Football

Tale of the Tape: Michigan

It is ‘The Game’.

You really don’t need to say much more than that.

But I get paid by the word, or at least there is an expectation from readers of this series that I write a lot of words.

You only have to go back to 2018 for the last time that both of these teams were ranked in the top-10 but the roles were flipped that season with Michigan being the No. 4 ranked team and Ohio State coming in as the No. 10 team. The Buckeyes would hang 62 points on that Michigan team, advance to win the Big Ten Championship game and be left out of the College Football Playoff.

This year the Buckeyes know their marching orders. Win and you are in. Ohio State only needs to beat Michigan by one single, solitary point, go on to the Big Ten Championship Game, win it for a fifth time in a row and head off to the CFP.

But after Michigan was “unable” to play Ohio State last season, there are a lot of people who want to see the Buckeyes do more than win this game by a single point. If the Buckeyes sent a message last week against Michigan State, send the biggest statement possible this week against a second-straight top-10 foe.

There are plenty of young Ohio State fans that don’t remember what it was like losing to Michigan. It has not happened much in recent memory, even in 2011 the Buckeyes were just an overthrown pass from pulling the upset.

For old timers, memories of successful seasons derailed by that team up north still linger and fear grips them until the clock finally reaches zero and the Michigan Countdown Clock resets for another year with the Buckeyes celebrating for the next 365 days.

This is probably Jim Harbaugh’s best team coming into the rivalry game with Ohio State but this Ohio State team ain’t half bad either. Let’s just get right to it as we go to the Tale of the Tape for ‘The Game’.

Ohio StateStatRankMichiganStatRank
Rush Defense102.3 YPG11thRush Offense218.4 YPG15th
Pass Eff. Defense125.0237thPass Offense229.5 YPG71st
Scoring Defense19.0 PPG16thScoring Offense36.9 PPG15th

Ohio State Defensive Backs vs. Michigan QB/WR/TE

It would be a colossal leap to say that the result of the Michigan State game proves that Ohio State’s pass defense issues are solved, but the Buckeyes did hold the Spartans under 160 yards in the game and so much of secondary play is about confidence. Michigan State only had 16 completions on the afternoon but then again, the Spartans were out of this game only a few minutes after the anthem played. Denzel Burke continues to play at a high level but put a scare into fans when he left the field with many not noticing that he returned shortly after, only noting that he was not playing later in the game. Obviously that is because the Buckeyes were up so much, it was time to get valuable reps for backups, who carried the mail for the second half of the game. Ultimately things are doing to come down to what type of passing attack that the Buckeyes are facing from week-to-week. Ohio State’s five highest yardage allowed numbers came against the top five passing offenses that the team faced and while Tulsa had the most success and ranks the lowest (No. 53) that was at the height of the issues that the team was facing in that category. Purdue and Penn State each passed for 300-plus yards but also are the No. 7 and No. 25 passing offenses nationally. Nebraska (No. 23) and Maryland (No. 15) also had good passing days. Michigan comes into the game at No. 71 in passing offense but also has also relied more on the pass as of late, so that No. 71 number could prove to be deceiving but let’s not confuse Michigan with Purdue or Maryland when it comes to slinging the ball around the field.

Well, this seems kind of important, does it not? If Michigan can throw the ball around, this will be a four quarter game. If Michigan cannot? Get ready for the O-H-I-O cheer filling the Big House by halftime. The Wolverines have thrown for more than 300 yards in two of the last four games and for more than 200 in the other two, but Penn State was the only team with a defensive pulse of the three teams in terms of the pass and the Wolverines were held to just 217 yards throwing in that game, the lowest total of the four-game stretch. Let’s just call a truth a truth, Cade McNamara is not exactly setting the world on fire with the Michigan throw game. Sure, he has 14 touchdowns against just two interceptions but he also throw the ball on average five yards downfield, not really making intermediate or hard throws. He is a 64.2-percent passer and has 2,142 yards on the season. JJ McCarthy is the change of pace QB and has four scores against one pick and is right around the same completion mark at 65.8-percent. Michigan lost a lot with the injury to Ronnie Bell this year and it is not a well-known roster of receivers doing the work for Michigan with Cornelius Johnson leading the Wolverines in receptions (34), yards (539) and tied for the lead in TD receptions with three (along with Luke Schoonmaker). Erick All has proven to be a valuable weapon as a tight end and look for Michigan to try and find mismatches in the defense with the tight ends as All is the No. 2 receiver in yards and receptions. Mike Sanistril and Andrel Anthony have come on as of late and while the two have combined for fewer than 30 receptions on the year, both seem to make a big play when needed, but will a grand total of two big plays mean anything in this game? The Wolverines featured Donovan Edwards last week against Maryland and his 10 receptions plus 170 yards will give the Buckeyes something to think about, especially since his totals prior to last weekend were two receptions for 14 yards. Let’s be honest here though, Ohio State’s pass defense in terms of yards allowed is not great, ranking No. 98, so there are going to be people worried that Michigan is going to find this or that, but do the Wolverines really have a difference-maker receiver like a Jahan Dotson or David Bell? Do they even have a Samori Toure (Nebraska) to stretch the defense? Over the past 10 games in this series, the Wolverines are a 58.4-percent passing team with 18 touchdowns against 10 interceptions and a 7.153 yards per attempt number. The Wolverines have had a 300-yard passer in only two of the 10 games with Shea Patterson going for 305 the last time these two teams played and Devin Gardner going for 451 in 2013. One thing of note is that over the last 10 games in the series, the Buckeyes have done a great job of taking the ball away in the throw game with 10 interceptions in 10 games and Ohio State has recorded at least one interception in every game since 2014. EDGE: Even (I wanted to pick Ohio State here but I know that Michigan will have something goofy that the Buckeyes will have to adjust to)

Ohio State Linebackers vs. Michigan Running Backs

The Ohio State run defense did a great job last week against Michigan State but you still have to wonder if the six carries by Kenneth Walker III was as much about the situation or that he was not 100-percent after rolling his ankle the week prior to the Ohio State game. Regardless, Ohio State held the Spartans to just 66 yards on the ground on 21 carries. Obviously 21 carries as a team goes to show that any thought of running the ball went out the door when Ohio State got up big in this one. More important than featuring this player or that player in this section is going to be Ohio State getting Michigan ball carriers down to the ground, preventing pile pushes and keeping three-yard gains at just three and not allowing the leg churn of the Wolverines to turn those pedestrian runs into eight or nine-yard carries and keeping the Wolverines offense on schedule. Through the years, the Buckeyes have done very well against the Michigan run offense and as we highlight the last 10 years, the Buckeyes have held UM to just 134 YPG over that 10-year stretch, 3.712 YPC. Michigan has been held to fewer than 100 yards in three of the last five games and while that might be a stretch for this season, the previous five years saw Michigan run for an average of 168 yards and close to two touchdowns a game. Moving back to this season, Ohio State’s run defense checks in at No. 11 in the nation and statistically will be the second most stout that Michigan has faced, only trailing the nation’s top run defense, Wisconsin. The Badgers held the Wolverines to just 112 yards on the ground on 44 carries.

Remember when Michigan came out over the course of the first three games and ran for a combined 1,050 yards and 15 touchdowns? This was going to be the greatest rushing offense ever for a non-gimmicky team. It then took Michigan almost six full games to rush for another 1,050 yards and the Wolverines have not rushed for 15 touchdowns since then, only 14 and a total of two over the past four games combined. Hassan Haskins is a 1,000-yard rusher and can move the pile with the best of them but also has a 62-yarder to show that he can be an issue if he gets loose. But the absence of Blake Corum for the last two games turns this very much into a one-back kind of team as Haskins has 217 carries, Corum has 130 and the rest of the team has a combined 127 carries. So, in looking at Michigan’s offense, how do you separate what the Wolverines did against non-conference teams and what this team looks like against conference foes? 43-percent of the rushing yards were in the non-conference, more than 50-percent of the rushing TDs were in the non-con. You can’t sleep on the Michigan running game, do so at your own peril, but any belief that this is an old school Wisconsin team is a gross misrepresentation. This rushing offense is better than many that the Wolverines have brought to ‘The Game’ over the past 10 seasons, the last seven seasons have not produced a 100-yard rusher for the Maize and Blue. The Buckeyes will be tested but it seems improbable that the Wolverines will be able to sustain drives running the ball against the Buckeyes, especially if there is little/no threat for Michigan going deep in the passing game, something that the Wolverines have not really shown this season. EDGE: Even (It is much more likely that Ohio State stones the Michigan run offense than Michigan has a big game but for now I see the two teams playing to a draw on this front)

Ohio State Defensive Line vs. Michigan Offensive Line

Ohio State’s defensive line play from the Purdue game to the Michigan State game were night and day and that doesn’t mean that Ohio State had a bunch of sacks against the Spartans. Ohio State only had the two, but the line knocked down pass after pass from Payton Thorne and just really did not allow the Spartan offense much of a chance to find any footing. Are we finally seeing the Tyreke Smith and Zach Harrison we had all been waiting for? Here is a good measure of what is going on, how many times have we talked about Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau over the past couple of weeks? That is not because the tandem has disappeared but the clamoring to make a change and go to a youth movement has. The Buckeyes would love to get eight sacks in this game, maybe a couple of strip sacks and just give the Wolverines nothing, but honestly Ohio State just needs to rattle McNamara, don’t give him a lot of time, make the Wolverines move the pocket, just make things uncomfortable. As we said earlier, Michigan does not take a lot of deep shots so it won’t be a case of Michigan needing an eternity to get the ball out of their hands in the throw game but Ohio State still can do a lot to mess with McNamara with pressures and different looks. The Michigan quarterback has not been in a lot of high-leverage situations during his collegiate career, the Buckeyes need to make this as difficult as possible.

Everyone can name at least two members of the Michigan defensive line but can anyone name one member of the Michigan offensive line? The Wolverines have not allowed many sacks on the year, eight total but seven of them in Big Ten play, which still is a 1.0 sack per game average, nothing to sneeze at. Over the past 10 games between these two teams, Ohio State has recorded 30 sacks and has at least one sack in every game against Michigan. The Buckeyes also are averaging 6.2 tackles for loss per game over that same stretch, so the Wolverines know that Ohio State’s pressure over the years has been real. Sure, this may be one of the less talked about Ohio State defensive lines with no Young or Bosa to be found, but guys are coming on and Michigan knows that sometimes a player who has not stepped up yet can be the guy to step up in this game. EDGE: Michigan (slightly)

Ohio StateStatRankMichiganStatRank
Rush Offense197.6 YPG32ndRush Defense128.3 YPG30th
Pass Offense362.3 YPG6thPass Eff. Defense110.129th
Scoring Offense47.2 PPG1stScoring Defense16.3 PPG7th

Ohio State QB/WR/TE vs. Michigan Defensive Backs

We have made it halfway through the piece and here is where things start to skew heavily towards the Buckeyes. If you stop for a minute, you can see CJ Stroud throwing another touchdown pass against Michigan State. Well, Michigan’s pass defense is a significant step up from Michigan State’s, but as we will talk about later in this section, who exactly has Michigan faced with a passing offense like this one? We know, you have heard all the numbers throughout the year but indulge us and hear them again. Stroud has 36 passing touchdowns against five picks, 3,468 yards of passing offense and a 71.1-percent completion rate. Garrett Wilson is 61 yards away from 1,000 yards, Chris Olave is 152 yards away and Jaxon Smith-Njigba is already above the 1,100-yard mark. Ohio State has 20 more passing touchdowns than the Wolverines do, 1,400 more passing yards and the two offenses are talked about very differently. Over the past 10 games between these two teams, Ohio State has only completed 58.5-percent of its passes against the Wolverines (remember from earlier, Michigan has a 58.4-perecent rate, spooky) but the Buckeyes also have a 19-3 touchdown to interception rate. Don’t forget that six (plus) of those games saw running quarterbacks Braxton MIller and JT Barrett running the show for the Buckeyes, so throwing the ball was part of the offense but not the focal point of it. In five of the last 10 games, Ohio State attempted fewer than 25 passes. The Buckeyes still had a 8.524 yards per attempt number over the run of those 10 games.

This will be Michigan’s toughest test in terms of passing offenses. Yes, Maryland was No. 15 in the nation but the Terps were also No. 110 in running the ball, so little surprise what Mike Locksley’s team was going to do there. Dax Hill is a familiar name in the secondary but how much can one person do against Ohio State’s multiple-headed hydra of a passing offense? Hill has a pair of picks along with DJ Turner, Hill leads the team in passes defended as well but there just are not a lot of numbers coming out of this unit. To Michigan’s credit, teams are only completing passes at a 54.6-percent clip and averaging just 178.4 YPG. Northern Illinois throwing for 46 yards and Indiana throwing for 88 yards are great for the average and only two teams have hit the 290-yard mark with Washington and Nebraska (the best 3-8 team ever). You just have to put a lot of this on the line play for the Wolverines, not allowing opposing teams to get settled and find open players because it really is not a case of the Wolverines playing take-away or having gaudy pass defended numbers, so it has to be something else. This is the battle that everyone wants to see. I can explain Ohio State’s success here much easier than Michigan’s, making my call much simpler. EDGE: Ohio State

Ohio State Running Backs vs. Michigan Linebackers

TreVeyon Henderson is going to get his first crack at ‘The Game’ and is coming in with 1,091 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. Ohio State’s success over the years has come from running the ball against Michigan, but as we said earlier, there were many years where the Buckeyes were primarily a rush-first, rush-second kind of team. Over the past 10 games between these two teams, Ohio State averages 254.2 yards per game on the ground, 5.623 yards per carry and has 29 touchdowns over those 10 games (2.9 TDs per game). Ohio State was held to fewer than 200 rushing yards in just one game against Michigan over the last 10 and one guess as to which one that was. Yes, the 2011 loss, Ohio State only ran for 137 yards but still had two rushing TDs in that game. In the last five games the Buckeyes have had 17 rushing touchdowns combined. The Buckeyes are going to need more than just Henderson in this one and the play of Miyan Williams and Master Teague will be important as the Wolverines will be reaching and grabbing for the ball. Ohio State has faced higher-rated run defenses this season with Minnesota coming in at No. 12 in yards allowed but Michigan’s 10 TDs allowed on the ground is impressive, especially when you factor in that five of them occurred in just one game (Michigan State). The Buckeyes cannot get away from running the ball, outside of just throwing for 100-percent success and scoring touchdown after touchdown via the pass. While that seems to be the dream scenario, the Buckeyes are going to need to keep the run handy to force Michigan to cheat its safeties up and allow more room in the throw game.

The Wolverines have faced three top-40 rush offenses to this point of the season and two of those were in the non-conference, meaning a long, long time ago. The only top-40 rush offense since then was Wisconsin, and the Wolverines passed that test but if we are being honest, that was when Wisconsin was racing toward the bottom of the B1G West before a quick turnaround to get back into position to win the division. Ohio State will bring in the No. 32 rush offense and that is even with Ohio State taking a two-game hiatus from running the ball against Penn State and Nebraska. Josh Ross has been in the program for a long time while Junior Colson is a young player and will develop into one of those players that gets a lot of mentions during his Michigan career. Ross leads the team with 80 tackles and has 7.5 tackles for loss along with a pair of passes defended. Colson is third with 51 tackles and while he doesn’t have much in TFL numbers, is an active player in the defense. The question here is going to be if the Buckeyes can replicate the success that Michigan State had against this unit. MSU could not throw the ball well in the game but the five touchdown rushing outburst was not on lopsided run numbers, 36 carries and 199 yards. Walker is on the short list of players being talked about for the Heisman but TreVeyon Henderson may end up winning one before his Ohio State career is done and the Ohio State offensive line run blocking may be the best that Michigan has seen this season. EDGE: Ohio State

Ohio State Offensive Line vs. Michigan Defensive Line

Ohio State’s offensive line is up for the Joe Moore Award, given to the top OL in the nation. For most of the games this season, Ohio State’s OL has been right there, but there was a two-game stretch where that did not look like the case with Penn State and Nebraska. Which OL is going to show up for the most critical game to date on the season? This is going to be Ohio State’s biggest test, no doubt. Ohio State could go up against better total defenses as the year goes on in either the B1G Champ Game or in the bowl season but this Michigan line is no joke and dismissing them would be intellectually dishonest. Ohio State has had to shift players around over the course of the year but having “six starters” on the line pays off when that is the case and the Buckeyes will have to find the right mix of players. One of the biggest things will be playing on the road and while we can debate just how loud the Big House really gets, going on the road and executing a silent count is no simple task. Rewind to Ohio State’s bad two-game line stretch and pre-snap penalties along with other infractions killed Ohio State’s drives. If the line can play a clean game, start booking Indianapolis by halftime. If the line doesn’t hold and worse yet, ends drives with flags, make sure anything you do is refundable.

David Ojabo has 10 sacks and Aidan Hutchinson has nine. Nobody else has three or more. These are going to be the guys that the Ohio State tackles (and tight ends, and running backs and anyone else around) need to account for and neutralize. Ojabo also has forced five fumbles while Hutchinson has a pair to his credit. The “clock” in CJ Stroud’s mind better be working in perfect order in this game because the pressure will be coming. Now, the Wolverines are not going to have free run to blitz everyone at all times, the Ohio State offense will be ready for that and Stroud’s quick release could burn them in a big way if that is the case. But, let’s also note this, Ojabo and Hutchinson have been talked up to the point of it seeming as if both have 30 sacks on the year and are sure-fire for several a game. Ohio State is going into this much better prepared than it did when Isaiah Prince had a horrible, no-good day against Taco Charlton. But, the Ohio State coaches better not forget about that mismatch and be ready to protect Stroud at all costs. Michigan has 27 sacks against Ohio State over the last 10 games of the series and eight of those game in that aforementioned Taco game. The Wolverines only have four over the last three games combined, but this is a different Michigan front. EDGE: Michigan

CategoryOhio StateRankMichiganRank
Net Punt41.00 YPP36th43.75 YPP7th
Punt Return5.77 YPR97th10.79 YPR32nd
Kickoff Return27.61 YPR8th22.86 YPR42nd
FG Percentage16-17 (94.1%)N/A22-24 (91.7%)N/A

We get to the end of the piece, you are tried of reading, I am tired of writing but a special teams play or two is so important. Noah Ruggles no longer has the announcer jinx of being perfect on field goals riding after missing a second half FG attempt against Michigan State. The Wolverines are very good at kicking field goals as well, and have had to rely on the more than Ohio State has. Will Emeka Egbuka be back to return kicks for Ohio State in this one? Ohio State has gotten a charge in that category with him in the line up. Both teams are solid at punting but neither team wants this to become one of those types of games. Outside of Ohio State’s indifference to returning punts, it is very even between both of these units and it will come down to playing the cleaner game. EDGE: Even