For Ohio State, Michigan Week means as much as ever
How much actual football talk should we expect this week? All the signs point toward rehashing the rehash of Connor Stalions, sign-stealing, advance scouting, no Jim Harbaugh on the sideline and Ohio State’s 2-game losing streak to the Wolverines.
Will any of that matter when The Game kicks off at noon Saturday? Will there be residual effects, or will both teams be able to focus and not be distracted: Michigan by scandal and Ohio State by its losses in this game the past 2 years?
Saturday’s performance suggests No. 3 Michigan prematurely turned its focus to the Buckeyes in a 31-24 victory at unranked Maryland. Or maybe Maryland deserves more credit. Or maybe no Harbaugh has more effect than Michigan is willing to admit. Or maybe it’s simply the distractions of the scandal.
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The defense for No. 2 Ohio State had its mind where it belonged – on Minnesota – in a 37-3 victory at Ohio Stadium. To say Ohio State’s offense wasn’t focused for much of the first half might be accurate. But the Buckeyes have been a 2-quarter team all season. You just never know which 2 quarters.
Both teams have enjoyed 11-0 starts for the second straight year. But both know their seasons will be judged by Saturday’s result. That’s just how it is. A week later, the Big Ten championship game against Iowa will once again be viewed as a formality leading into the College Football Playoff.
This version of The Game will test the theory of running the football and stopping the run.
No running game in the country has earned more respect than Michigan’s 2-headed monster of Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards. And no running back has been more electrifying on long touchdown runs in recent weeks than Ohio State’s TreVeyon Henderson.
Both teams have been strong against the run. Michigan ranked No. 12 in the nation in rushing defense and Ohio State No. 22 entering Saturday’s games.
In the passing game, Ohio State has the receivers and Michigan has the quarterback. But while Ohio State’s Kyle McCord is playing his best football in November, Michigan’s JJ McCarthy has been a little off. Perhaps that can be blamed on his mentor and head coach not being on the sideline.
Michigan and Ohio State rank 1-2 in the nation in passing yards allowed. In passer rating allowed, Ohio State is No. 1 and Michigan is No. 2. The most important advantage in the passing game might belong to Ohio State because of wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.
Michigan is No. 1 in total defense and Ohio State is No. 2. In scoring defense, the teams are separated by a field goal. Michigan has allowed 99 points for an average of 9.0. Ohio State has allowed 102 for an average of 9.3.
This installment of The Game should be a defensive battle. The defense that performs the best in the red zone, allows the fewest explosive plays and creates the most turnovers will put their team in the best position to win.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day has 2 Big Ten losses in his 5 seasons. Both are to Michigan.
Day knows what this game means every year. And it’s not lost on him what this edition of The Game means.
And so Michigan Week begins. How will the Buckeyes handle the pressure this year? The answer might be their defense.