No. 5 Michigan hosts No. 2 Ohio State for one of the biggest rivalries college football has to offer. The winner not only gets a place in the Big 10 title game, but also keeps their playoff hopes alive. The Top 5 matchup promises to be one of the most important and entertaining games of this weeks packed slate.
Can Michigan Break the Curse?
Michigan has not performed well against their biggest rival in recent years. The Wolverines have lost eight straight games to the Buckeyes. Despite their past failures, Michigan has a chance to erase all of the disappointment with a huge win on Saturday. Jim Harbaugh’s team currently sits at 10-1, and a win against Ohio State gives them a chance to play for the Big 10 title and a playoff spot, all at once.
Offensively, Michigan will lean on their dominant rushing attack to not only put up points, but also to control the clock. The longer the Wolverines are on offense, the fewer chances Ohio State has to pile up points. Running backs Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum average 19 carries and 12 carries per game respectively, so they certainly have the weapons to pound Ohio State’s defense. While quarterback Cade McNamara has developed nicely throughout the season, he can’t win this one on his own. Michigan must stay patient and stick to their bread-and-butter, even if they get behind early. If they don’t, it may be a long day for the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
On the defensive side of the ball, it is no secret the stout Michigan defense will face an aerial assault all day. However, if there is one defense in the Big 10 East best equipped to slow down C.J. Stroud and the dynamic Ohio State offense, it would be Michigan’s. The Wolverines have allowed only 178 yards per game through the air. On top of that, they have only allowed 20 or more points twice this season. If the secondary can play solid man coverage on early downs and force the Ohio State offense into long yardage situations, Michigan has a very good chance of slowing down an offense that relies on big plays and moving fast.
Ohio St. Looks to Continue Big 10 Dominance
After obliterating Michigan State 56-7 last week, Ohio State has now won 26 straight games against Big 10 opponents. Head coach Ryan Day is 23-0 in conference play since taking over in 2019, and most games haven’t been close. The Buckeyes have looked unstoppable the past few weeks, but now face yet another grueling test on the road against a top 5 opponent. Can Ohio State continue to roll to yet another Big 10 title game, or will they finally stumble against their toughest opponent yet?
On the offensive side of the ball, the usual suspects–C.J. Stroud, Chris Olave, and the rest of the Buckeyes’ ultra-talented receiver core–will undoubtedly play major roles come Saturday. However, Ohio State may need a backup plan. Starting tight end Jeremy Ruckert has had a quiet season catching the ball so far this year, with only 23 catches for 283 yards. But will all the attention, the three top wide receivers are sure to garner, look for Ruckert to have a bigger role catching the ball underneath this week. Ohio State may look to utilize tight ends and running backs in the pass game more frequently to keep the Michigan defense guessing and open up more space deeper down the field.
Meanwhile, the Ohio State defense will have their hands full with not just one, but two top-tier running backs. Last week, Ohio State forced Michigan State to abandon the run early by jumping out to a huge lead. Things may not be so easy this week, and the Buckeye defense may have to step up and keep Michigan from controlling the clock with the ground game. The Michigan defense rarely makes mistakes, but they also rarely take big risks, so expect to see plenty of white jerseys surrounding the line of scrimmage, especially on early downs. If Ohio State can force McNamara to try and beat them through the air, their odds of winning will increase exponentially.
It is hard to have faith in Harbaugh and Michigan after so many repeated failures against Ohio State over the years. With that being said, this may be one of the best Michigan teams to try in years. This game will likely be tightly contested throughout, and may even come down to one score. When push comes to shove, expect the team with the better quarterback to get it done in close games. I expect Stroud to come through for the Buckeyes and Ohio State to pick up the win, 34-27.
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