For Ohio State (9-2), the Big Ten East has already been conquered, with a trip to Indianapolis to take on the potentially undefeated Wisconsin Badgers looming on the horizon. There is, however, one familiar foe between them and the conference title game. This last matchup of the regular season, the one they call “The Game,” will kick off this Saturday at noon on Fox. Their opponent? The Michigan Wolverines (8-3).
The Buckeyes are coming off a dominating performance against the lowly Illini, defeating Illinois 52-14 on a stormy afternoon in Columbus. The story of the game for Ohio State for the second straight week was their ability to run the ball and control the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense. OSU running back Mike Weber totaled 108 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries, while J.K. Dobbins added another 51 yards and a score. Quarterback J.T. Barrett had an efficient 141 yards passing and three total touchdowns on his senior day, playing less than two full quarters.
The Ohio State offense has continued to show that it is at its best when keeping the ball on the ground. The Buckeyes’ two running backs have now combined for 1,634 yards and 15 touchdowns on just over seven yards per carry. The offensive line has done a tremendous job run blocking, especially in the last two games. H-back Parris Campbell, who missed the Iowa game with an injury, has been very impressive in his last two outings. Against Michigan State and Illinois, Campbell caught a combined six passes for 108 yards, while also registering a 44-yard rush on a reversal play against the Illini before getting stopped just shy of the goal line.
Since their head-scratching performance against Iowa, the Buckeye defense has looked like its usual self. OSU gave the Illini fits, holding them to 105 total yards: 89 rushing and just 16 passing. The Illinois offense did not earn a first down until the end of the second quarter, when Ohio State had already removed most of its starting defense. They would earn only five total first downs in the entire game. While the Illini aren’t the most stout offenses in the league, it is worth noting that the Buckeyes have allowed under 100 passing yards five times this season. In both of their last two games, they allowed less than 200 yards of total offense.
The Wolverines are coming in off their third loss of the season, this one 24-10 at the hands of the aforementioned Badgers. Michigan’s ground game, the heart and soul of their offensive, was not able to get anything going in this one. As a team, they ran the ball 37 times for 58 yards – just a 1.6 per carry average. More importantly, the Wolverines lost starting quarterback Brandon Peters to a shoulder injury at the end of the third quarter. His availability for this week’s game is unknown at this time.
Michigan’s offense has not exactly been their strong suit this year, and things could get a lot tougher if Peters is unable to go. Peters was already the third Wolverine quarterback to start this year, the team losing Wilton Speight to injury and John O’Korn being benched for poor performance. With Speight and Peters injured, although either could potentially be available, it is likely that O’Korn will be the starter against Ohio State. O’Korn has played in seven games for the Wolverines this season, throwing for 761 yards and just one touchdown to go along with five interceptions. If O’Korn is indeed the starter, it will be interesting to see how he bounces back from being benched the past few weeks.
Michigan’s defense, however, is a different story. The Wolverines have been extremely solid on that side of the ball, allowing just 17.1 points per game – good enough for 11th best in FBS. The team is strong at almost every position on defense, lead by defensive end Chase Winovich and defensive back Khaleke Hudson. Winovich has recorded 16.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks on the year with two forced fumbles. Hudson has wreaked almost as much havoc as Winovich, recording 14.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks with two interceptions as well. The tandem will look to give the Ohio State line fits, not allowing them to so easily control the line of scrimmage as they have the past two weeks.
Perhaps one of the biggest rivalries in sports, you can almost throw the record books out the window when these two teams meet head to head. While Ohio State has won 14 of the last 16 meetings between the two, the Michigan wins during that span have both come in Ann Arbor. Both coaches have records on the line as well, as Urban Meyer has never lost to the Wolverines (5-0) and Jim Harbaugh has yet to beat the Buckeyes (0-2).
This is going to be close and hard-fought, as most of these meetings usually are. Michigan has no postseason aspirations to play for, however will look to avenge their loss a year ago in a game Ohio State won in double-OT after a controversial call while simultaneously looking to end the Buckeyes’ playoff hopes. OSU will struggle a bit on special teams, a unit the Wolverines take pride in, but will dominate on defense. Ultimately, the Michigan offense will not be able to put enough points on the board to fend off the Buckeyes, and the Scarlet and Gray will come away victorious.
Final Score: 35-20 Ohio State
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