Michigan made it to the end. Angry Michigan Player Hating God didn’t strike anyone down with furious anger or righteous fury (yet), and here they are at the biggest game of Harbaugh’s tenure. Berkeley Edwards appears to be fine, and Winovich’s status will remain in a locked crate overseen by Top Men. I’ll spare all of you from having to hear me wax poetic about this rivalry, it doesn’t need to be rehashed that this game is why we are all here. Why any of this exists. Without it, Michigan and Ohio State are mere side actors on the college football stage.
I heard numerous analysts say Michigan and Ohio State got caught looking ahead, to which I initially thought, “No duh,” but Indiana and Maryland are not doormats. That’s Michigan State’s role now. Ohio State gave Michigan plenty to look at on film. Michigan gave them field goal formations. You’re welcome, Buckeyes!
I’ve been witness to around a dozen editions of this game in person, and none of them have stuck to the script, and the same goes for the others. That’s not how this works, and you haven’t been paying attention. There were times Michigan traveled to Columbus and wasn’t favored, and won (1986, 1996, 2000). There were times Michigan failed to defend home turf when favored (most of the Tressel years). Lloyd Carr’s final home game at Michigan slipped away in 2007, for one. And that 2000 game in Columbus was the last time Michigan won down there, which is a drought almost as long as John Cooper’s losing record against Michigan.
I’ve held my homerism in (relative) check for 11 games. The universe is aligning for Michigan to beat the ever living snot out of a really good team with a lot at stake. Urban Meyer can act befuddled and aloof all he wants but he can still coach, and he can still win. If I have to stare at that g-d TesticleHead mascot of theirs celebrating during a Michigan game again, I’m gonna lose it. Ohio State might be THE worst, so beat them, please?
I’ve got more to say, but, I open the floor to you...
Andrew Bailey: As I’m sure everyone has done, a motivational game day speech is a requirement for any crazed fan; that speech can be too others or in your own safe headspace. But allow me to offer this, a speech to fans and ourselves alike because players need no extra motivation:
Gentlemen, Saturday is Ohio State: good vs. evil, Harbaugh vs. Meyer, Woody vs. Bo, our own alcohol based perseverance vs. regurgitation, everything is on the line. Are you ready? Are you ready for Don Brown to unveil 10 new exotic blitzes? Are you ready for offensive formations that induce dramatic hands-on-knees confused reactions from Urban Meyer? Are you ready for Chase Winovich to not let anything keep him from playing this Saturday as he screams around the edge blowing past Isaiah Prince again and again? Are you ready for Karan Higdon to rush for over 150 yards? Are you ready for Donovan Peoples-Jones to solidify his Michigan moment and, wait for it, hit the Desmond Howard pose?
Nothing is off the table. It’s Ohio State and I have been ready for this game for 26 years and I know most of you have been ready longer. It’s time, Go Blue.
Andrew V: It’s a battle between the nation’s No. 2 offense and No. 1 defense, and there’s a reason people say defense wins championships. Michigan is flat-out the better team, and should win, but it’s hard to assume it will happen given Ohio State’s success in this rivalry. Karan Higdon should be able to run for a zillion yards and the Michigan offense should be fine. If David Long and Lavert Hill can shut down the OSU passing attack, this game could be more comfortable than we expect.
Von: Look. You can throw all the stats out right now. It’s a rivalry game; these things are so unpredictable. Who expected Michigan to actually compete with Ohio State last season? Nobody, myself included.
I will say this, though: whoever wins this game will have won this game in the trenches. Michigan’s rush defense hasn’t been great over the last couple weeks, and if you haven’t heard, Ohio State has a couple good running backs named J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber. They are one of the best running back duos in the country, and I expect them to be at their best come Saturday.
Michigan’s pass rush has been great all season. Although Michigan did not have a single sack against Rutgers two weeks ago, they were still able to put pressure on the quarterback most of the game and registered two quarterback hurries. The Wolverines also registered two sacks and six hurries against Indiana last week, a game in which it seemed like Peyton Ramsey was able to release the ball quicker than it took to actually hike the ball to him.
Ohio State’s pass rush is among the best in the country, but will surely miss Nick Bosa, as it has most of the season. The rush defense...well, we all know what happened last week at Maryland.
For Michigan to win this game, it must win up front. Get pressure on Dwayne Haskins and force turnovers. Meanwhile, the Michigan offensive line must keep Shea Patterson on his feet and give him time to make decisive and accurate throws.
Sounds simple, but it is anything but. Michigan knows what it has to do to win in Columbus for the first time since I was six years old. It’s all a matter of execution at this point.
Sam D: Two injuries could loom large. Chase Winovich will most likely play, according to Shea Patterson, but he’s probably not 100%. The other is Juwann Bushell-Beatty, who left the Indiana game early. He’s been a surprisingly effective pass blocker this year. If he cedes time to Andrew Stueber, Chase Young could have a field day.
It’s going to be hard to get to Haskins. He gets passes out within seconds, so the way to get to him is to make hesitate against press coverage. He has five or six weapons at receiver, and Michigan has three to four lockdown DBs. Shutting him down is probably not realistic.
However, lesser pass defenses slowed him down, particularly MSU and Penn State. He averaged about 90 less yards and three points less in his completion percentage in those two games.
More generally, Michigan was a quarterback away from winning this game the last two years. Wilton Speight’s shoulder restricted him from throwing over 20 yards, and John O’Korn was...moving on. Shea Patterson is forming into a borderline NFL Draft pick, and will test the Buckeyes deep and is turnover-averse.
That alone should make the difference. It doesn’t hurt that the OSU run defense hasn’t stopped a stiff breeze all year.
Kevin: The Revenge Tour has come too far to drive off a cliff now. I feel like Michigan was prepared to win the last two years, but as Von said, ugh quarterbacks. What has kept Michigan from winning in Columbus for 18 years was an aversion to sticking with what works. The coaches go through this weird existential phase and think if they do the opposite of what OSU thinks they’ll do, it’ll somehow throw them off even more. Panic if we see constant use of those inside zone runs and nothing else that we know actually works. Cackle with glee if the deep ball is there and the RPO still fools OSU’s front seven late.
Michigan constantly plays too nice against these guys, and loses. There’s a reason The Horseshoe is a land of 10,000 alumni and 74,000 truck drivers: They don’t play nice. Urban Meyer doesn’t care if he makes a deal with the devil if it wins him the game. Perhaps that’s why he spends most of a game hunched over like he’s trying to will his soul out of his body because that might cloud his in-game judgment for the better.
It has been a long time since the Ten Year War, and we won’t likely see something like that again, but I am begging for this particular game to be the start of a Ten Year Annihilation.