Alex Hickey: Injuries could play an outsized role determining Michigan-Ohio State winner
Something stands out about this year’s Michigan-Ohio State game. And it’s not just the stakes of the 3rd meeting in history with the Wolverines and Buckeyes both ranked in the top 3.
Rarely has so much raw talent shown up on the injury report. Not that college football has formal injury reports like the NFL. Coaches like to hide behind the guise of health privacy laws that somehow evaporate at the professional level. But that’s neither here nor there.
The most important thing is this: Both teams have high-impact players who are banged up right now. And the ability of those guys to play effectively — or play at all — could play a role in determining who wins this game.
Here’s a look at the most significant players who are hurt for each team, and what makes their impact so significant. Interestingly, much of the injury trouble for both teams is concentrated in the backfield.
RB Blake Corum
Michigan Stadium went about as quiet as possible when Corum went down with so much pain last week that he fumbled in the process of clutching for his knee. That’s the kind of thing that you only see for the direst of injuries.
But it may have merely been a scare. Corum returned in the second half, albeit briefly. He gave it a go for 2 snaps before returning to the sidelines for the remainder of the game.
Corum wouldn’t have been allowed back on the field if there was structural damage to his knee. It seems unlikely that he’d be sidelined in a game of this magnitude. But he could be limited in his ability to cut back and burst. The Wolverines may need every bit of the back who is averaging 132.5 yards per game with 18 touchdowns.
For those embracing a glass half-full outlook: Two weeks ago, Illinois running back Chase Brown suffered a scary-looking ankle injury against Purdue. Brown did not appear at all limited in rushing for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns against Michigan.
Obviously, they aren’t identical injuries. But sometimes bodies can heal more quickly than anyone would guess on first glance.
RB Donovan Edwards
Michigan would be better equipped to deal with a banged-up Corum if Edwards was a full go. The sophomore has come into his own as a change-of-pace to Corum, rushing for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns against Penn State. Edwards also cracked the century mark at Rutgers.
But Edwards was injured against Nebraska and did not suit up against Illinois. Michigan’s offense is at its peak potential with both backs available. Having Edwards this week could be a massive boost.
TE Luke Schoonmaker
With fellow tight end Erick All out for the season, the availability of Schoonmaker both as a receiver and a blocker is significant for the Wolverines. Schoonmaker sat out the Illinois game, though he did go through warmups.
Schoonmaker is second on the team in receptions and receiving yardage despite missing 2 games. Having a security blanket around feels like a must for JJ McCarthy in his greatest test so far as a college quarterback.
DE Mike Morris
Like Schoonmaker, Morris went through warmups but did not play against Illinois. There’s a chance Jim Harbaugh was exercising caution to make sure both would be ready to go against Ohio State.
If you look at how the Wolverines won this game last year, then having Morris around to set the edge defensively is a must. He leads Michigan in tackles for loss (11) and sacks (7.5).
RB Miyan Williams
Williams is the Buckeyes back best suited to give the Wolverines a taste of their own battering ram medicine. He’s actually the Big Ten’s leader this season with 6.7 yards per carry. Ever the weapon near the goal line, Williams is also third in the B1G with 13 touchdowns despite being just 14th in rushing attempts. (And as his rushing average indicates, he can also be a home run hitter.)
Unfortunately, Williams was last seen giving the “O-H” cheer as he was carted off the field against Indiana. Ryan Day said the injury wouldn’t be “long-term,” but 2 weeks might still be on the short side of things.
RB TreVeyon Henderson
Henderson’s frequent injuries this season have been a factor in Williams’ rise.
Henderson has already missed 3 games with various ailments. A foot injury kept him sidelined for 2 weeks prior to the Maryland game, and he may have aggravated it against the Terrapins. Henderson did not return from the injury.
There is a very real possibility the Buckeyes will be down to No. 3 back Dallan Hayden against Michigan. But Hayden has shown himself capable the past 2 weeks, rushing for 102 yards against Indiana and 146 against Maryland.
Perhaps running back is to the 2022 Buckeyes as quarterback was to the 2014 Buckeyes.
WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba
College football’s best receiver has played only 3 games this season after a hamstring injury against Notre Dame in the opener.
As Day stated last week, he’s “not expecting, but hoping” to have Smith-Njigba back this season. The climate-controlled settings of the College Football Playoff may be the most realistic shot of that occurring.
The good news for the Buckeyes is that the new best receiver in college football, Marvin Harrison Jr., has stepped up to fill the void. But getting both Harrison and Smith-Njigba back on the field together would elevate Ohio State’s offense to a new level entirely.