Saturday presents interesting challenges for B1G East favorites Michigan, Ohio State
After a pretty uneventful opening week for the B1G, it’s nice that the league has some interesting matchups on the schedule for Week 2. There are a handful of games that everyone will be keeping an eye on this Saturday.
Nebraska travels to Colorado for a rivalry game. Minnesota heads to the West Coast to take on really good Fresno State team. Purdue hosts Vanderbilt in a B1G-SEC showdown. Maryland tangles with a ranked Syracuse. Rutgers and Iowa square off in the first B1G game of the year.
There’s plenty to watch this weekend.
But two other matchups stand out on Saturday’s slate — two games that don’t tend to get the same attention as the ones previously mentioned. The two B1G East favorites — Michigan and Ohio State — have quietly intriguing games in Week 2.
No. 7 Michigan hosts an Army team that won 11 games last season and brings its unique triple-option offense to Ann Arbor. Luke Fickell makes his return to Columbus as the Cincinnati head coach, trying to pull off an unthinkable upset over fifth-ranked Ohio State.
Both Michigan and Ohio State are heavily favored, but these are interesting, early-season challenges for the two perennial powers. Here’s a quick look at what makes each game so unique.
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Army vs. #7 Michigan
Don Brown has had his defense preparing for this game for some time now for a reason. A triple-option offense isn’t exactly something a lot of teams see on an annual basis. Saturday’s game against Army will present Michigan with a new challenge and will test the Wolverines’ speed, intelligence and instinct on the defensive side of the ball.
Army did have trouble in its opener, positing just a 14-7 win over Rice. It didn’t look quite like that 11-win team we saw a year ago. But Kelvin Hopkins Jr. is still under center and is always a home run threat. Michigan’s defense will need to keep a close eye on him. Outside of the quarterback spot, though, Army is relatively young the running back position, probably a big reason why the offense wasn’t clicking at the same pace it did last fall.
Michigan should have the athletes on the defensive side of the ball to keep even something as unique as the triple-option in check. Plus, if Brown has been game-planning for this matchup since the beginning of camp, the Wolverines may not see as many surprises as what they might’ve if they only used a handful of days to strategize.
Offensively, Michigan’s line and talent positions are way ahead of where Army stands. It should have no trouble winning the battle in the trenches or stretching the field. Scoring shouldn’t be a major issue.
Neither Michigan nor Army played particularly well in Week 1, so it’s hard to know what to expect on Saturday. With the talent level heavily tilting the scale in the Wolverines’ favor, you’d think this could be an easy win for Jim Harbaugh and company. But there’s always that chance that the defense struggles to defend the triple-option, Army trims down the number of possessions in the game, and the contest is close heading into the fourth quarter.
Plus, Jeff Monken has proven to be pretty good at his job over the last five years. He almost led the Black Knights to an upset win over eventual Big 12 champion Oklahoma last season. Army will be ready to play. The question is whether or not its style is unique enough to trip up Michigan on its home turf.
Cincinnati vs. #5 Ohio State
If you watch a lot of sports-themed Hollywood films, you’re probably already expecting Cincinnati to find a way to escape Columbus with a win. It’s Luke Fickell’s first appearance at Ohio Stadium since becoming the head coach in 2017, the Bearcats haven’t beaten the Buckeyes since 1897, and both teams enter the game 1-0.
See? Hollywood script.
Cincinnati doesn’t come close to matching Ohio State’s talent level, but Fickell does know the program inside and out. While it is under new leadership with Ryan Day running the show, Urban Meyer’s fingerprints are still all over the program, one that Fickell was on the staff of for five years (under Meyer).
There are two pretty good running backs Cincinnati brings to Columbus in Michael Warren II and Gerrid Doaks, and quarterback Desmond is capable of making plays with his arm and his legs. Defensively, the Bearcats were even more impressive, forcing four turnovers and holding UCLA to just 218 total yards last week, and only 62 rushing yards.
No, that wasn’t a very good UCLA team, but it’s impressive against a Chip Kelly offense.
If Ohio State comes out of the tunnel the way it did against FAU last week, moving the ball at will with no resistance, it won’t be any trouble to extend Cincinnati’s losing streak to 123 years. But if the Buckeyes allow the Bearcats to hang around, this one could very interesting.