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Roundtable: The Game is Michigan's chance to finish strong

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NCAA Football: Minnesota at Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Ed: Hey, guys. Hard to believe we’re already talking about The Game. This season has flown by. That said, it hasn’t always gone as planned for the Wolverines in 2017. How much weight will you put on this game when you give your final evaluations of this team?

Josh: Well, Ed, that’s hard for me to say. This team is about where the national media pegged them at and a loss to a pretty loaded Ohio State team be too surprising. But given the fact that they’ve already lost to MSU, I think a win this week would help remove the bad taste that this season has been for the most part.

Jared: My excitement level for The Game fell to record lows after last week, and I will be putting much less stock in the outcome than in previous years. Like Josh said, we are one loss to MSU behind where most of us thought we would be this season, but I am always hopeful for more. One upset against a team we weren’t supposed to beat was all I really wanted to see to get me extremely amped about the 2018 campaign.

With one game left in the regular season, I just don’t see that happening. We are a year, two tackles (and maybe a new offensive coordinator) away from competing against the Ohio States, and even Michigan States of the world. Now if we lose to Ohio State both this year and next year, I’ll turn into a raving lunatic and probably move to Rwanda or something.

Colman: “When you play from the heart, all of the sudden there is no gravity. You don’t feel the weight of the world, of bills, of anything. That’s why people love it. Your so-called insurmountable problems disappear, and instead of problems you get possibilities.” - Carlos Santana. Smooth indeed.

Michigan players should take these words to heart because their only way to win is forget the past mistakes, the records, and the outside world and play the game of their lives.

They call it The Game for a reason. You win, and everything else fades and your previous losses don’t matter (as much). You lose, and it’s another year of fueling doubters and watching your rivals dance on your graves. It’s another week and off season of lame ‘hot takes’ from guys like good Ol’ Pete Finebaum who think that the Cleveland Browns might just be a better spot for your head coach than his alma mater and the winningest college football program in history.

Michigan may not have much of a chance in this game, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the most important game of the year and there isn’t a lot riding on it. Will it change my final evaluations on this year? Not really. This team is what it is: a young and talented team that is going through growing pains.

Dan: Who is playing quarterback?

If it’s Peters: You hope that they take the momentum from the first 35-40 minutes against Wisconsin and come out to send Chase, Mike, and the left side of the offensive line out in style on senior day. If he starts, I think there’s some stock to take here. Not a ton, but coming out and competing with a team that can spread you out with as much talent as OSU has, well that would be something. Losing big would be disappointing, but this is a young, beat-up Michigan team. I think we all expect the big jump to happen between January-September of 2018.

If O’Korn starts, this game means nothing. The team isn’t as dynamic tangibly and intangibly when he plays to take anything from it.

David: I thought this team had a great chance of winning 10 games for the third straight season based on their team and schedule. The young talent and offensive struggles have been the achilles heel.

The fact that many fan had expectations of thinking this team could win all the road games as one of the youngest teams in the country. They can still end this season on a positive note with two solid wins and return most of the team in 2018. With the injuries, slow progress on the offensive line and losing to Michigan State, a game they could have won with fewer mistakes, is the one game at the beginning of the year that was a probable win at home. The fact that the defense lost mostly every starter from last season and is again a top five defense is amazing.

I want to see something we have not seen yet lately — an entire game where they consistently bring their game and keep it close. This last game will also help measure how they overcome adversity, which has been a problem the last couple of years. They have not won a game they were the underdog, but for many players, the transition from high school or as a backup is not. The first game this year was a solid win over a ranked Florida we thought, but they turned into a disaster with now searching for their next head coach.

Kevin: Harbaugh is criticized for his inability to win a big game as Michigan’s coach. I guess last year’s victory over Wisconsin didn’t count? Say what you will about Florida imploding too but it was still a big game to open the season.

There is still a lot of weight to this game. The restless (and vocal) section of the fanbase unhappy with Michigan’s record against ranked/road/rival teams can take a seat for awhile if the team pulls this one off. A good (read: New Year’s Day) bowl berth is likely at stake instead of the team being sent to Jacksonville or some obscure warm city. There’s never going to be a Michigan-Ohio State game that doesn’t carry weight, but with the Buckeyes already heading to Indianapolis, Michigan can prove they’re on the upward swing we all hoped this season would be and put Urban Meyer on notice that the rivalry is back.

If the Wolverines can pull off a win, it’ll go a long way toward setting up the grand 2018 Revenge Tour that Harbaugh can hang his hat on to shut up everyone who thinks he should be canned or that he secretly wants to go back to the NFL. Evaluating this team is tough when the quarterback problem takes up most of the space. The defense has been on par with last year, but there’s a big dropoff after that on the rest of the roster, and many of the issues stem from having uncertainty at quarterback all season long.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Ed: I can only imagine, given the previous 11 games, that points will be tough to come by for the Wolverines. How should the Michigan coaching staff attack this one? Who are you keeping your eye on?

Josh: Attack it with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind! Seriously though, I’d expect them to throw in whatever trick plays, wrinkles in the offense, or different schemes to catch Ohio State off guard. I’m expecting to see more deep shots testing this Buckeye secondary and possibly some Ambry Thomas sightings on offense.

Jared: Play like you have nothing to lose, because really, you don’t. If you’re Coach Drevno, you should playcall like your job depends on it, because it might.

I liked the game plan early on against Wisconsin, letting Peters open it up a little, hoping that might open up the run. The second part of that equation never really came to fruition, obviously. If Peters is in and at 100%, that gameplan could still work. Iowa certainly didn’t reinvent the wheel with their gameplan against a visiting OSU. We are at home, and if we can get either Higdon or Isaac back at near full strength, we could potentially hope to keep OSU honest with our rushing attack. If O’Korn is the starter, well... I’ll be drinking heavily. We will leave it at that.

As far as who I have my eye on. We need a near miracle, like a Biakabatuka-esque performance. So I will go with our last healthy and reliable back, Chris Evans. He is certainly talented enough to go off on Saturday.

Colman: I can’t imagine there are too many trick plays or crazy formations that this coaching staff wouldn’t have tried to pull out in the previous big games but I can imagine that they will be putting whatever they do have left out there.

Regardless of the QB, the passing game will likely remain pretty basic and they will try to lean on the running game to move the ball down the field. I would hope they take some shots to DPJ who has been open deep against some pretty good CBs this year and take more chances in general, but I can see them still being pretty conservative and going with the little that has worked against the better teams they’ve played.

I can tell you what I DON’T want to see. Five-wide sets or any wildcat formations. The former, because of the line’s ability to pass block without help, the QB’s ability to read the defense, and the WR’s ability to get open. The latter, because that ain’t foolin’ anybody.

As usual, I’ll be watching this offensive line to see if they can open up some holes against a ferocious defensive front and give the QB a bit of time to throw the ball. If a miracle is to happen, Michigan must run the ball well first and foremost.

Dan: I’m with Josh. Go crazy. Throw the ball 30-40 times with play action, bubble screens, air-raid, all-go’s. This is the type of game where you try to put a show on for the fans. I’d like to see Peters have himself a day. There aren’t a ton of matchups to like for Michigan here.

Kevin: Pep and Drevno should write an entirely new playbook for this game, because nothing has worked to this point. Go full Madden style and put any play that comes to mind in there. Hurl Khaleke Hudson at J.T. Barrett on every down. Instruct Devin Bush to not leave the middle of the field until Michigan is on offense. Give Mike McCray robot legs so he can catch Dobbins and Weber on the edge.

Hill and Long have to ace their man coverage assignments because the safeties aren’t going to bail them out. Fool the OSU front seven with lots of blockers and motion like they managed to do against Minnesota and Maryland. Michigan can definitely move the ball but so much of this is going to depend on who starts at quarterback.

Ed: The only other high-powered offense relying on run-pass options and zone reads that Michigan has faced this season is Penn State. Consequently, that was the only team that really exposed this Michigan defense. How do you see the Wolverines handling J.T. Barrett for the fourth year in a row? Who do you have your eye on?

Josh: I would expect the combination of Khaleke Hudson and Devin Bush to keep Barrett under close watch most of the day. Khaleke has been unstoppable for the 2nd half of the season, and I think he will be consistent in shutting down the Barrett runs.

Jared: Like Josh said, it has to be those guys. When our defense has been gashed this year, it is when the ball carrier can get our linebackers to over-pursue and out angle them and get to the safeties. Both of our safeties have been known to get out of position frequently, allowing 8-10 yard gains to turn into 20-25 yard gains. Both Metellus and Kinnel have been beat in pass coverage a bunch this season as well. We will need those guys to be locked in and make Ohio State drive the entire field, no chunk plays.

Colman: I’ll be keeping my eyes on the linebackers as well, but more on Mike McCray. Meyer knows the speed and reaction time of Hudson and Bush and will try to isolate McCray as much as possible. If Michigan can effectively use the young LBs to contain the RPOs going east-west and McCray to clean up and stop the stuff up the gut I would think that would be optimal. If we see JK Dobbins or Mike Weber one-on-one with McCray, that is a big win for the bad guys.

Another thing I’ll be watching is Gary and Winovich’s ability to contain as well. There have been a handful of times these guys have let themselves get too far upfield and big plays have broken in their vacated gaps.

With the amount of playmakers Ohio State has, this will certainly be a team effort. A near perfect game will have to be played by this defense if Michigan is going to have a chance.

Dan: Ohio State doesn’t have Barkley and they don’t have someone like Dasean Hamilton or the army of 6’5+ tight ends that Penn State does. I think the lack of size could help the Wolverines play the type of defense that they want to. With that said, this team has been prone to giving up big plays and Ohio State took advantage of every little crease against the Spartans.

Eyes will be on Bush, who hasn’t had a breakout game since the start of the year and has seemingly spent more time engaged with blockers than chasing down ball carriers. This is shaking out similarly to Ben Gideon’s role last year, propping open attack lanes for the Viper. Against OSU’s spread attack that can’t happen.

Kevin: Avoid the temptation for zone coverage and Michigan has a chance to limit the big plays. Barrett shredded Penn State with long passes. Doctor Blitz, our collective lonely eyes turn to you.

Ed: Alright, final prediction time. Give me the final score. Can Michigan rally to end its season on a high note against Ohio State?

Josh: It really depends who the QB is. If Brandon Peters can somehow miraculously recover from the devastating hit last week, the spark he would give to both the offense and defense could be enough to pull off the upset. But if it’s anyone other than Peters, I’ll say…

Ohio State 28, Michigan 17

Jared: I just really think it is going to be O’Korn on Saturday. And if there is even a sliver of doubt about Peters’ long term health, it should be O’Korn. It hurts me to make this prediction. With every fiber of my being it hurts to do so. I just don’t think we have enough firepower on offense to answer back. Defense keeps us in it until late in the third, when the shambling 80-year-old corpse of JT Barrett and the inedible nuts run away with it. Nobody talk to me for 364 days afterwards.

Ohio State 33, Michigan 13

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Colman: I would love nothing more than to predict a Michigan victory here, even though it would be a bit far fetched. I just don’t see it. SO MANY things would have to suddenly fall into place and all three phases would pretty much have to play perfect games. The defense can only contain for so long without help from the offense, and based on what we’ve seen, yards will be tough to come by for the offensive unit. I don’t think the starting QB will matter much. This is a struggling offense and that starts up front with the line.

Ohio State 34, Michigan 10

Dan: I hate to pile on, but I don’t see Peters playing. John O’Korn running Drevno’s offense makes me yearn for Doug Nussmeier’s jurassic-era schemes. It’s been that bad. The defense will put up a fight early, and the offense might even put together a drive or two, but unless the special teams pops off, I think things get ugly.

Ohio State 41, Michigan 13

Kevin: A Brady Hoke-led team took Ohio State to the final minute of the game when no one thought they could in 2013. Even some of RichRod’s awful squads put up a fight for about a half. Ohio State doesn’t have John Cooper on the sidelines anymore. Michigan cannot lose to the Buckeyes for a sixth straight year. The natural ups and downs of the series have been thrown off balance in the last 30 years. Michigan won ten out of twelve before Tressel showed up. Now OSU has won FOURTEEN since 2001.

A Jim Harbaugh-led team will try its hardest to not let this most bitter of rivals start another streak of dominance. But it is all going to rest on the shoulders of whichever quarterback makes the fewest mistakes. Peters gives Michigan the best chance to win, O’Korn slim to none.

We’ve seen some wild stuff in this series, but I don’t have a strong enough gut feeling and trust in the game plan these coaches will put together. We can’t even use the other losses as a blueprint because Michigan was in all three of those games for at least a half or more. Someone, anyone, has to make a play that sways the game.

The Tune Squad drank the fake special water at halftime, and defeated the Monstars because they had it in them all along. Michigan hasn’t had it in them all season long. I hope they go out and execute a miracle, I’m really tired of losing to this wretched hive of tat-wearing cheaters.

Truck Driver U 30, Michigan 14