Clearly the Buckeyes are dealing with some internal drama after a very poor performance Saturday night. As the opponent, does Michigan use that at all in any way when preparing this week?
Shash: I'm not sure that changes anything, as much as I want it to. Urban came out and said "hey, I was a doofus, Zeke was right" because after you let a player fight a coach like he did in Florida, this was basically the equivalent of a sweet kiss on the forehead from Zeke - who was told he'd get more carries anyway. My bigger question is - how will that leg injury Elliott had affect his running? I think that's probably the only thing Harbaugh and the Wolverines care about.
Zach: That doesn't feel very Harbaugh to me. Ohio State may be in a weird place, but that team is still very capable if it gets its ducks in a row. I think Harbaugh will be more concerned with making sure his team is prepared for what it'll see on the field and leave the off field stuff outside Schembechler Hall.
Ricky: I agree with Zach. Michigan has to focus on Michigan, and that's going to happen. Focusing and rallying around an Ohio State team that might be crumbling internally is a very Brady Hoke thing to do.
Peter: The answer is no. Once you start keying in on what the other team is doing internally, you've already lost in a way. Harbaugh has had the team very focused on their own issues (or whatever), so I think that's how he'll prepare for Saturday. That being said, we'd be fooling ourselves to say that the team isn't psyched...but it's more because of what they've been able to accomplish this season and what it could mean for Saturday.
Kevin: Harbaugh taking a group of people out to Bo Schembechler's grave late at night and smashing a buckeye nut with a maize hammer tells us where his head is this week. It's not like he has to try to motivate these guys to play their biggest game of the year, it's more about properly preparing. Ohio State isn't going to decide to phone it in, and Michigan should just prepare as they normally would.
On the other hand, Ohio State will no doubt get focused to play Michigan...what should the Wolverines be ready for that they might change from whatever the hell that MSU game plan was?
Shash: I'm betting Urban Meyer won't have an aneurysm on the sideline or whatever the hell he had. He is many things, but he is very smart and still an elite coach. Neither team will lack motivation for this game, and if anything, I think OSU might actually run MORE than they did against State if Ellliott is healthy, given Michigan's lack of depth on the interior. If I were Meyer, and there's a reason I'm not a P5 head coach, I'd run a ton of up-tempo with my backs and JT Barrett to wear down M's defensive line and then spread the ball around to my talented receivers.
Zach: I think that Ohio State would be wise to exploit the weaknesses that Indiana exposed. Michigan's defensive line is thin due to injuries and tempo/no-huddle effectively wears those players out and locks guys on the field thanks to substitution rules. Furthermore, Michigan got gashed on the outside zone against Indiana and Barkley's big run in the PSU game came on the same play. Unlike Penn State, the Buckeyes are built to take advantage of these issues on Michigan's defense. Whether Meyer decides to do attack this or shoot himself in the foot for 60 minutes is anyone's guess after last week.
Ricky: The Wolverines better be ready for the running game. Elliott, regardless of last week's abomination, is still a Heisman-level running back and JT Barrett is a dual-threat quarterback that Michigan hasn't seen this season. The defense as a whole locked down after last week's opening drive, which is positive. If I'm Meyer, I run Elliott till the wheels fall off and attack Michigan's pass defense, maybe toss Braxton Miller in the mix with a Jabrill Peppers-like role.
Peter: They need to be ready for an up-tempo day. Regardless of the success that any good Michigan team has had, they have always struggled with a team that is fast and has a mobile QB. I think Ohio State is going to come out and try to run all over the Michigan defense, and do it quickly so they get gassed. I'm actually pretty scared.
Kevin: Meyer probably has a plan to insert Cardale Jones quickly if the offense struggles again. Michigan has to be aware of the deep passing game if that happens.
Michigan's defense hasn't faced a run-first QB like JT Barrett all year, and didn't get to face him last year due to his injury. Add Zeke Elliott to the variables as well. Level of confidence in this front seven that they can be ready to slow both down?
Shash: I think Michigan needs to pick one to stifle and force the other one to beat them, especially given some of the issues M's linebacker corps has faced this year. They've been vulnerable to quick slants and interior runs, which fits well into Barrett's strengths - if M can control the outside runs and set the edge I think they've got a much better shot. The best way a defense can shut down an offense as talented and physical as Ohio State's is to make them predictable and keep them off of their schedule.
I think we don't give Michigan State enough credit (#DISRESPEKT) for how much they f'ed shit up in Columbus. Sure, the playcalling was atrocious, but Michigan State blew the pants off that O-Line and controlled the tempo throughout. In a lot of ways they set the blueprint - don't let Barrett run outside, force Elliott in between the tackles, and shut him down when he does so.
Zach: In the portion of the game Barrett played last year he put up 250 all purpose yards and three touchdowns. Michigan's defense is a lot better this year, but it has shown some cracks defending spread-to-run concepts (most notably against Utah, but also for a couple plays against Oregon State). Michigan will need to get a good day from its Buck spot so that a strong edge is set on run plays and Barrett/Elliott are kept in tight spaces where Michigan's defense can more effectively close down and make tackles.
Ricky: I have to agree with Zach again. Barrett looked good last year and some thought his injury might be a turning point in the game (you know, before Cardale Jones became the hottest name in the land from December to January). But Elliott went off and carried the Buckeyes. I still remember the 44-yard, nail-in-the-coffin touchdown run on 4th-and-1 late in the fourth quarter. I think you have to attack Elliott because Barrett hasn't been the same incredible threat with Tom Herman now at Houston. Exploit that.
Peter: I'm not sure if you know this or not, but like Shash, I'm not a P5 head coach. Sorry to disappoint. If I were, my strategy would be to pee my pants and then get fired for losing big-time due to that being my entire gameplan. However, Harbaugh being good at what he does should focus on Elliott, Elliott, Elliott. We already saw what kind of pressure MSU could get on the Buckeyes, and there really isn't any reason to believe Michigan can't do the same.
Now flip it around. Which of Michigan's many weapons should the Buckeyes be most concerned about stopping? Who are your key players on offense and defense?
Zach: At this point it seems like Ohio State has to build its defensive game plan around stopping Jake Rudock. This isn't exactly where we thought we'd be six weeks ago, but it isn't the strangest thing in the world. He looks worlds more comfortable in the offense, his relationship with Michigan's top three receivers is great, and they have all taken a step forward to maximize the opportunities he is giving them. Ohio State's focus should be on getting pressure on Rudock, get him rattled, and hope that leads to mistakes (like his interception last week following a big hit he took).
Defensively, Ohio State will need to figure out how to neutralize Michigan's defensive line. Whether that is using tempo to gas them, outside zone to cut them, or quick passes, the way to beat Michigan is to not let its defensive line beat you.
Shash: How weird is it that we're actually talking about a team gameplanning to stop Rudock? Even in our wildest dreams it wasn't gonna be like this. Sure, we could hope for 20-25 attempts from Rudock and a decent YPA, but it was always going to be about Smith and Johnson and the defense. But now Michigan's got a legitimately talented stable of "pass catchers" that can actually help them advance the ball through the air via the forward pass. Fullbacks aside, Darboh and Chesson are now reliable and Butt is a matchup nightmare. A home game, decent weather, and solid protection (fingers crossed) means that Michigan's gonna be tough to defend in the air. Now, if OSU can rattle Rudock (that's happened to Rudock before) and make Michigan rely on their backs, then it's anyone's guess.
On the defensive side of the ball, I agree with Zach and think OSU's gotta figure out how to outwit M's defensive line. I'm probably wrong, but I've seen space in the middle of the field against this defense - quick slants and runs to the second level have given M problems. Run a bunch of those to get the corners backing off a little bit and then it's a different ballgame, offensively. Ohio State has to stay on schedule and ride their horse - Zeke Elliott - and they'll need the passing game to create space for him.
Ricky: I have to go with Jabrill Peppers. Throw away all the statistics; he's been Michigan's best player this season. It's the last game of the year. There's no more time to turtle. I think we'll see what Peppers is really made out of. After all, Harbaugh said in his conference call Tuesday that Peppers could be "the Willie Mays of football."
My key players are Drake Johnson and Chris Wormley. The running game has been nonexistent since Oct. 17 and I've believed that Johnson could fix that with his running style. He kept Ohio State on its toes last year, too. Wormley has been a monster on the defensive line and his efforts will be relied upon against Elliott and Barrett.
Peter: Peppers on both sides of the ball. Whether he's actually used or not, Ohio State needs to key on him, and Michigan needs to hope that they can exploit that. If Ohio State is concerned about Peppers on offense, then it really could open things up for Rudock to throw downfield or for one of the other backs to have a day.
Kevin: And it may not necessarily be downfield. Meyer isn't going to let Peppers beat him, which means somebody else will be left alone. Chesson has the speed to beat Joey Bosa around the edge if the secondary is keyed on Peppers. Sione Houma and Drake Johnson can slip into the middle of the field as the checkdown option if Adolphus Washington crashes to the inside. Darboh can catch balls on the sidelines if Rudock fakes a throw in Peppers's direction. And then Ohio State still has to account for Michigan's not-so-secret weapon: the goal line defense responsible for three victories in the last five weeks.
What do you think will be the difference in this game, be it a matchup, a unit, or scheme. And predict the outcome.
Zach: Unfortunately, I think the difference in this game is going to be in the run game. I have more confidence in Ohio State stopping Michigan's underwhelming rushing offense than I do in Michigan's beat up front seven stopping Zeke Elliot. Only Meyer can do that by not giving him the ball. Does that happen two weeks in a row?
I think the run game gives Ohio State enough of an offensive advantage to string together more and longer possessions, which mitigate the field position win Michigan will get from special teams. With a slightly more two-dimensional offense, Ohio State sneaks out a one score game.
Shash: No chance I predict the score on this one, but I think the center of Michigan's defensive line is goign to win them or lose them this game. If they can do enough to force Ohio State elsewhere, I trust Durkin and Mattison to scheme up enough varied looks to confuse Barrett and keep it close. I hate saying games will be won or lost in the trenches because they always are, but this one's no different.
Ricky: I think it's the running game. Ohio State has a first round pick in its backfield while Michigan has a lot of question marks. De'Veon Smith looked real good when he wasn't banged up and we know what Johnson is capable of. Rudock has been phenomenal this month but he can't do it all. Regardless, I'm taking Michigan 38-35.
Peter: I'll echo what's been said above and say the running game, but that's an extension of the line play in both directions. Will Michigan's defensive line get enough push to keep Elliott in check, and can the offensive line do enough to let Smith keep the chains moving. However, I do believe a potential win will come down to Rudock. He's been playing very good football in the last few weeks. He may not throw six touchdowns, but I think he's going to make the key completions to put Michigan in a position to win. I've said before that I'm done making predictions--hell, I can't even tell you what I'm going to have for lunch, much less the outcome of this game. I'll just say that it's going to be close.
Kevin: Michigan has seemed to figure out their offensive deficiencies over the last few weeks and turned them into strengths. Defensive conditioning is a big issue because of depth, but I trust in this secondary to keep Ohio State's burners in check. I think it comes down to time of possession with who can run the ball most efficiently. Michigan will do it by committee and OSU will live and die with Zeke Elliott. Whichever side makes a big play with their respective guys is likely the winner. Michigan 31, OSU 27.
Final week of the regular season for many teams, so what're you watching after The Game?
Alejandro: MSU-PSU, duh!
Zach: I'm going to hate-watch MSU/PSU.
Shash: MSU-PSU, but if M loses I'm shutting off the TV and going outside.
Ricky: MSU-PSU and the Iron Bowl will probably be over when I get home from The Game so let's go with Bedlam.
Peter: The trip back to my hotel after The Game will be filled with MSU/PSU and Paul Bunyan's Axe.
Kevin: Stanford-Notre Dame probably has the largest presence for the playoff standings, because if Notre Dame loses they're out for good, and opens the door for a PAC-12 team or even -- gulp -- Michigan State, if enough chaos occurs.
Extra Point! Harbaugh was careful to not get hyped about the rivalry or elevate it above any other game, but as we know, it's special. Best OSU-Michigan game you've seen and what the rivalry means to you!
Shash: I miss the Cooper years. The shitty thing about Michigan's demise the last decade or so is you've had to go back pretty far to find a meaningful game that Michigan won. I guess I could go with the ‘97 game, but to me, the better years were right before that - in ‘93, ‘95, and ‘96, Michigan beat the Bucks in games with great storylines. ‘96 featured an upset in Columbus, but the best game for me was the 1995 "Michigan's nothing" game - Biakabatuka's monster game to beat Heisman Trophy-winning Eddie George, Terry Glenn, and the rest of the NFL-laden roster the Bucks had.
I love how Coop had the Bucks in contention every year but had two wins against Michigan in 13 years, which got him fired. I miss him. Hire him back. But what that tells me is our rivalry is cyclical - Ten Year Wars don't happen much, and if you look at a similar span (2001-now) it's just as lopside in Ohio State's favor as when I was growing up. So I'm just hoping for a return to parity and a reasonable expectation Michigan can win at home.
Also, I cannot emphasize enough how hilarious it is that the Mirror Lake jump (one of OSU's best traditions - and they have a ton of cool ones, believe it or don't) is being held hostage by the PC police.
Ricky: The best OSU-Michigan game I've seen was the 2013 edition. It was my first time experiencing the rivalry in person and everything about the day was phenomenal: I enjoyed some delicious tailgate chicken and press box ice cream treats, covered an improbable shootout and wrote a damn good story. It's like Ice Cube's song, "It Was A Good Day." To me, the rivalry means the Midwest's best duking it out. It's the best rivalry in sports. Even if one team is experiencing a down year, it's still special. Teams get up for this one. It's like a Super Bowl between the states of Michigan and Ohio.
Kevin: There were some stellar games in Columbus in the nineties, but at the risk of dating myself, I got to go to the Rose Bowl-clinching game in 1997 at Michigan Stadium. Michigan's defense won them that game thanks to interceptions by Tommy Hendricks and Marcus Ray. It tried to snow, and that didn't bother Charles Woodson one bit. Two images of Woodson got plastered on magazines and newspapers: him upending David Boston to where he nearly flipped 180 degrees onto his head, and a single rose clenched between his teeth. The college football world always jabs Michigan about their stadium being quiet, but I couldn't hear any of the people around me as Woodson made his Heisman-sealing punt return.
That was just one of many times when these two teams played for the right to represent the Big Ten in Pasadena, and that's how it should be every year. We may be returning to that trend this year at last, but of course the College Football Playoff is a factor. It's more about a divisional title to continue the hope of making it to Pasadena now, but the importance remains high. And to Ricky's point, it really is a Super Bowl between Michigan and Ohio. Most of the players on these teams know each other, or their families know each other, or they were recruited by both programs during high school. There's never any doubt which team deserves to win, because everything is left on the field. It's a deeply personal and impassioned game, more than the rivalry with Michigan State, according to everyone. And we saw this on display just recently away from the football field.
Players from both Ohio State and Michigan recently decorated the home of Chad Carr's family for an early Christmas celebration so that he could experience one last holiday before entering his hospice care. None of us who manage this website knew Chad Carr, but we know someone just like him in each of our families. That person who brings us endless joy, the one who loves watching Michigan play more than anything. The rivalry wouldn't be the rivalry without those individuals caring so much about the outcome.
Peter: Like Shash, I miss John Cooper and those crazy ‘90s and spoiling Ohio State's championship caliber teams. This is the greatest rivalry in sports; don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise; it's a fool's errand. As far as what this means to me--I was 17 when Desmond Howard made his Heisman pose in ‘91, and 23 when Woodson worked his magic in ‘97, but I felt like a giddy little kid in single digits on each of those plays. This rivalry is about making big plays in the biggest moments and either crushing our souls or lifting us up. I don't know about the rest of the MnB crew or those of you reading this, but my soul can't be crushed any more; it's time for a change.
And with that, win it for Chad, men.