Last week, the Michigan Wolverines were tested by a good Illinois Fighting Illini team in a thrilling 19-17 win in Ann Arbor. To this point, it may have been their most comparable opponent of the season. But as is November football, it’s time to move on to even bigger and better things. That comes in the form of the Ohio State Buckeyes this weekend.
For the Wolverines to get the job done in Columbus, they are going to have to slow the passing game of the Buckeyes and pay attention to one of the best defensive players in college football as well. Let’s take a look into those three guys who can wreck The Game this weekend.
QB C.J. Stroud
We are going to start with the obvious here, and that is C.J. Stroud. His numbers this year have been just as gaudy as his Heisman run last season. Through 11 games, Stroud has thrown for 2,991 yards and a nation-leading 35 passing touchdowns.
In OSU’s two ranked games this season, Stroud has been phenomenal by completing a staggering 74.6% of his passes for an average of 8.6 yards per completion. He’s thrown for more than 300 yards four times and had a six-touchdown performance against Michigan State. I don’t know if anyone in college football throws a better deep shot than Stroud. There are too many examples, but here is one from last week against Maryland:
Last year, a big reason the Wolverines pulled away in the Big House was because of their pass rush. The team totaled four sacks, which all came from Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. But Ohio State has been elite at slowing down pass rushes this year. Stroud has only been sacked seven times this season. Michigan needs guys like Mike Morris, Eyobi Okie and others to get a hand in the face of Stroud. If he has the time of day to throw, he is going to covert in most occasions.
WR Marvin Harrison Jr.
There are plenty of reasons to be worried about Marvin Harrison Jr.. The sophomore is 6-foot-4 and is one of the premier receivers in college football. On 3rd or 4th down, Stroud is looking Harrison Jr.’s way, a lot. He has a 92.0 PFF grade on those opportunities, which leads the country at the wide receiver position.
Stats-wise, there may not be a better receiver in college football. In the absence of projected first round pick Jaxson Smith-Njigba, Harrison Jr. leads the Buckeyes in receptions (65) and receiving touchdowns (11). Last week, he became the eighth player in program history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a season on this absurd catch:
It’s spectacular catches like this that come every week. It’s why he averages 16 yards per reception and has five 100+ yard games on the year. Without a doubt, he is the most explosive weapon the Buckeyes have on offense.
The reason this concerns me is because of how the Wolverines' corners have played this year against bigger receivers. Michigan State wide receiver Keon Coleman put the perfect tape on display:
VIDEO: Keon Coleman made two big catches on Michigan State’s scoring drive. One on third down, another for a TD pic.twitter.com/DYkyNRRHAq— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) October 30, 2022
There have been times this season when both DJ Turner and Gemon Green have been beaten over the top by big, physical receivers. Harrison Jr. is the prototype NFL wide receiver and his play must be limited for Michigan to win this game on Saturday.
DL J.T. Tuimoloau
Michigan’s success last season came because it dominated the trenches on both sides of the ball. It is going to be asked to do the same this year, and the biggest guy to watch is defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau.
In Ohio State’s biggest game to this point, on the road against Penn State, Tuimoloau was the National Player of the Week after two fumble recoveries, two interceptions (including a game-sealing pick-six), and two sacks. It was one of the most impressive defensive performances that I have ever seen.
Winning up front means keeping Tuimoloau away from J.J. McCarthy on each passing down. It will mean extra focus from the offensive line in the run game as Michigan looks to set the edge with (hopefully) Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards.
If the Wolverines want to keep up with the Ohio State offense, they will need long and sustaining drives. That all starts with winning up front and not allowing the Buckeyes’ front seven to disrupt this game.