Last updated December 1, 2019
Before I begin, let me acknowledge a couple points.
First, this blog has historically had an almost “emo” poetry bent to it so I get this is an odd subject to chime in on.
Second, as I state in my bio, and despite my Michigan roots, I have been an Ohio State football fan from age 8, so yes, nothing you’ll be reading here is objective.
All that said, with a family full of U-M grads, and living in NYC where college football certainly isn’t King, it’s not all that often I get a chance to discuss “The Game,” let alone break down Xs and Os, so here comes an arm chair quarterback run down of how I see the rivalry playing out this year.
Which Michigan team shows up?
Ohio State has literally been running through opponents all season. Even the Penn State game (a season low 11 point OSU win) would have been a different game had the Buckeyes not lost 3 fumbles, including a major momentum breaking fumble as Justin Fields dove for a touchdown up 7-0 in the first quarter. That fumble gave PSU the hope they needed to avoid a blowout.
Despite things looking a bit rocky for the Buckeyes in half two of the PSU game, for the most part we’ve been watching a loaded Buckeye team perform consistently all year.
Michigan football has been another story. The Wolverines have flashed a Jekyll and Hyde personality.
Which version of U-M’s team will show up Saturday?
My take: Michigan rolls over teams that don’t have the ability to move the ball on the ground. Ohio State is not one of those teams.
It’s the run game, stupid
I was at the Michigan / Army game, a 24-21 double overtime war.
Army lost to San Jose State, Western Kentucky, Tulane, Georgia State, and Air Force after barely losing to Michigan.
In the Michigan Army game, Army rushed for 200 yards on 61 carries. Except Wisconsin, no team has rushed for anywhere close to that against Don Brown’s defense this year. You could make the case Army would have beaten Michigan if they’d simply never attempted a pass.
Wisconsin rushed for 359 yards against Michigan on their way to a 35-14 blow out victory.
As the chart below demonstrates, after that UW game, Michigan hasn’t faced another team with any real rushing attack.
Facing opponents with no running game allows Don Brown, “Dr. Blitz,” to tee off on quarterbacks.
The result has been an impressive streak of beat downs, with Michigan seemingly on a roll.
But, now comes the logical question.
Where does Ohio State rank in rushing offense?
4th (282.1 yards per game).
The only teams ahead of OSU in rushing offense are the run happy service academy schools (Army, Navy, Air Force).
Has Ohio State faced any elite rushing defenses?
Penn State (#4) and Wisconsin (#9).
Against Wisconsin, Ohio State rushed for 264 yards.
Against Penn State, a team only allowing 74 yards per game rushing entering the game, OSU rushed for 224 total and for 91 yards on its opening drive.
Where does Michigan rank in total rushing defense?
Don Brown’s D allows 104 yards rushing per game. When they get opponents beneath that number, they feast on the one dimensional ineptitude of middling teams.
Getting offenses in third and long obvious passing situations allows Brown to bring crazy pressure. Eventually he gets in the head of the opposing QB and they lose their will.
You saw this last week with Indiana.
IU scored a few times early and then got hammered into submission.
For U-M, the blowouts follow the blitzes and it’s the lack of a running game that sets up the QB crushing blitz packages Don Brown loves so dearly. This has been the blue print for success in Michigan’s current win streak.
Lest you think my running obsession is perhaps a bit reductionist, there are a number of storylines to follow Saturday.
Michigan’s emerging passing game vs. Ohio State’s first ranked pass defense is certainly one.
But at the end of the day, if Ohio State rushes for more than 200 yards in this Game, as they did against Wisconsin and PSU, they are virtually guaranteed of victory.
What will happen in The Game?
I think you’ll see a motivated Ohio State team get just north of 225 yards rushing and beat Michigan 45-24 on the strength of its wrecking crew defensive line eventually rattling Shea Patterson.