Michigan vs. Ohio State: Wolverines will win if these 5 things happen
On Saturday, No. 2 Ohio State (11-0, 8-0) hosts No. 3 Michigan (11-0, 8-0) for all the Big Ten bragging rights (at least for another season). It’s been more than 20 years since the Wolverines have won 2 in a row against the Buckeyes, and it’s been 30 years since they’ve won back-to-back outright Big Ten regular-season championships.
If they win, they’ll have a chance to repeat as B1G champs and College Football Playoff participants.
And Michigan can win this one … it just has to make sure to do the following 5 things.
This can be said for any game, but it’s especially important during The Game. Michigan can’t afford to let the ball exchange hands for free. With that said, it’s not like teams intentionally commit turnovers; however, sometimes emotions and lack of focus cause mental mistakes — the prime ingredients for turnovers.
Michigan has lost 6 turnovers (3 fumbles, 3 INTs) this season, while Ohio State has lost 8 (4 and 4) turnovers. Neither team coughs up the ball on a regular basis, so it’ll be important for each to take advantage of those situations — in this case, Michigan.
In 2021, UM committed just 1 turnover against the Buckeyes and won by a solid margin. Oddly enough, Ohio State had 3 turnovers compared to Michigan’s zero in 2006 and still won. That’s not the norm, obviously. Winning the turnover battle will be key, as will victories across other key areas such as 1st downs, 3rd-down conversions, etc.
Everything matters on Saturday, with turnovers counting double.
Stay close throughout
We all know how Michigan hasn’t allowed a 4th-quarter score to its past 6 opponents. Yeah, that’s great. Good for Jesse Minter’s defense. We all know how UM has scored 90 percent of its points in the second half (not really, but you get it).
On Saturday, none of that will help if Ohio State jumps out to a big lead, especially early. Playing catch-up isn’t something that Michigan wants to do this weekend.
Ohio State has the highest-scoring offense in the country, so Michigan has to channel its high-scoring ways if wants to stay in the race.
On that note, let’s move along to the next point.
Hit the scoreboard hard
Scoring 40 points should do it for Michigan, which has the No. 9 scoring offense in the nation (39.4 ppg). Remember how Michigan opened the season with 2 straight 50-point games? Remember those big plays? In order to win, Michigan’s offense has to be at its peak Saturday against the nation’s No. 9 total defense (283.4 ypg) and No. 10 scoring defense (16.9 ppg).
Ohio State just gave up 30 to Maryland. Penn State put 31 on the Buckeyes a month ago. Even Toledo scored 3 touchdowns against this vaunted Buckeyes defense. We all know that comparisons and previous games mean two things: 1. A lot, or 2. nothing.
But for the sake of numbering with numbers, let’s end with this conclusion: It’s possible to score on the Buckeyes, and the Wolverines have the means to do it. They have the speed and demonstrated ability.
Don’t give up big plays. Try to create them.
Let’s do this by starting with “rewind style,” shall we? A lot of rivalry games come down to limiting big plays, but it was never truer than in 2006. This year’s matchup could end up being a lot like that classic version of The Game in Columbus some 16 years ago.
In 2006, 50-plus-yard TD runs by Antonio Pittman and Chris “Beanie” Wells helped Ohio State distance itself from Michigan. Both teams gave up 300 passing yards, but the Buckeyes owned the ground game with 187 yards. During that same game, Ted Ginn Jr. had a 39-yard receiving touchdown. Without those explosive touchdowns, the Buckeyes wouldn’t have won in 2006.
Though it won 42-39, Ohio State had to rely on ball control and time management while attempting to outlast the Wolverines. Outside of the 3 aforementioned plays, the Buckeyes needed methodical drives in order to reach the end zone, capped by 2-, 8- and 13-yard passing touchdowns.
In 2021, Michigan won behind 5 rushing TDs by Hassan Haskins, 4 of which were scored inside the 4-yard line (long of 13). The majority of the Wolverines’ success this year has come via the ground game, but the difference this year is that Blake Corum has the speed to score from anywhere, whereas Haskins was more of a powerful, straight-ahead runner.
Limit big plays by Ohio State, remain consistent on the ground … and maybe even get some explosiveness out of Corum.
Win the ground game
Weather forecast says low-50s with possible snow showers. It’ll be brisk, somewhat breezy and most likely a bit wet. Ball security will be the name of the game, and the Wolverines should win if they can control the clock with a methodical running game led by Corum — the No. 3 rusher in the country and No. 3 rushing TD scorer (18).
Michigan knew the deal in 2021, leaning on Haskins’ 28 carries for 169 yards (and 5 TDs). Corum (if healthy enough) should see a similar workload, especially if RB Donovan Edwards doesn’t return to the lineup on a full-time basis. The star sophomore has been nursing a hand injury. UM hasn’t confirmed Edwards’ status for Saturday, so stay tuned on that.
Even if Edwards were to return healthy, the onus would be on Corum to shred the field with a couple 20-plus-yard runs and at least 150 yards and a couple scores. A really good day should be enough, but Corum may need to put forth a career day — something like 200 yards, 3 TDs — in order for the Wolverines to escape Columbus with a win over Ohio State.
In 2006, Ohio State used a pair of 50-plus-yard TDs to help put away Michigan. Those type of runs hurt and demoralize. It’d benefit the Wolverines to deliver those runs, rather than be on the receiving end like in 2006.