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Analyzing Michigan, Ohio State PFF’s grades heading into The Game

PFF grades point to a close one.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 30 Ohio State at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Daniel Plocher Dan Plocher contributes to Maize n’ Brew in several areas including podcasts, game previews/recaps, and various YouTube videos.

Both Michigan and Ohio State are two of the top five overall graded teams, according to PFF’s data. The Buckeyes are the second-highest rated team being carried by the No. 1 offense in college football. Meanwhile, Michigan’s No. 2 overall defense, trailing only Georgia, makes it the No. 5 team in the country.

Through 11 weeks, there is a lot of data to work with for the two sides and plenty to break down. Let’s look at how PFF stacks up the two sides in the most important game in the Big Ten this season:

Michigan run defense (No. 6) vs Ohio State’s rushing attack (No. 9)

Surprisingly, the highest-graded aspect of Michigan’s defense is in its rushing defense, not the pass rush (which is a close second). Aidan Hutchinson is the alpha in this area with a team-high 33 stops on the season and an 87.3 grade. That makes him the 26th-highest graded rushing defender in the country (min. 100 snaps). Mazi Smith grades out as the T-37 interior defensive lineman for run defense, and Donovan Jeter joins him as two of the top 200 players at their position.

Josh Ross clearly has seen improvement this season and has earned an average run defense grade of 72.3, earning him the No. 73 overall graded linebacker. Nikhai Hill-Green also ranks as the No. 9 player in Run Stop % (tracking the tackles on running plays that constitute as a loss for the offense) at 14.4%.

The difference for Michigan is that its secondary also shines in this category. Brad Hawkins has earned an 84.6 run defense grade which is just behind Hutchinson for top marks on the team. It also makes the senior safety No. 8 defending safety in the FBS (min. 100 snaps). Gemon Green, Daxton Hill, Vincent Gray and Rod Moore all have average or better run defense grades as well. The secondary’s play is what propels them to the No. 6 graded team in rushing defense.

Ohio State brings in the T-No. 9 rushing attack, per PFF’s measures. The Buckeyes also boast the T-No. 4 best run-blocking grade. TreVeyon Henderson is the No. 30 ranked running back (min. 100 attempts). With more than 1,000 rushing yards on the season, a grade that high shouldn’t surprise anyone. His 7.3 yards per attempt are No. 2 in college football behind only Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen. He is also tied for the ninth-most touchdowns by a running back with 14.

PFF’s Elusive Rating ranks Henderson as the No. 6 most elusive running back. They also calculate Breakaway Percentage, which shows which runners earn the highest amount of yards on big plays (designed runs of 15 yards or more), and Henderson ranks No. 4 in that category. He’ll be a tough guy to bring down if the Buckeyes commit to the run on Saturday.

The true freshman back has been great, but the guys in front of Henderson may be even more impressive. The Buckeyes have four of the top 50 run-blocking offensive linemen in college football (min. 100 snaps), which is essentially the entire offensive line. That includes both of their tackles and the No. 15 overall run-blocker, right tackle Dawand Jones.

Michigan pass defense (No. 11) vs Ohio State’s aerial assault (T-No. 5)

There has never been a doubt the Wolverine’s pass rush is elite; they are the No. 3 graded pass-rushing team behind only North Texas and Houston. Hutchinson is the No. 4 pass-rushing defender and David Ojabo comes in at No. 18. Both have 10 sacks on the season, tied for the 12th-most. They also both rank within the top 25 in pass rushing productivity, which measures the amount of pressure created per snap. They are the only duo in the Power 5 that claim that feat.

Moving back to the secondary, and the Wolverines have some studs. DJ Turner is the lockdown corner on the team, as he has an 83.5 grade, the 36th-best in the country (min 100 snaps). Right behind him at No. 37 is Brad Hawkins, who is one of the top cover safeties. Daxton Hill is a bit further down at No. 102 and Vincent Gray is No. 128. As a team, the Wolverines grade out at an 89.3 coverage grade, good enough for 11th in the land.

Those four will have their toughest task of the season with Ohio State this week. C.J. Stroud has earned a 91.9 grade, which is No. 4 in the nation. Stroud has been under pressure on just 22.2% of his dropbacks, the 9th fewest in the FBS (min. 100 attempts). So only 640 yards of his 3,468 on the season have been under pressure. That is where the Wolverines need to attack, because if he is kept clean he completes 75.2% of his passes and has 31 touchdowns to only three interceptions.

But that won’t be easy for several reasons. First is the offensive line play. They’ve allowed only six sacks on the season and are T-12th in the country in offensive line pass-blocking efficiency at 91.7%. That means they allow a QB pressure or worse (sack or QB hit) on less than 10% of their snaps. Overall, they are graded as the No. 19 offensive line.

Then you have to throw in their receiver play. Jaxon Smith-Njigba is one of just 21 players who have surpassed 1,000 receiving yards this season. That has earned him a 89.8 receiving grade, the No. 6 player at the position (min. 50 targets). Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are each also graded within the top 35 receivers and both could possibly pass that 1,000-yard mark.

Michigan passing attack (No. 42) vs Ohio State pass defense (No. 61)

Cade McNamara is the No. 62 quarterback (min. 100 attempts) with a 75.1 passing grade. Plenty of people have criticized McNamara’s deep ball and Michigan not taking deep shots throughout the season. It appears for good reason. McNamara throws balls 20 or more air yards down the field only 14.9 % of the time, which ranks 85th among quarterbacks with 20-plus deep balls attempted. Somehow, Stroud actually throws even fewer deep balls at just 13.8%. Yet, he has almost 1,500 more yards on the season.

Giving McNamara time in the pocket has proved vitally important for the Wolverines. He completes 66.7% of his passes and has 1,522 of his 2,142 yards this season in a clean pocket. Under pressure, is a different story, as he has completed only 55.7% of his passes with a hand in his face this season.

Michigan’s offensive line is right around the middle of the pack in terms of protecting their quarterbacks. They rank T-84th with an 86.7% pass blocking efficiency rating out of the 134 teams in the FBS. The offensive line is at fault for only six sacks this season but have allowed 81 QB pressures, putting them in the bottom half of the country. Overall, the unit is graded as the No. 51 pass-blocking team with a 66.5 grade.

Min. 100 snaps this season, no Michigan offensive lineman grades in the top 100 of PFF’s pass blockers. Andrew Steuber is the closest at 103rd, and he’s the only Wolverine in the top 200. A reminder, Ohio State has four starters in that top 200 graded offensive linemen in the country.

Moving to the receivers, and the Wolverines only have one wideout who has more than 50 targets this season, Cornelius Johnson. He ranks 144th in receiving grade and has just 539 yards on over 50 targets this season. That’s the 76th-fewest of the 213 receivers who have been targeted that much this season. Erick All has just 36 targets, but ranks as the No. 16 receiving tight end (min. 20 targets).

The good news for Michigan is that, statistically, Ohio State’s secondary is nowhere near where they usually are. There is no lockdown corner or ball-hawking safety on the Buckeyes’ squad this season. Michigan-native Cameron Martinez is the Buckeyes’ highest graded defensive back with a 74.8 coverage grade, the No. 144th in the nation (min. 100 snaps). The Wolverines have four members of their secondary that grade higher than OSU’s best.

Safety Ronnie Hickman is the next highest at 193rd with a slightly above average coverage grade. Every other Buckeyes’ starter in the secondary grades average or worse. That’s why they grade out as the No. 61 pass coverage team out of 134.

The Buckeye’s pass rush is a bit different. They rank 20th with a 85.7 grade thanks to some studs like Zach Harrison and Tyleik Williams, who both grade in the top 50 of the country’s defensive lineman (min. 100 snaps). Williams actually ranks higher than both Hutchinson and Ojabo in pass rush productivity (No. 4) and is the No. 8 overall graded pass rusher from the interior in the FBS (min. 100 snaps). Michigan’s offensive line will have to slow down that duo to give McNamara ample time to get the ball out this weekend.

Michigan’s running game (T-No. 6) vs Ohio State’s rush defense (No. 30)

Ohio State’s run defense grades much higher. It is No. 30 overall and only Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin rank better in the Big Ten. This comes in part because of the linebacker play of Cody Simon and Tommy Eichenberg who both rank in the top 35 at their position in Run Stop % (min. 100 snaps). Eichenberg grades out as the No. 40 overall run defending linebacker.

The first level for Ohio State is not quite as strong. Haskell Garrett is the only interior defensive lineman that the Buckeyes have that grades in the top 200 run defenders, and it’s a 71.1 grade (or slightly above average). If you add on edge rushers to the mix, Zach Harrison grades as the No. 84 player, but Garrett falls out of the top 200 (min 100 snaps).

This seems to be an area the Wolverines can exploit if their offensive line can get the job done. They currently grade as the No. 65 team in terms of run-blocking by PFF, essentially smack dab in the middle of the country. Andrew Vastardis is the highest-graded Wolverine run-blocker at No. 103 overall. No other Michigan offensive lineman ranks in the top 300 (min. 100 snaps). Trevor Keegan, Ryan Hayes, Andrew Steuber and Zak Zinter all rank somewhere between 300-400.

However, Michigan rushers rank No. 6 overall with an elite 92.6 grade. They are carried by Hassan Haskins, who is T-2nd for the highest-graded running back only behind former Wolverine, Zach Charbonnet. PFF loves Haskins’ pass-blocking, as he is the No. 2 player at the running back position in that category.

For rushing grade, however, Haskins in No. 19 and teammate Blake Corum in No. 8 (min. 100 carries). Corum also ranks as the No. 5 running back in PFF’s Elusive Rating (one ahead of TreVeyon Henderson) and is No. 33 in Breakaway Percentage.

As we well know, Haskins is more of the bruiser and ranks No. 104 in Breakaway Percentage. Still, Haskins has 28 carries of 10-yards or more, the 21st most in the country and is one of only 26 running backs to rush for more than 1,000 yards through their first 11 games.


Michigan has to win in the trenches on Saturday. Shocking, I know.

The Wolverines’ offensive line is the weakest point on the team according to PFF, ranking 51st in pass-blocking and 65th in run-blocking. They have to be much better than mediocre to move the ball down the field against an Ohio State defense that has vastly improved over the season.

Still, it appears running the football effectively could have a major role in a Michigan win. If the Wolverines can pick up positive yards with their running backs and keep the explosive Ohio State offensive off the field, they could win. That is essentially what the Oregon Ducks did in their win over the Buckeyes earlier this season (38 attempts for 269 rushing yards).

The defensive line also has to put pressure on Stroud. Make the redshirt freshman uncomfortable or he is going to torch you from the pocket. Do Hutchinson and Ojabo want to be first-round picks? If so, it is time to show it because Ohio State brings in one of the top performing offensive lines in the country. The Michigan pass rushing duo needs to have one of their best games of the season to try and slow down Ohio State’s No. 1 overall graded offense.