Michigan takes on the Ohio State Buckeyes tomorrow, and all the speculation and conjecture will be behind us. However, if Michigan is to win against the No. 1 Buckeyes, they’ll need to have a lot of things go right.
Here are Michigan’s keys to victory versus Ohio State.
Make OSU’s offense predictable by limiting ground game success
Making any offense predictable starts with stopping a rushing attack, and Ohio State has a real great one.
The Buckeyes rushing offense is No. 4 in the country, and they can gash a defense in different ways. J.K. Dobbins leads to attack with 1,446 yards and 15 touchdowns, followed by Master Teague with 751 yards and 4 scores, and then there’s quarterback Justin Fields with an impressive 445 yards on the ground with 10 touchdowns.
Fields has been great throwing the rock this year, but the running game has greatly aided his success through the air.
No team has been able to stop OSU on the ground this season, but Michigan’s No. 13 rushing defense will give Dobbins and Co. a run for their money. Michigan has limited the success of good rushing attacks such as Penn State’s, Indiana’s, Michigan State’s and Notre Dame’s.
If Ohio State consistently moves the chains on the ground it will not only wear the Michigan front-seven down, but it will open up effective play action passing. On the flip side, if Michigan is able to put a dent in their rushing success, this will put OSU in a position they haven’t been in this season... a defense knowing they’re throwing. If that happens, things could become a bit more unpredictable.
As I always state, it’s ideal to pressure any quarterback. However, it’s more imperative to get “home” on some QB’s more than others. This is the case with Justin Fields.
Ohio State’s offensive line may be stout in run blocking, but pass protection has been a different story. Fields has been sacked 25 times this season, a number that would be much higher if the Buckeyes didn’t have such an elusive quarterback at the helm. Even if Fields is pressured, he has the ability to slip out and up for positive yards, and has the ability to keep his eyes downfield for big plays while rolling out of the pocket. It’s going to be a tough task.
The blitz schematics will have to get creative and versatile and throw everything in the toolbox at Fields, but if the Michigan D is able to hit Fields early on and rattle him a bit, anything could happen.
Stay aggressive on offense
Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson has been on a role the past two games, throwing for 750 yards (11.5 YPA) with 9 touchdowns and just 1 interception. Patterson’s success has been a complete team effort, though. The offensive line has given him ample time to throw, and play-makers such as Nico Collins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Ronnie Bell have all been versatile and reliable targets in the passing game.
The aggressiveness has been mental, as well as physical. For Patterson, his seeing the field clearly and making decisive decisions, not hesitating to throw the ball deep when the window is there to do so. For the offensive line, they’re getting off the ball quickly and protecting Patterson at a high clip (although Jon Runyan noted they need to do better in run blocking), and for the wideouts, they’re truly showcasing what #SpeedInSpace is all about.
The formula has been working of late for Patterson and the Michigan offense, and they shouldn’t deviate from what’s been working recently. Keep the foot on the gas.
Don’t let Chase Young beat you
Defensive end Chase Young is one of the best players in college football, and he’s going to be a handful to say the least for Michigan’s offensive line.
There are ways to potentially slow Young down, though. Maybe we’ll see Ben Mason play more on offense and be used as an H-back to basically put an extra body on Young. Michigan’s tight ends are going to need to chip Young a lot before they go out for passes, and they’ll also be asked to help double team him as well. In short, two bodies an four eyeballs are going to be assigned to Young a lot in this one.
Looking at film from the Penn State-OSU game, the Nittany Lions gameplan to stop Young was absolutely putrid and didn’t deviate from how they block normally. Young is a different kind of player, therefore a different type of gameplan is necessary. I believe Ed Warinner will throw in new wrinkles to slow Young’s production down (somewhat). Some players are virtually impossible to completely shut out, therefore this will be the ultimate test for Michigan’s offensive line.
Don Brown’s finest hour
Jim Harbaugh took a ton of flack after Michigan’s 62-39 loss to Ohio State, but Don Brown received just as much criticism. A year removed from that horrible day in Columbus, everything Brown has done this season shows he’s learned from the loss and has answers to the problems that plagued the Wolverines then.
Crossing routes have no longer been a problem for the Michigan defense, opposing quarterbacks haven’t had much success running the ball, and the defense has been fundamentally sound and gap-disciplined.
Brown has shown a willingness to mix in zone coverage along with his press-man-coverage philosophy. In a lot of ways, Brown’s defense has become a hybrid one, and not old school in any way. Brown has evolved, he hasn’t been stubborn, he realized there were deficiencies to his scheme that needed corrections and Plan B’s.
Brown’s defense is now unpredictable, in terms of its blitzes as well as its coverages, and whether that translates into success against Ohio State or not, he has put his unit in a much better position than they would be otherwise.
Run game needs to keep OSU honest
I mentioned that Michigan needs to stay aggressive and that means throwing the football down the field. However, the run game will need to get churning for that to work consistently, too. Ohio State’s defense ranks No. 1 in passing yards allowed and No. 5 in rushing defense. Maybe Patterson can just chuck it 40 times and have success no matter how well the running game fares, but it sure would be more ideal if the Buckeyes respect the RPO enough to where they hesitate in playing the pass or run.
If Michigan is able to hit runs of 5 to 10 yards every four of five attempts, that will keep the defense honest enough to where they aren’t expecting passing plays repeatedly.
Play smart if there’s rain and snow
The forecast for The Game looks murky, there could be rain, there could be snow, likely a mix of both throughout four quarters.
Conventional wisdom indicates that if there’s any bad weather it would favor OSU and their running game. However, it isn’t that simple. Things get unpredictable in dicey weather and even the best of teams can get literally or figuratively stuck in the mud.
What we do know is Michigan played one hell of a game against Notre Dame during a downpour last month, and we know Shea Patterson can throw the ball well in wet, cold, and gusty conditions with his performance vs. Indiana.
There really is no clear favorite when the talent level is fairly even and bad weather materializes, you might as well flip a coin. The main thing for Michigan is they don’t turn the ball over in bad conditions, that would be a death nail against the No. 1 team in the country.