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. Spence’s replacement, senior Steve Miller has recorded six tackles for loss and one sack.

In the middle, Ohio State is led by senior Michael Bennett and junior Adolphus Washington. Bennett finished fourth in the Big Ten with 15 tackles for loss in 2013, but has fallen off that pace this season with 7.5 so far and three sacks. Washington has seven and 2.5.

The linebacking corps had to deal with the loss of Ryan Shazier to the NFL, but has developed great cohesion with the same three players picking up 32 of the possible 33 starts. Junior weak side linebacker Joshua Perry leads the team with 99 tackles to go along with 8.5 for loss, three sacks, an interception, and two passes defended. Redshirt freshman strong side linebacker Darron Lee ranks fourth on the team with 50 tackles but second with 11.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, and also has two interceptions. Senior middle linebacker Curtis Grant has 47 tackles, three for loss, and one sack.

The secondary was the unit that got torched over and over again last season, but has fared much better this year. Cincinnati and Michigan State both passed for over 350 yards on Ohio State, but the Buckeyes have held five of 11 opponents below 150 yards through the air. Redshirt freshman Eli Apple and senior Doran Grant are the starting corners and have five interceptions and 18 passes defended between them. Sophomore safety Vonn Bell is the team’s second-leading tackler with 68 and also has three picks, while the other safety, redshirt sophomore Tyvis Powell, ranks third with 57 and also has three takeaways.

Special Teams: The other third

True freshman kicker Sean Nuernberger has made just 10 of his 16 field goal attempts on the season with a long of 49 yards. Interestingly, he has yet to attempt a field goal between 30 and 39 yards or over 50 yards all season. He is 5-of-6 from 20-29 yards and 5-of-10 from 40-49 yards. Punter Cameron Johnston, on the other hand, ranks third in the Big Ten with an average of 43.6 yards per punt. He has downed 19 of his 31 punts inside the 20-yards line and booted nine of them over 50 yards with just three going into the end zone.

The Buckeyes rank 18th nationally in punt returns and 19th in kick returns. Marhsall ranks second in the Big Ten with an average of 13.6 yards per punt return and has taken one to the end zone. Dontre Wilson ranks fourth in the conference with 24 yards per kick return — 0.1 more than Dennis Norfleet — but a broken foot suffered against Michigan State has sidelined him for the rest of the regular season.

Prediction

There are two likely scenarios for Michigan on Saturday. Either the team plays with nothing to lose, inspired by its soon to be former head coach and gives Ohio State a run for its money, or it packs it in at the first sign of distress and gets pushed around for 60 minutes resulting in the worst defeat in the history of the rivalry.

Michigan had no business nearly beating Ohio State last season, but came within a failed two-point conversion from doing just that. But heading into that game there was at least an indication that Michigan’s offense could outscore the Buckeyes. This year, however, Michigan’s offense has been stuck in neutral, failing to score 20 points in seven of 11 games. Ohio State hasn’t scored fewer than 21 points in a game all season and averages more than twice that.

The only hope Michigan has is if its defense plays its best game of the season, contains Barrett’s legs, and pressures him into mistakes that he — like any first year starter and freshman — can be prone to make. But that’s certainly no easy task and one that even Michigan State’s defense couldn’t do. And even if the defense can do that, Michigan will have to avoid costly turnovers that have plagued the offense all year. And even if both of those things happen, Michigan will need Dennis Norfleet to break a return that doesn’t get called back. In other words, Michigan needs a perfect storm.

Michigan has allowed just nine first half points in its last three games combined, and will hang with Ohio State early on. But Michigan won’t be able to keep the Bucks at bay for long, and if they can’t find the end zone themselves, will see the game slip away in a hurry. Expect a fairly close game at halftime that Ohio State blows wide open in the second half with a couple of deep balls to Smith or Thomas and the running combo of Elliott and Barrett wearing the defense down. Meyer goes for two at the end to get to 50 and earn style points with the playoff committee, Hoke is fired shortly after, and Jim Harbaugh comes home to reignite the rivalry.

Ohio State 50 – Michigan 13

Five-Spot Challenge: Ohio State

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014


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Sorry for the delay in getting this week’s Five-Spot Challenge posted. Two basketball games to start the week got us behind. But congratulations to Bigboyblue for picking up his second win of the season with a deviation of 136.5, topping Jaeschke by four. Bigboyblue was the closest to Michigan’s longest pass (23 yards) with his prediction of 22. He wins a $20 gift card to The M Den.

Last week’s winner, Freezer566, was the closest to correctly predicting Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown’s total yards. His prediction of 250 was just two away. He was also the closest to correctly predicting the minutes until Michigan’s first touchdown. Michigan scored at the 10:25 mark in the third quarter (34.5 minutes into the game). Freezer566 predicted 35. Four contestants — MichiganMack, Hazel Parker, chris12qb, and Jaeschke — correctly predicted that Devin Gardner would score Michigan’s first touchdown. Four others predicted a touchdown pass from Gardner to Devin Funchess, and thus, were just one away. Finally, first time contestant Ray Weatherford was the closest to the total combined made field goals by both teams. His prediction of 167 was just 14 away from the actual total of 181.

Seventeen of the 18 contestants picked Michigan to win by an average score of Michigan 24 – Maryland 16, which was almost the exact reverse of the actual score of Maryland 23 – Michigan 16. MichiganMack and kashkaav each were correct in their predictions that Michigan would score 16 points, but neither tabbed Maryland’s score correctly.

The weekly results and overall standings have been updated. Unless Michigan beats Ohio State and gains bowl eligibility this will be the final Five-Spot Challenge of the season. All M Den gift cards will be sent out next week to those who have not received them yet.

Here are this week’s picks. As is our custom, we have added a couple more questions for The Game. Enjoy your Thanksgiving.