Welp, it’s finally that time of the year again. People are beginning to settle in for the holidays, spend time with their family, eat some turkey and stuffing, and if you’re a Michigan Wolverines fan, begin worrying about that final game on the schedule.
That final game, of course, is against the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Evil Empire. The dark side of the force. The bad guys. And unfortunately, the bad guys have been kicking the good guys’ ass routinely for the last decade-plus.
With Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson playing the best football of his life, the wide receivers getting involved (FINALLY) and the defense not letting much get past them, is this the year the rivalry is flipped? It’s going to take 100 percent out of every player to get it done, because Ohio State is, once again, a juggernaut.
So why is Ohio State so dang good? Let’s start on offense with sophomore quarterback Justin Fields. The former five-star and transfer quarterback from Georgia has lit the Big Ten on fire in 2019. He’s No. 1 in the conference in passing touchdowns (33) and No. 3 in total offense. He is completing 69.4 percent of his passes, which is also good for third in the conference. He has thrown just one interception all season, which is simply incredible given the guy had to learn a completely new offense.
Not only is Fields good, but so are his weapons. Running back J.K. Dobbins is just behind Jonathan Taylor in the Big Ten in rushing yards (1,446), yards per game (131.5) and touchdowns (15). He also has two receiving touchdowns, 15 catches and 151 yards. Behind him is Master Teague, who has 751 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns.
And if that wasn’t enough, Michigan has to deal with four really good receivers. Chris Olave broke out against Michigan last year and has followed that up with a good sophomore season with 39 catches, 637 yards and 10 touchdowns. Senior K.J. Hill is the veteran of the group and leads the team in catches with 42, to go along with 469 yards and 7 touchdowns. Then there are true freshman Garrett Wilson (21 catches, 250 yards, 4 touchdowns) and senior Binjimen Victor (29 catches, 480 yards, 6 touchdowns).
Defensively, the Buckeyes are having one of their best seasons in recent memory. They own the No. 1 total defense in America, giving up just 217.4 yards per game. They are also No. 1 in passing defense (126.2 yards per game), No. 2 in sacks (47.0) and No. 5 in rushing defense (91.2 yards per game).
Leading the way for Ohio State on defense is senior linebacker Malik Harrison. The Columbus native has compiled 61 total tackles, 14.5 for loss, 4.5 sacks and 2 fumble recoveries this season. Junior linebacker Pete Werner is also a sure-tackler, with 49 on the season, four of those being for loss.
The secondary is also very strong for Ohio State. Junior cornerback Jeffrey Okudah is a potential top five pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. In 2019, Okudah has 3 interceptions, 4 pass breakups and 2 forced fumbles. The Wolverines will also have to keep an eye on cornerback Damon Arnette (1 interception, 4 pass breakups) and safety Jordan Fuller (2 interceptions, 2 pass breakups).
And then there’s junior defensive end Chase Young. He is going to be the biggest challenge for Michigan on Saturday. He has an astounding 16.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss and 6 forced fumbles. If the guy isn’t the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, it’s because a team needed a quarterback more.
Jon Runyan Jr. is going to have his hands full with Young, so it is crucial Michigan gives him as much help as possible with blocking Young. Penn State failed to do so last week, and its left tackle got torn to shreds time and time again. Offensive line coach Ed Warinner and tight ends coach Sherrone Moore are going to have to come up with a great game plan to take Young out of the game and protect Shea Patterson long enough to get good passes to his weapons.
All in all, this is going to be a battle. With the way Michigan has been playing over the last month, it will have a good shot at the Buckeyes. But like I said earlier, it is going to take 100 percent out of every player to get the victory. Ohio State hasn’t played a tough opponent on the road all season, so the fans are going to have to give 100 percent of their energy as well. If you are a Michigan fan and are going to the game, be loud and be proud.