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Michigan game preview: Ohio State 2018

The division title. Likely whole Big Ten. A spot in the College Football Playoff. The final stop on the Revenge Tour. Basically, it’s your classic Michigan-Ohio State game.

Ohio State v Maryland Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger famously penned the work Tides of American Politics, where he created what’s known as the “cyclical theory.”

Schlesinger asserted there would always be a a struggle between two groups: one fighting for progress despite the risk of chaos, and the other struggling to maintain the status quo.

Fun fact: He was born in Columbus, Ohio.

Near the end of the Lloyd Carr era, an over-reliance on the past slowly sapped the Michigan program into a decade-long sclerosis. A quick look at the late Carr-era coaching staffs shows two failed head coaches in Mike Debord and Ron English and a smattering of career assistants.

This staff never innovated, always maintaining the status quo. This was never more evident than the 40th time a Southern Cal fan yelled, “Mike Hart’s going to run left,” in my ear at the 2007 Rose Bowl.

Schlesinger talks about how “public unrest” motivates change. For Ohio State, the outcry over John Cooper’s 2-10-1 record against That School Up North led to Jim Tressel.

Despite his conservative reputation, his midseason switch to Troy Smith in 2004 bucked years of staid pro-style approaches in Columbus. Expectations raised with six wins in seven tries over Carr, as well as the 2002 BCS Championship.

After Carr, a fight between public change and private interests tore the program apart in the Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke tenures. Rodriguez talked about behind-the-scenes “BS,” and readers discovered from John U. Bacon’s Three and Out about the old Michigan guard undermining the transition process.

Hoke was seen as a return to the “Michigan Man.” His boss Dave Brandon was a blowhard whose vision of change involved everyone professing loyalty to him alone. Also, he presumably screams his own name during climax.

While the Wolverines were jerking around, Ohio State was ruthlessly trying to maintain historic excellence. Jim Tressel’s fibs about tattoos demonstrated the Buckeyes’ paranoia about outside activities interfering with football success.

How history repeats itself. Urban Meyer comes aboard, wins a national title and the entire Scarlet and Gray community huddles around coach in the wake of an abuse scandal.

Ohio State’s thirst for gridiron dominance is the culmination of the public outcry of losing to Michigan for two decades. After 17 years of growth, the wheels are starting to come off.

Jim Harbaugh’s goal is not to restore Michigan to the status quo. It’s to make it better than before.

A bitter rival stands in the way, desperately clinging to the recent past. Who’s looking backwards now?

MOTO (Master of the Obvious)

No. 4 Michigan (10-1, 8-0) at No. 10 Ohio State (10-1, 7-1), noon.


Radio: ESPN Radio/Michigan IMG Sports Network (TuneIn)

Line: Michigan by four (Bovada)

Series history: Michigan leads 58-49-1. Since 2000, the Wolverines are 3-14 — the 2010 defeat was cleared from NCAA records as a result of Tattoo-gate.

The last time Michigan won in Columbus was 2000, when Drew Henson led the Wolverines to a 38-26 victory. Everyone remembers what happened the last time these teams played in the Horseshoe.


Accuweather. Temperatures are consistently around 50 degrees, give or take one. The real variable is the chance of rain. Accuweather predicts a 25 percent chance in the afternoon, but a 66 percent chance the rest of the day.

It’ll be cold. It’ll be wet. It may not be ideal for Dwayne Haskins throwing 73 times.

Michigan offense vs OSU defense


Ohio State secondary No. 93 S&P+ secondary has had a laundry list of bad outings.

  • Texas Christian’s Shawn Robinson set a career-high with 308 yards.
  • Penn State’s Trace McSorley went 16-of-32 for 286 yards and two touchdowns (5-of-13 for 83 yards versus Michigan).
  • Indiana’s Peyton Ramsey tossed for 322 yards and three scores (16-of-35 for 195 yards and a pick versus Michigan).
  • Purdue’s David Blough amassed 378 yards and three touchdowns in the 49-20 rout.
  • Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez connected on 22-of-33 throws for 266 yards and a touchdown (7-of-15 for 22 yards versus Michigan).

It’s one of the worst defenses at preventing explosive plays (No. 102), allowing plays of 20-yards or more just under 10 percent of the time.

It’s not for lack of talent. Four of five main contributors in the secondary are former 4- or 5-star prospects per 247Sports.

Junior safety Jordan Fuller is the leading tackler, making 48 as the last line of defense. He and sophomore Isaiah Pryor rotate as the deep safety in Greg Schiano’s Cover One scheme.

The man-to-man coverage puts a lot of pressure on junior cornerbacks Kendall Sheffield and Damon Arnette. The pair have 12 pass deflections between them and Sheffield has notched two picks.

Former 5-star corner Shaun Wade can man the slot or the boundary. He’s flashed promise as a freshman with two interceptions, but gets beat with over-aggressiveness.

Ohio State’s chance to stifle Michigan is with the pass rush. Even without Nick Bosa, it gets to the quarterback on eight percent of drop backs, good for No. 31 nationally.

The leading sack-masters are defensive tackle Dre’mont Jones (7.5) and defensive end Chase Young (5.5). Cesar Ruiz makes the line calls for a top-25 pass protection unit, but he’ll have his hands full with Jones, who’s the most athletic interior rusher since Jerry Tillery at Notre Dame.

As for Young, expect a healthy dose of max protection from tight ends to support Jon Runyan and Juwann Bushell-Beatty. The latter should be back after nursing an injury against Indiana.

The line has passed all protection tests with flying colors since Notre Dame. Doing so again will go a long way toward big plays for the offense.

Shea Patterson is starting to rack up big plays the last four games, from the 77-yarder to Donovan Peoples-Jones in East Lansing to a trio of 40-yarders against the Hoosiers.

Overall, he leads the No. 7 efficiency pass offense in the country and has only four interceptions against 18 touchdowns.

With time, he should find Zach Gentry and Nick Eubanks running past a host of lost and plodding linebackers.

Advantage: Michigan


Schiano’s defense is coming off a horrid day against Anthony McFarland and Maryland.

He accounted for 298 of the Terrapin’s 339 yards on the ground. In this week’s Film Focus, I showed how Maryland and Michigan both mess with defense’s run fits. Schiano’s talk about how Michigan is completely different is ignoring three years of Harbaugh wrinkles.

The Buckeyes, for all their faults, are decent on a down-to-down basis. They don’t get pushed around too much, ranking in the middle of the pack in standard down line yards. The real weakness, like with the pass defense, is with big plays.

There’s a cost-benefit to this. On one hand, the Silver Bullets are the fourth-worst in explosive run plays allowed. On the other, they attack the backfield, stuffing runs for no gain or losses over a quarter of the time.

Jones is the leading TFL guy, nabbing 12 on the year. Junior linebacker Malik Harrison has 47 tackles with 6.5 for loss, while sophomores Tuf Borland and Pete Werner have combined for 16.5 TFLs.

The line isn’t particularly big, with only one tackle weighing over 300 pounds. Between Ben Bredeson, Ruiz and Michael Onwenu, the scales tip heavily to the Wolverines.

Karan Higdon fuels the nation’s No. 25 S&P+ ground game, and has crossed the 100-yard mark in all but two games this season.

The goal is to stay on schedule to get into third-and-short. Ohio State does have a top-10 third-down defense, but that’s a bit of a misnomer. The Buckeyes either allow big plays or pin teams back on TFLs or sacks.

Michigan’s should thrive if this game is played in a phone booth.

Advantage: Michigan

Michigan defense vs OSU offense


This one’s strength on strength. Dwayne Haskins and a bevy of receivers versus the nation’s stingiest pass defense (in raw yardage).

Haskins helms the nation’s No. 11 S&P+ pass offense, and has burned the Ohio State record books. He’s 294-of-424 for 3,985 yards and 36 touchdowns with only seven interceptions.

He boosts his 69 percent completion percentage (third in the nation) with slants, hitches and screens. When he has speedy weapons such as K.J. Hill or Parris Campbell, this leads to big yardage.

Hills leads in yardage with 751 on 60 catches, while Campbell leads in receptions with 66 for 711 yards.

The Buckeyes produce big plays only eight percent of the time (No. 59 nationally), but leapers such as senior Terry McLaurin can hurt you deep.

Skip to 0:45.

He has nine touchdowns on the year.

Slot receiver Austin Mack, who you may remember from this catch last year, is out after foot surgery. In his place is Johnnie Dixon, who’s chipped in 30 balls for 482 yards. Finally, there’s 6-foot-4 Binjimen Victor, who’s a jump ball specialist in the red zone.

How can Michigan cope with so many weapons?

This week’s Film Focus mentioned how much Haskins regresses against elite pass defenses. Granted, his numbers still look good, but it’s a stark drop off.

In two games against Michigan State and Penn State — both top-20 in S&P+ — he averaged a 23-for-39 day for 248 yards and two touchdowns. That’s three less completions and about 90 yards less than his season average.

Don Brown’s trots out the No. 6 efficiency pass defense, as well as the No. 1 unit in yards allowed through the air. Keeping Haskins to or below the above-average goes a long way towards limiting points.

Haskins gets the ball out too quickly for pressure to work, but with elite press cover skills from Lavert Hill, David Long and even Josh Metellus, he’ll have to wait an extra second or two.

While the line has only allowed 13 sacks, teams such as MSU and TCU have applied enough pressure to make Haskins uncomfortable. Shea Patterson guessed Chase Winovich will be back.

That means a Uche-Gary-Paye-Winovich rush package will get a chance to harass tackles Thayer Munford and Isaiah Prince.

Brandon Watson and Tyree Kinnel have had hiccups the last month on outside and slot fades. Ohio State could exploit this.

Overall, there’s too many targets for the Wolverines to fully shut down. The realistic expectation is to contain.

Advantage: Ohio State


Depending on how you look at it, the Buckeyes are either inexcusably mediocre on the ground or starting to figure it out.

The overall numbers are bleak:

  • No. 57 S&P+ run offense
  • No. 114 in explosiveness
  • Stuffed 18 percent of the time (meaning runs of no gain or less)

Haskins is only just starting to use his legs, as he ran 15 times for 59 yards last week against Maryland. Without a consistent threat on the read-option, defenses have keyed on J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber (particularly in short yardage).

Against MSU and PSU, this was the main culprit in a 10-of-35 effort on third down. Michigan is No. 11 in third down defense, allowing conversions just 31 percent of the time.

In the last three games, either Weber or Dobbins have rushed for more than 100 yards. Admittedly, two of these defenses were Nebraska and Maryland, but one of them was an elite unit in MSU.

Last week, Dobbins gashed the Terrapins for 203 yards on 37 carries. He’s nearing 1,000 yards for the second straight season, currently sitting at 915 yards at under five a pop.

Weber adds more straight-ahead power, bulling his way to 711 yards on 127 totes. Haskins and Martell complement the backs with 305 yards combined.

To beat Michigan on the ground, you need guards and a center to plow the defensive tackles. Center Michael Jordan was on midseason All-American lists, for what’s it worth, and Demetrius Knox is a big-bodied redshirt senior.

This run game has spent too much of the season struggling, and has only found its stride against lesser competition. Against a hungry defense, they’ll have less room.

Advantage: Michigan


Drue Chrisman and Will Hart could be engaged in a punting battle. While Hart averages six more yards a boot, Chrisman can pin you inside your five-yard line (just ask MSU).

Jake Moody is maybe the new kicker for Michigan, making all six tries last week. If it’s Quinn Nordin, he’s 11-of-16 overall, but has missed four of his last seven attempts.

Ohio State’s Blake Haubeil is 7-for-9 with a long of 47.

Demario McCall popped a 50-yard return late against Maryland, but otherwise, the Buckeyes don't do too much on returns.


Objectively, Michigan’s last loss in 2016 was only partially about the officiating. The real issue was a quarterback that couldn’t throw downfield due to a shoulder issues.

Otherwise, Michigan looked like the more powerful, complete team. Last year, Jim Harbaugh and Pep Hamilton called a hell of a game, getting wide receivers, tight ends and backs wide-open all afternoon.

The only problem was John O’Korn.

This year, quarterback is not an issue, and few other issues exist. Shea Patterson is the total package. He excels in read-option, can chuck it deep and doesn’t turn it over often.

Against this defense, that’s worth 30-plus points.

On the other side, Urban Meyer’s offense has managed 27 points against PSU and just 17 in East Lansing. For as good as Haskins is, he hasn’t had the support elsewhere to pile up points on good defenses.

Don Brown’s is possibly the best in the nation and is well-deserving of the Broyles Award.

This is the year where the stars align. This is the year the cycle turns.

This is the year Michigan wins.

Michigan 31, OSU 24