We knew Ohio State's vulnerability all along, and Michigan exploited it
Minnesota showed us. Oregon showed us. For heaven’s sake, even Tulsa showed us.
This Ohio State defense was a massive liability for a team with national championship aspirations.
But by piecing together enough chewing gum and duct tape after an early-season change in defensive play-callers, the Buckeyes gave the appearance of figuring it out on defense.
Ohio State was dominant against the run in conference play, allowing 88 yards per Big Ten game on the ground before Saturday. Only Wisconsin was better. The Buckeyes looked to be the kind of well-rounded team that could potentially give consensus No. 1 Georgia a run for its money.
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But as Michigan demonstrated Saturday, that was all smoke and mirrors. As it turned out, Ohio State got fat on empty calories. The Buckeyes were great against the run because their offense got big leads so quickly that running the ball against them was useless.
But if you could shove it down their throats early, you could shove it down their throats often. And that’s precisely the tone Jim Harbaugh set on Michigan’s magnificent opening drive.
The Wolverines had 6 runs in the 10-play, 75-yard drive. A 17-yarder and 14-yarder to cap it off put Ohio State in decidedly unfamiliar territory — facing a deficit against the Wolverines. That hadn’t occurred since 2016, and here it was just 5 minutes into this one.
It was the beginning of a complete dissection.
Michigan finished with 297 rushing yards, the most allowed by an Ohio State defense since Maryland put up 339 in an unlikely 2018 shootout. That, of course, was the same squad that saw its playoff hopes nuked in a 49-20 loss at Purdue. Incredibly, that was Ohio State’s most recent loss to a Big Ten opponent until Saturday.
It seems wild to think dramatic changes are necessary for a coach who has lost 1 conference game in 3 seasons, but that’s the territory Ryan Day finds himself in. These are not aberrations. Not when you look at Ohio State’s most recent 3 defeats.
The Buckeyes allowed 52 points to Alabama in the national championship game. They allowed better than 7 yards per carry in losses to Oregon and Michigan. Each time, the Buckeyes were dominated at the point of attack.
Whether it’s a scheme thing or strength and conditioning thing is for Day to determine. It certainly shouldn’t be a recruiting thing. Beating Ohio State remains damn hard because of the wealth of talent the Buckeyes put on the field.
But when the teams that figure it out always use the same formula, there is an issue that needs to be addressed.