Dan: It's the final weekend of the regular season and that means it’s the final Mailing it in of the regular season as well. We don't want to waste any time. Von, let's start with the general attitude going into senior day against the Buckeyes. Before I get into the "why" of what I'm about to say, I want to give you a chance to counter. Ready? I am fairly dispassionate about this matchup and the game
Von: Danny boy...you HAVE to be passionate about this game! It's THE GAME! No matter how good Ohio State has been this year and how average the Wolverines have been, that doesn't take away the importance of this game. Every Michigan fan and every Ohio State fan should look forward to this matchup every year, no matter what. Now, with that said, tell me your "why."
Dan: No, I know, but I'm going to attack this head-on. I simply cannot lie to myself in enough ways to convince my brain — or heart honestly — that John O’Korn can win this game. Michigan State knocked me on my butt, Happy Valley broke me and the way last week ended buried it all in a vault a mile underground.
"Anything can happen" is the unstoppable force that is rivalry weekend, but John O'Korn is the immovable object preventing me from actually believing that.
Von: "Anything can happen" seemed to work for Sparty earlier this season against Michigan, so it could certainly factor into this one. I understand the JOK concern, but it seems like Peters might be available this weekend...would you have a little more excitement if he starts?
Dan: Well one of those teams had their "anything can happen" moment against JOK. The other is trying to do it with him under center, and I'm not sure that gulf could be wider. Peters starting would certainly get me back amped about this game in a similar manner to how I was against Wisconsin and for many of the same reasons. Firstly, getting to 9 wins would allow the 10th to be won in the bowl. A 10-3 season given the insane amount of lost talent and leadership, especially when you consider how little major impact this freshman class has had, would be considered a great year. I also think the offense looked really good in the first half against Wisconsin, and was a call or two or a break or two away from doing something very special.
I literally have no idea how good OSU is or which Buckeye team is going to show up. They've been Jekyll and Hyde all year. But yeah, if Peters starts my excitement and anticipation will recover, but I don't know. I can't even BS myself into thinking they win this game with JOK. I can't even come up with a scenario that makes sense, haha.
Von: Yeah the Buckeyes have slipped up a few times this year, especially in Iowa. But I'm with you, I can't see Michigan beating Ohio State with JOK under center. The team just doesn't seem to play with the same energy and motivation as when BP is in at QB. I was in Madison last weekend for the game, and even defensive players left Don Brown while he was talking to them to go see off Peters when he was being carted away. This team LOVES Brandon Peters, and I'm sure they love JOK, too, but this is Peters' team, man, that much is clear.
Dan: I'm with you 100% on everything. I don't want to dwell on this too much though because I don't want to pile on. We've both made our opinions known on the QB issues plenty. But hey, I'm sure the comment section will love this hypothetical: where is UM this year if Shane Morris is still backing up Wilton Speight?
Von: Hahahaha, now that is a fantastically hilarious question. Michigan would be in a deep hole. Morris hasn't played great at CMU this year. He has done decently well...but that is the MAC, a completely different college football world. Michigan would have dropped at least one more game this year they normally wouldn't have. Maybe the Indiana game? Who knows. But it wouldn't have been good, I will tell you that much.
Dan: Leave us YOUR response in the comments!
Okay, there were definitely some good things from Wisconsin. You don't take a 10-7 lead into nearly the fourth quarter against an undefeated team without doing something right. Who or what stood out to you before the wheels fell off late?
Von: The BP to DPJ connection stood out to me watching it unfold live. The game should have been 17-7 at that point, but I digress. That uncalled TD throw and catch was very pretty, and the deep ball completion they had was a thing of art. Their chemistry has developed nicely over the last few weeks, which then leads to another thing that stood out to me, and that is overall team development. Offense, defense, ST. Every player and position has seen some sort of development throughout the year. Aubrey Solomon has been sensational over the past few weeks. David Long has really settled in with Lavert Hill. Khaleke Hudson is a monster at Viper. Cesar Ruiz has been pretty dang good at RG. And to top it all off, Nordin made a field goal! I really hope that made field goal boosts his confidence and shakes whatever issues he has been dealing with. But overall, the development from the first game until now has been fantastic to watch for all these youngsters. What impressed you the most?
Dan: Gosh, that's a pretty good round-up. Parroting the DPJ/Peters connection, I couldn't be more excited about that going into next year. We haven't had the "breakout" game, but there have been flashes and, heck, the bowl game could be that time, too. I'm going to give my big shout out though to the dude who, once again, played out of his damn mind. Khaleke Hudson has had an insane back half of the year. 8 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, and 1.5 sacks was his line last week, following up an interception against Maryland and the record-setting game against Minnesota. He's probably my team MVP this year because of the pure amount of production.
Let's talk about the second point you made and the overall development across the board. I said earlier that the freshmen haven't produced at the highest level. I want to back track some because that's not fair. There's been impact by this class across the board, but I guess the numbers just don't pop off. Despite the frustrations this season has held, I think the 2017 Wolverines are undoubtedly better now than they were at the start of this year.
Von: Absolutely. And even some of the best college players don't have eye-popping freshman seasons. It takes time for the development of most of these guys. We got a good glimpse of the future with the long touchdown by Black and the 50+ yard field goals by Nordin in the Florida game, so I think that elevated the expectations quite a bit from the start. Everything has been much better since the year began, especially offensively. And we are just starting to see a few more of those freshmen, like Ben Mason who recorded his first TD on Saturday. Jalen Kelly-Powell was also out there on defense Saturday, and although he didn't play particularly well it is good for him to get this experience late in the season when a guy like Lavert is out and additional help is needed. All of this is very encouraging to see and it most definitely will translate to the 2018 season.
Dan: You'd like to think so. Tying it together with what you said earlier about it clearly being Brandon's team, I want to pontificate a bit here. I think that one of the intangible changes that came from the QB change was a transfer of power. I think elite teams need at least some form of leadership hierarchy. That could be by year, a position group, underclassmen vs. upperclassmen, etc. When the change at QB happened, Harbaugh showed that he fully embraced the youth movement. In some ways, the transfer of leadership went from the McCray's, Speight's, etc's of the team to the freshmen and sophomores who will carry the team next year and the years after. In simpler terms, when the staff turned the page on this season, they did more than simply change throwers. The signaled to the rest of the team that something bigger is going on and it's time for the young players to really take that next leap. There was no blaming it on the 5th year senior. I think, in particular guys like Hudson, Solomon, McKeon and Lavert Hill have really stepped up the last 4-5 games and seem poised to go above and beyond in these leadership roles over the course of the last month year and continued into the offseason.
Von: That’s a really interesting point you make, and I agree with you in that. I don’t think it happened on purpose, but it’s a good thing that change happened nonetheless. But getting back to the game this Saturday, you mentioned Ohio State has been on/off all for most of the season. Which Buckeye squad do you expect to see come Saturday at high noon?
Dan: This game has some parallels to 2015. Michigan with a strong back half to add some intrigue to their season, OSU on the outside looking in on the playoff, and the game has lost some last-second juice because of one of the teams losing the week before. Ohio State dominated us thoroughly in that game. While Peters starting would give me a fan's optimism, my gut says to expect a motivated and focused Ohio State team. You?
Von: Yeah I expect that. It’s what you expect out of an Urban Meyer led team. They are going to come out guns blazing, like you said, like the last time at The Big House. They whooped Michigan up and down the field. These are two completely different teams from the last time they played at Michigan Stadium, but I do think it will be a similar result, especially if Peters doesn’t play. But let’s get to our 3 hopefully headlines. What do you got this week, Dan?
Dan: I'll start with an unlikely one though it'd make me the happiest. 1) JOK sends himself out on positive note on Senior Day. Winning aside, the dude has been DRAGGED this year and scapegoated, by myself included, for a lot of the problems UM has faced. 2) Hudson finishes the regular season with one final blowout. Let's get that Heisman hype going into next year. 3) Quinn Nordin doesn't miss a kick. It appears like his issues were a combination between physical and mental, and it would feel good to go into the bowl and the offseason at least knowing he's got the mental issues worked out. I know both of us have lower expectations than usual going into this one, but what are your 3?
Von: 1) Michigan isn't blown out at home against its biggest rival for the second straight time. To keep this game closer than the 2015 tilt would be good enough to keep (some) fans happy, including myself. 2) The run game gets back on track, somewhat, and has over 100 yards for the day. Higdon and Co. struggled mightily last weekend in Madison, so for them to bounce back against Ohio State will be crucial for any chance at a W. 3) Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson combine for 4 sacks and 6 TFLs. The defense will have to make J.T. Barrett use his arm rather than his legs all game long, much like last year, but I don't think Barrett wants to do that. Therefore, Bush and Hudson are the blitzers that would have to cause havoc on Saturday.