The time has come. Stakes are high as ever for this iteration of The Game, as the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes both have their sights on a Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff berth. None of the previous 11 games have stopped either team, but someone is falling short this weekend.
Despite two undefeated records, however, both team bring very real weaknesses into Saturday’s clash, specifically on offense. While neither team have been critically punished by these deficiencies yet, they might end up being the difference this weekend. Put another way: whoever can make the most of their worst component will be in great shape for earning the victory.
Michigan Offense: Adjust to reality
It might be J.J. McCarthy, it might be the pass catchers, it might be the play calling, but whatever the reason, the current state of the passing game is not ideal. Instead of questioning what has gone wrong over the last month or lamenting how things have trended, the Wolverines need to accept this for what it is an act accordingly.
McCarthy is still a great talent and has shown ability to get the ball in playmakers hands. Most often this occurs via crossing patterns and a reliance on tight ends and wide receivers, so Michigan might as well lean into the concepts that are working well. Fly routes and fades are just not clicking, so stop wasting these downs.
The Wolverines do not need to try to outgun the Buckeyes, but they do need to find a way to consistently move the ball down field. The game plan should be to stick to what is actually working by creating high-percentage throws and using McCarthy’s legs to mix things up. The sophomore has shown enough this season to give confidence in his ability to make the simpler throws, and that should be the plan in Columbus.
Michigan Defense: Confirm the assumptions
Ohio State scores a ton, but in many ways this is in spite of the running game. TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams have had their moments, but against Big Ten competition neither has looked overly convincing. With the Michigan defense coming up and health concerns for both, this is a clear area of concern for the Buckeyes.
Michigan famously dominated the line of scrimmage in The Game last season, but this year’s defensive line looks a little bit different. For the most part, the Wolverines have replicated the results, though, with a nation-leading 70.9 rushing yards allowed in conference play and a Power-Five best 2.42 yards per carry.
There have been cracks in the defense, though, including quality efforts by Illinois and Penn State. Henderson, Williams, and freshman Dallan Hayden are all very talented and could cause problems if Michigan is not careful. What is most scary to me is how everyone is chalking this battle up as a clear win for the Wolverines. If the Buckeyes are able to find some success on the ground, suddenly their path to victory gets much easier.