Here is what it will take to beat the Buckeyes.
The most important thing is to come out and compete hard. This Michigan team is older than Urban Meyer's Buckeyes; UM has a veteran front seven and a redshirt senior at quarterback. Ohio State is young at every level, and it's shown itself in untimely turnovers and special teams gaffes. Dial up the pressure, and patiently wait for them to blink. Michigan will certainly come out aggressive; but it has to be controlled aggression.
J.T. Barrett has been something of a surgeon on third downs this year. Lauded as one of the smarter quarterbacks of any Urban Meyer offense, he will find a way to convert and make the most out of what's given. It's similar to playing Peyton Manning - as a defense, you just have to shake your head and force another third down.
One of the keys will be Michigan's strong safety Jarrod Wilson, who is a better run defender than pass defender. The free safety - either Delano Hill or Jeremy Clark - has quietly been one of our defense's biggest weaknesses, and Meyer will try to find ways to pick on the corners and safeties. With that said, Michigan should try to play seven - and sometimes even eight - in the box as often as possible.
The threat of getting burned deep is very real. Ohio State's biggest plays have come from an athlete slipping out of the flat and finding no one guarding deep. Michigan needs safeties over the top to shield the deep passes to Devin Smith, Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall. But they also need seven in the box, and eight as often as they can manage it, if they want to jam the engine to Ohio State's attack. They can jam it in two ways.
Ohio State's biggest weakness on offense remains the offensive line. Young and inconsistent, Ed Warinner's group has come a long way in blitz protection, but eight in the box helps maintain gap integrity while creating pressure. As Drew Hallett has pointed out, Greg Mattison loves corner blitzes but Michigan can't disguise them effectively. Stunts by the D-linemen and blitzes from either Jarrod Wilson or a linebacker can make Barrett uncomfortable.
It also helps protect Michigan in the run game. Meyer's secret is creating an offense that's efficient first and foremost and opportunistically explosive. Michigan has to force third-and-longs by stuffing the box and preventing Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett from running up the middle. Eight in the box also helps protect just outside the box, which is where Ohio State attacked MSU because they couldn't win consistently between the tackles.
Of course, eight in the box is not feasible for a whole game. Throwing over the top of the defense would make life too easy for J.T. Barrett. But there's a reason why Ohio State's closest Big Ten games were against Penn State, Michigan State, and Minnesota - they were the strongest front sevens the Buckeyes faced. Michigan has a similar defense, and it needs to use that to stifle OSU's efficiency. Every single quarterback on Earth - from Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on down - is mortal when pressured consistently. Michigan has to make him uncomfortable, and force long down-and-distances to exacerbate his discomfort.
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On offense, Michigan has to embrace running the ball, in Nebraska-esque fashion with Gardner as a running threat and Drake Johnson as the main tailback. Adolphus Washington is a big weakness in the run game, and the rest of Michigan's running attack needs to be centered on what they think the offensive line can do well. Ohio State holds the edge well, but Michigan would do well to toy with some jet sweeps to some of its more explosive athletes to spread the Buckeye defense horizontally. There aren't many options among the receivers when it comes to blazing speed, but Freddy Canteen, Drake Johnson, or (thinking outside the box) Jourdan Lewis could be fast enough to gain that edge and get Buckeye defenders in a bad position.
Time of possession will be important for Michigan. If they keep the ball out of J.T. Barrett's hands, they limit what Tom Herman can implement, and that insulates Michigan's defense. Not only that, but Ohio State's defensive line lacks depth, and the running game has to expose that by the fourth quarter. This has to be a physical, aggressive and turnover-free offense, and the running backs have quietly been all of those things.
If there are much more than 20 passes in this game, Michigan's odds decrease exponentially. Their defense will probably be keyed in to stopping screen passes to our running backs, but Michigan can move Devin Funchess out of the slot to open up a small amount of space in the box. On the outside, only Eli Apple (6'1") and Gareon Conley (yes, you remember him; 6'0") stand at six feet tall. There will be opportunities to throw to Funchess, Jake Butt, or Amara Darboh, and it would also help to use Freddy Canteen regularly to stretch the field vertically. Running effectively will force one-on-one coverage, something we will have to exploit in the second half. But the offense has to stick with running the ball and burning the clock at first, even if they find themselves down two scores.
And, again, this goes back to playing with good emotion for four quarters. This team has to show up more battle-tested and focused than Ohio State, which is itself not an easy thing. If they can do that, validation can be earned. And that's the only way to ever get it.
Hitting the Links Is Hungry
For the entire week leading up to Michigan, Urban Meyer has been playing 'Time for War' in the Woody Hayes Athletic Complex.
Something of a follow-up, this talks about brawls in the Game and Meyer's attempts to keep this team focused on executing.
Meyer has threatened his players with serious consequences for brawls, but OSU's hype video this week highlighted some classic Ohio State-Michigan fights.
This is a terrific piece about the rise and fall of Brady Hoke.
No trophy - just "all the time in the world to think about what just happened." This covers the origin of the rivalry, from the Ohio State psyche.
This breaks down how the Game might be changing over the next ten years.
The 2014 Bednarik Trophy will go to one of Bosa, Clemson's Vic Beasley, or Arizona's Scooby Wright.
As long as we don't have to face Carlos Hyde anymore.
Michigan produced an explosion of offense last year around with misdirection and a vulnerable secondary; it will have to be at least a slightly different recipe this time around.
Ohio State definitely enjoys hating Michigan.
There was even some crowd surfing. The last photo, of a sign saying No Swimming with everyone in the background before getting in, is well done.
Careful, the first one is slightly disgusting.
Stat of the week: Michigan has won just once since 2004. It is the most lopsided stretch of Ohio State victories ever. Also, Michigan has not won by more than 14 since 1993, when Bill Clinton was first President.
Also, to get out of my Mark Dantonio for a minute, Happy Thanksgiving and I love you all. Thank you for reading. And let's turn things around against the Buckeyes.