It feels like the season just got underway, but here we are in Week 12. In a season where the Michigan Wolverines weren’t given a chance by anybody, they have proved a lot of people wrong and are ranked fifth in the country with a 10-1 record.
A trip to Indy is on the line today as the Ohio State Buckeyes visit Ann Arbor for one of the biggest games at Michigan Stadium in the last 20 years. You can feel the energy and excitement in the air as these two bitter rivals get ready to do battle. Is this finally the year Michigan can dethrone Ohio State and end the dreaded eight game losing streak against the Buckeyes? If so, it’s going to take a near perfect game.
Here are Michigan’s keys to victory for knocking off Ohio State:
Hutchinson and Ojabo need the game of their lives
Ohio State has the matchup advantage in just about every facet. The one area where that may not be the case: Michigan’s edge rushers against the Buckeye’s O-line. Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo have both had incredible seasons and seemingly put up video game numbers every week. Their play could make the biggest difference in this game.
We’ve seen what happens when Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud has a lot of time to throw. He leads his team to 49-0 leads over top 10 teams...by halftime. There’s a reason he’ll be in New York for the Heisman ceremony in December. Michigan needs to get consistent pressure on him or it could get ugly quick.
Secondary must be strong, stop the big plays
This ties together with getting pressure on Stroud, as both will help limit the passing game. The secondary needs to be at the top of their game. Chris Olave is a future first round pick, and he’s third in receiving yards for Ohio State. That just shows how dangerous this trio of receivers is for the Buckeyes. With the talent there and the talent at the quarterback position, Ohio State creates a lot of big plays. This is what makes the Buckeyes so dangerous — they can strike for a long touchdown at any time and games can get out of hand quick.
The Wolverines need to keep guys in front of them and they have to be able to take some punches. The big plays need to be kept to a minimum if Michigan wants to keep this close, and the secondary has a lot of responsibility in making that happen.
The offense needs long possessions
Keep Stroud and that offense on the bench for as long possible. In a perfect world, Ohio State’s run defense would be its weakness and Michigan could use its strong running attack to chew clock and score points on long drives. But this isn’t a perfect world. The weaknesses on defense for the Buckeyes come in their pass coverage.
Still, Michigan needs to find a way to keep the offense on the field for long drives resulting in touchdowns. If the Wolverines get into a shootout with the Buckeyes, it probably won’t end well. Keep Stroud on the sidelines and don’t let him get into a rhythm. It’s going to be cold all game long and maybe even a bit snowy. The longer he’s off the field, the rustier he’ll be when he comes back on. While it might be easier to attack Ohio State’s passing defense, the run game needs to be on too. Michigan has two elite backs and if they can have consistent 4-5 yard gains and chew some clock, that would be huge for the offense. If Michigan is coming off the field after consistent one or two-minute drives, it’s not going to be a fun afternoon.
Don’t forget about TreVeyon Henderson
Alright, let’s talk about the Buckeyes’ run game. This aspect of the game can be overlooked because of how good Ohio State’s passing game is, but the Buckeyes do have a 1,000-yard rusher in true freshman TreVeyon Henderson.
If the Wolverines are fortunate enough to slow down Stroud and the passing game, they get to deal with Henderson. The D-line is going to have to be strong if they want to stop the rushing attack. Kenneth Walker ran all over the Michigan defense and Henderson is on a similar talent level. Everyone needs to bring their A game if they want to stop all of the weapons Ohio State has on offense.
Feed the tight ends
Like I said earlier, Ohio State’s biggest weakness is probably in their pass coverage, and the best way to expose it is through the tight ends, specifically the speedy Erick All. Ohio State’s corners are solid, but it’s when offenses get their linebackers into coverage where they can struggle. It’s rare when Ohio State has any weakness, so it needs to be attacked.
As you can see, there’s a lot Michigan has to do to be able to have a chance in this game. At the end of the day though, Ohio State is not invincible. The attitude of this Michigan team has felt different all year, and that could play a big role in this game, too. It’s a tall task, but it’s as good a day as any to crush some Buckeyes.