Showdown between Michigan, Ohio State could be decided in trenches
Who: No. 8 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Michigan
When: Saturday, noon ET
Where: Michigan Stadium, Michigan
Spread: Ohio State -1
Matchup to watch: Jourdan Lewis vs. Michael Thomas
Ohio State was blasted for two things following its loss to Michigan State last week. One was not giving the ball to Ezekiel Elliott down the stretch. The other was not trying to take more shots downfield with Thomas. You can bet the Buckeyes will try and correct both of those wrongs on Saturday. That won’t be easy for Thomas against an All-American-caliber cornerback. Lewis has been everything and more for a Michigan defense that got its mojo back last week. This will be Thomas’ toughest individual matchup since the opener when he squared off with Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller. He likely won’t have a high volume game, but the winner of the few 50-50 balls between these two could very well determine who comes out on top.
Thing I’m excited to see: Ezekiel Elliott vs. Michigan D-line
After the fallout of last week’s game, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Elliott rack up 30-plus carries. Urban Meyer knows that the offense always has and always will need to run through No. 15. Against another talented defensive line, however, there might not be many holes for Elliott. Michigan had a huge bounce-back effort against Saquon Barkley, who he was held to just 12 yards rushing outside of his monster 56-yard carry in the first quarter. James Ross and Taco Charlton will have to lead Michigan to an even better effort against Elliott. For as much as Elliott’s consistency was praised, last week was he and the OSU O-line’s first game against a top-40 run defense all year. Where does Michigan rank against the run? Fourth. The Wolverines have all the talent to make it another frustrating day for the Buckeye ground game, high volume or not. That is, unless the Buckeyes block and run like they did at the end of last season.
Number to remember: 217
Stick with me on this one. That’s how many more passing yards than rushing yards Michigan averaged in its last three games. The Wolverines relied on Jake Rudock a ton in the last few weeks. Against weak Rutgers and Indiana secondaries, and without dealing with sack king Carl Nassib, Rudock looked phenomenal. But he’ll be seeing a defense that’s fifth in the country against the pass. He hasn’t had to face a unit that defends the pass quite like the Buckeyes do. Michigan can’t expect Rudock to match the production he put up in the last three weeks. It needs balance. It needs De’Veon Smith to wear down Ohio State. Because of his health, he hasn’t had 20 carries in a game in B1G play. The Wolverines haven’t even had a 100-yard rusher since Smith did so against BYU, not that it held them back. If they could get both of those things out of Smith on Saturday, they would be in prime position to close it out down the stretch.
Prediction: Ohio State 28, Michigan 24
The fact that I got this far without talking about J.T. Barrett and Jabrill Peppers should tell you how I think this game will be played. Not to slight two of the most dynamic players in America, but I think this one comes down to who controls the line of scrimmage. Ohio State finally saw what happens when it doesn’t do just that. I think this team finally plays like a group with a chip on its shoulder. There never has and never will be any extra motivation needed for either squad in the greatest rivalry in college football. But I think Ohio State comes into Saturday with a different mindset and grinds out its best win of the year to salvage some of the dignity it lost to Michigan State.