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Key Matchups: Michigan vs. Ohio State

Michigan will have to play a near-perfect game against OSU.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 30 Ohio State at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The No. 5 Michigan Wolverines are all set to host the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes for a 10 rivalry showdown this weekend. Both teams enter with a 10-1 record on the season, with OSU undefeated in conference play. The Buckeyes enter with their juggernaut of an offense and an insatiable need to keep the Wolverines in their decade-long losing streak, whereas the Wolverines hope for the breakthrough that has eluded them for so long. With a trip to Indianapolis and the CFP on the line, The Game determines everything.

Michigan has fallen painfully short in the past, but this year it can be more than just talk. The Wolverines have bounced back after going 2-4 last year, to the point that anything seems to be on the table for this team. The Maize and Blue enter as the underdog at home, but if there is one thing the numbers can’t account for, it’s a rivalry game. Let’s look at how these two teams matchup with what we can account for.

The Wolverines have searched for consistency at quarterback for almost the duration of the Jim Harbaugh era, and Cade McNamara has emerged as one of the most reliable. In conference play, McNamara has thrown for 1,771 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions with a 64 completion rate.

McNamara has one of the lowest interception rates in the country. The reliable backfield is a solid play option for the junior quarterback, but when tasked with throwing the ball, he has steadily improved over the season.

Meanwhile, Ohio State has found success offensively from quarterback C.J. Stroud and his receiver corps. In conference play, he has thrown 2,799 yards, 32 touchdowns and three interceptions on a 73.4% completion rate. Stroud has a low interception rate as well, despite the higher passing attempts on the season. This comes from reliability down the field, getting the ball to open receivers who make catches.

Ohio State’s passing offense represents a particularly difficult task for Michigan’s defense to work to contain. They face a team that averages 47.2 points per game and a quarterback that has 2.5 times more passing touchdowns than Michigan’s starter. Whether or not Michigan’s secondary can limit this high-powered passing offense is going to somewhat dictate how this game goes.

Michigan allows 178.4 passing yards per game. It will go toe to toe with an offense that averages 362.3 passing yards a game. The Buckeyes rely on the fact they make catches, move effectively down the field and score touchdowns to carry them in games. They know how to pick apart defenses by getting open downfield and making catches reliably.

The Wolverines have gone against their fair share of pass heavy offenses and have done significantly well in containing them from reaching their full potential. Last week against Maryland, another team that averages over 300 passing yards a game, Michigan held the Terrapins to 158, one touchdown and one interception. While there’s the obvious talent discrepancy between Maryland and Ohio State, there is still something to be said about how Michigan handle’s pass-heavy offenses. Penn State was another opponent that relied heavily on its passing threat and Michigan held it below its average, only letting the Nittany Lions throw for 223 yards and one touchdown.

OSU allows its opponents to average 252.1 passing yards per game. While this is significantly higher than the Wolverines, the Buckeyes can run up the score and create massive score deficits early on. Take Purdue for example — the Boilermakers threw for 390 yards and four touchdowns against the Buckeyes but lost 59-31. Allowing Purdue to throw for almost 400 yards with a 76.9 completion rate didn’t make the game remotely close. The Buckeyes can fall back on their ability to score more often than their opponents.

However, this is only one case. Michigan State has a potent passing game. The Buckeyes held the Spartans to 158 passing yards and one touchdown. MSU only completed 16-of-38 pass attempts. Ohio State has the ability to win in either fashion, by containing passing offenses or relying on getting more points.

The Wolverines have had success offensively because of their running backs and offensive line. Hopefully running back Blake Corum will return Saturday, providing them with their full rushing edge. The Wolverines average 218.4 rushing yards a game and haven’t faltered since losing Corum against Indiana. What is most promising for the Maize and Blue is Donovan Edwards, especially after his performance last week against Maryland. Despite being down with injury as well in the weeks prior, Edwards demonstrated his ability to run and catch the football.

Hassan Haskins has also been instrumental in Michigan’s success all year. He is the first running back for the Maize and Blue to garner over 1,000 rushing yards in a season since Karan Higdon a few years ago. His physicality and ability to get extra yardage plays a big part in getting Michigan down the field.

Containing Michigan’s high-powered backfield will be a main focus for the Buckeyes. They allow their opponents to rush for 103.5 yards per game. More prominently, they limited Walker III, a Heisman contender, to 25 rushing yards last week. Hopefully it is different for Haskins on Saturday.

If Corum plays this week, even if it’s limited action, this will only serve to aid Michigan. Before going down against the Hoosiers, Corum rushed for 371 yards and three touchdowns on 82 attempts against conference opponents. He has quickness and once he gets a glimpse of an open field, he is hard to contain. Seeing him back on the field will definitely add into offensive play options for the Wolverines.

The Buckeyes have a stud of their own in their backfield in TreVeyon Henderson. Despite having a lopsided offense, the Buckeyes still rush for 197.3 yards per game. This comes from their own offensive line’s effort to create opportunities for the running backs, and Henderson’s physicality and quickness. In conference, he has rushed for 674 yards and eight touchdowns on 106 attempts.

Henderson has been just as crucial for the success of Ohio State’s offense as the passing game. Michigan allows opponents to average 128.5 rushing yards per game. The Wolverines will have to play tough up front to contain Ohio State’s own impressive ground attack.

Getting to the quarterback presents a unique challenge for both teams this weekend. Michigan has been exceedingly successful at keeping their quarterbacks safe in the pocket, only allowing nine sacks all season. The Buckeyes don’t fall far behind, only allowing opponents to sack their quarterback 13 times all season. This game presents just as much of a challenge in the trenches as in any other aspect of play.

On the defensive side, both Ohio State and Michigan present a particular effectiveness of getting to the quarterback. The Buckeyes have produced 35 sacks so far this season, while the Wolverines have 28. It’s safe to say determining who controls the line determines the offensive capabilities of both teams.

Ohio State has set themselves apart from the rest of the Big Ten to the little surprise of its peers. But anything can happen in a rivalry game and maybe that will go in Michigan’s favor this year. Regardless, these teams align in more ways than one. Each phase has to play a near-perfect game, as mistakes will be capitalized on by either side.

There’s a reason the Buckeyes are the favorite in this game, but hopefully Michigan makes them work for it. The numbers have spelled out an incredible rivalry game for this weekend and it’s time to see what team is worth their salt.

In a game that determines everything, the Michigan Wolverines host the Ohio State Buckeyes this Saturday for a huge rivalry showdown in Ann Arbor at noon.