Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat. Michigan and Ohio State definitely have their fair share of concerns heading into next week’s showdown with the Big Ten East on the line, but the games and struggles we saw from both teams on Saturday feel like they can be attributed a lot to the fact that their eyes right now are clearly on each other.
Star-crossed lovers, or something. I don’t know.
Games against Indiana and Maryland are tough to get up for and it’s human nature to look ahead, so neither team can really be blamed for that. If you’re an Ohio State fan, you have to feel like the football gods were on your side because the throw that the Maryland quarterback missed on the two-point conversion that would have won it for the Terps is probably a throw he makes 99 out of 100 times.
Here’s where things stand with OSU. That offense is explosive and still probably the best Michigan will see all season to this point, at least with the skill players. Dwayne Haskins is putting up huge numbers in the passing game and OSU has started to run the ball a bit better. The offensive line is a concern, but Michigan’s defensive line did not generate a whole lot of pressure against Indiana. Those guys have to come to play next Saturday.
Defensively, Ohio State is a disaster. They’ve got some nice players, but there are times where their back seven looks like they’ve never played football before and take bad, sloppy angles. Maryland scored 51 points on them. That’s insane, and their defense struggling has not been a one-off problem. It’s been a problem all season long and the struggles they’ve had don’t get fixed in a week.
Michigan’s defense had some issues on Saturday, too, but their sample size of being able to make adjustments and lock things down is much larger. Now, losing Chase Winovich hurts a lot and he may not be out there next weekend. But OSU doesn’t have Nick Bosa, either. A man for a man. Game on.
Right now, Michigan’s biggest concern heading into this weekend is the offense in the redzone. They had to settle for six field goals on Saturday, which no matter how much better you think they may be than OSU, that is not going to cut it in Columbus. Period. The playcalling was not optimal, and the execution was worse at times. You can’t say Michigan sleepwalked through the game because they racked up over 500 yards of offense.
Peyton Ramsey played very well in the first half and it was a big reason the Hoosiers went into the locker room with a 17-15 lead. Haskins is not as good a runner (which is why they’ve been bringing Tate Martell into games), but he’s gifted and capable of throwing dimes.
Even after Saturday, Michigan looks like the better football team. They’re coached better and Harbaugh doesn’t look like he needs a fistful of Tums on the sideline like Urban Meyer does right now. There’s some cracks in the armor, and they won’t win Saturday by just showing up. It’s going to take a good week of practice and preparation.
Michigan should be favored, but anyone who thinks it’s a sure win and that they’ll take the Buckeyes to the woodshed is fooling themselves. Indy and the College Football Playoff would be amazing, but a test on the road at Ohio State is the final exam here.
Of course a Big Ten East title is on the line, but there is so much more at stake, too. This really could be a passing of the baton game in the Big Ten, a lot like when Alabama ripped away SEC supremacy from Florida toward the end of the Meyer era with the Gators. That isn’t to say Michigan becomes the dynasty that Alabama is, but with recruiting narratives and the national perception hanging in the balance, the Wolverines can prove they are not only back, but are once again a legitimate national power.
A loss to Michigan could make things very interesting in Columbus with what they’ve gone through and some of the buzz around Meyer. Michigan has a chance to send Buckeye Nation into crisis mode.
So take it.