Ohio State football: 5 ways OSU could get in trouble against Michigan
Yes, the Ohio State Buckeyes — perhaps aside from Georgia, and perhaps not — could be the most dangerous team in college football. Yes, they’ve won 15 of the last 16 games against Michigan in their head-to-head series. Yes, Ohio State is favored by more than a touchdown, even on the road. But for the cautious sorts, here are 5 ways the Buckeyes could get themselves into trouble.
1) Letting Michigan control the ball
Ohio State’s offense is explosive. It’s really neither fast nor slow — it can be either. The Buckeyes can grind with Henderson, Williams and Teague to protect a lead and eat the clock. Or they can run a 2-minute drill with anybody in the nation. And the best way to neutralize that offense is probably to keep it off the field.
Michigan is 2nd in the conference to the Buckeyes in scoring offense and 3rd in offensive yardage (oddly, Nebraska is in between the two). One difference is that Michigan is 3rd in the conference in time of possession, while Ohio State is 9th. If the Wolverines can keep the ball for 35-40 minutes, it might limit the Ohio State offense to keep the Wolverines at least within striking range. And given the Wolverines’ 218 rushing yards per game, it’s a plausible game plan.
2) Penalties, penalties, penalties
Is there anything that brings about more dread in a big game than the nefarious yellow hanky? Probably not, because we’ve all been through almost an entire season that has a weekly “Can you top that?” moment of bad officiating. And OSU is penalty prone. The Buckeyes have been flagged 68 times, third most in the B1G. Interestingly, in their games, the opponents have only been flagged 50 times, which is second fewest in the league. The only thing worst than a departure from this promising season would be if it comes down to an official’s (likely blown) call.
3) Turnover trouble
The good news for OSU is that they aren’t a turnover prone team — at all. The Buckeyes have lost just 9 turnovers in 11 games. But the bad news is that Michigan is the only B1G team that’s even stingier, coughing up the ball just 8 times in 11 games. Michigan actually hasn’t had a game with a negative turnover margin all season. Ohio State had 2 of those games — Oregon and Nebraska, the two closest games the Buckeyes have played. It could be a bad sign that OSU, after losing 2 fumbles in the opener against Minnesota, didn’t lose a fumble for the next 6 games but then lost 5 fumbles in the last 4 games.
4) Failing to bring the defensive heat
What changed in Ohio State’s shift from an awful defense in the first couple weeks of the season to a solidly above average defense thereafter? Well, several things, but one is that the Buckeyes upped the heat on opposing offenses and acknowledged that sometimes they’d get beat, but other times, they’d throw the offense far enough off schedule to put the advantage on OSU’s side. But here’s the thing — Michigan doesn’t give up negative plays. In 11 games, the Wolverines have allowed 24 tackles for loss and 9 sacks, total. Ohio State isn’t bad in those categories — 39 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. But Michigan is historic. Georgia, for instance, is second in the nation in fewest tackles for loss allowed– at 35. The Buckeye defense that managed just 1 (Oregon) or 4 (Minnesota) tackles for loss wasn’t so special. It’s pretty safe to say UM won’t give up 9 (Michigan State), much less 12 (Akron) or 15 (Indiana) tackles for loss. Can OSU bring enough heat?
5) Thinking about pink elephants
There’s a frequent example used in psychology classes about the difficulty of channeling thoughts. If you tell someone, “Don’t think about pink elephants,” then that person will immediately think about a pink elephant. This Saturday is, as much as anything, an exercise in mind control for Ohio State. Don’t think about the winning streak, don’t think about the CFP rankings, don’t think about the Big Ten championship game. The Buckeyes are men, not machines. Of course, they’ll be aware of all of those things. But they have to avoid getting so distracted by the thoughts they would be best served to avoid that they can’t do the things that got them here. They have to find a way to not think about pink elephants.