This is what it all comes down to.
Riding a 10-game winning streak, No. 4 Michigan travels to Columbus, Ohio to take on No. 10 Ohio State with a trip to the Big Ten Championship on the line. Here’s what you should watch for:
OSU offense vs. Michigan defense
Saturday’s game will feature the country’s second-best offense (Ohio State) and best defense (Michigan). The Buckeyes average 545.8 yards per game, trailing only Oklahoma. The passing attack is the strong point, totaling 363.5 yards per game through the air.
Quarterback Dwayne Haskins has been phenomenal in his first season as a starter, completing 69.3 percent of his passes for 3,685 yards, 36 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s also scored four times on the ground.
In the backfield, J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber have combined for 1,626 yards and 12 touchdowns. While the numbers are gaudy, the team has struggled at times to run the ball effectively this season.
Michigan matches up well with the Buckeyes’ attack. The Wolverine defense has given up just 234.8 yards per game and is one of two teams (Clemson) to allow less than four yards per play. Michigan’s pass defense is also still No. 1 in the country, allowing only 123.2 yards per game though the air.
One team’s best unit will have to best the other. Ohio State has dominated offensively all season long, just like Michigan’s defense has. The key here may be halftime adjustments made by U-M defensive coordinator Don Brown. He typically excels at these adjustments, and as long as Michigan can keep OSU in check in the first half I’d give the edge to the defense. Defense, after all, wins championships.
Successful rushing attack for Michigan
Ohio State has allowed opposing running backs to gash them all year. Last week, Maryland’s Anthony McFarland ran for 298 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries (as a team, Maryland rushed for 339 yards). OSU also allowed 184 rushing yards to Nebraska, 161 to Purdue, 178 to Minnesota and 206 to Penn State.
Michigan has been successful this season running the ball and should be able to capitalize on Ohio State’s poor defense. Karan Higdon has ran for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns so far this year. He has reached the 100-yard mark in eight of 10 games, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t do it again Saturday.
Break the trend
Ohio State has owned Michigan. The Buckeyes have won 13 of the last 14 meetings, and the last time Michigan beat the team down south in Columbus was in 2000. I was five years old and Jim Harbaugh was still in the NFL — playing, not coaching.
For the first time in a while, the Wolverines should feel confident they are the better team. Despite recent losses, U-M has played well in many of the matchups and the team does have plenty of tricks left in the bag specifically for this game. Don’t be surprised to see some new looks from the offense and maybe even a trick play or two.
This is the game Shea Patterson came to Michigan for. This is the game Chase Winovich returned to school for. This is The Game.
Beating Ohio State would send Michigan to its first Big Ten Championship. It would put Michigan one game away from the College Football Playoff. We’d never have to hear another word about how Harbaugh can’t beat his rivals.
It’s the most important game of the season. It’s the most important game of Harbaugh’s career. It’s the program’s most important game since the 2006 Michigan-Ohio State game, if not even more so.
This Michigan team has handled the pressure nearly all season. Can it finish the job?