Ohio State (10-1) vs. Michigan (9-2) 12:00 pm
Ohio State has won 4 of the last 5 meetings against the Wolverines by an average margin of victory of 16.6 points per game. However, the last three wins have come by a total of 20 points or 6.6 points per game.
The Buckeyes are coming off of a disappointing home loss to the Michigan State Spartans 17-14 and were held to a season low of 132 total yards of offense (46 passing, 84 rushing). The Buckeyes are averaging 34.4 points per game and are rushing for 230 yards per game heading into this match-up on Saturday. The offensive line had played well up until last week and must regroup quickly with a physical defensive front in Michigan on deck. Ohio State has missed offensive coordinator Tom Herman this season. Herman left to become the Houston head coach and the offense has not had the same type of tempo or rhythm that they had last season. Quarterback J.T Barrett will be the key offensively for the Buckeyes on Saturday and the team must find ways of throwing over the top of the Wolverines secondary. On the year, Barrett is completing 64.4 % of his passes for 668 yards with 9 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Barrett is dangerous when he breaks contain and uses his legs to make plays. He has struggled when forced to throw from the pocket and look for the Buckeyes to utilize the short to intermediate passing game early on to take the pressure off of the offensive line. Wide receivers Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller have combined for 99 receptions for 1,400 yards with 15 touchdowns. Look for the Buckeyes to be aggressive (passing) early on to loosen up the Wolverines defensive front and open up the running lanes for running back Ezekiel Elliott. On the year, the team is averaging 193 rushing yards per game with Elliott leading the team with 1,458 yards averaging 6.2 yards per carry with 17 touchdowns. Ohio State will look to start fast playing on the road and will be trying to get quarterback J.T Barrett confident in the passing attack. If the team has success, Elliott could have a huge day running the football between the tackles.
Defensively, the Buckeyes are yielding 14.1 points per game and are allowing 133 rushing yards per game and 164 passing yards per game. In last week’s loss to Michigan State, the unit allowed the Spartans to rush for 203 yards on the ground and wore down in the fourth quarter. Ohio State must win the turnover battle on the road to help out their struggling offense and heading into this game the Buckeyes are +1 in turnover margin (-4 on the road). The Buckeyes must be able to shut down the running game of the Wolverines and force quarterback Jake Ruddock into long third down situations. The Buckeyes have recorded 32 sacks on the season with defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis leading the team with 6.5 total sacks. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan is having a great season and leads the team with 105 total tackles. Ohio State must show that it can bounce back emotionally now that the team’s College Football Playoff hopes are dashed after last week’s loss. Look for the Buckeyes to bring pressure off of the edge and utilize their speed to get to Ruddock. The Buckeyes are solid on third down and have allowed opponents to convert on 33% of their opportunities.
The Wolverines have been playing very well offensively in the second half of the year and are averaging 32.2 points per game. Michigan is rushing for 161 yards per game and passing for 227 yards per game. The unit’s success has been due to quarterback Jake Ruddock’s progression in the offensive scheme and his ability to stretch opposing defenses vertically. Over the past three games, Ruddock has averaged 344 passing yards per game with 10 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. On the year, he has completed 64.4% of his passes for 2,476 yards with 16 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. In order for Ruddock to have success, the team must be able to run the football early and work off of play action. Wide receiver Amarah Darboh has been Ruddock’s main target over the last three games and leads the team with 52 receptions for 635 yards with 5 scores. Tight end Jake Butt has emerged as a big play option on third downs and creates mismatch problems on smaller linebackers or nickel backs. On the year, Butt is second on the team with 43 receptions for 566 yards with 3 touchdowns. Running back De’Veon Smith is a blue collar running back that runs very hard between the tackles and is very difficult to bring down in the open field. Smith leads the team with 621 yards averaging 4.2 yards per carry with 6 touchdowns. Defensive back Jabril Peppers has also been utilized in the running game and brings pass catching ability to the offense which gives Ruddock the option to check down in his progressions. In order to get the home win, the Wolverines must dictate the tempo by running the football early on. Michigan has been able to force teams into their style of play and is not built to come from behind from a possible double digit lead.
The Wolverines boast a top 25 defense that is allowing 14.9 points per game. Michigan is very good at stopping the run and is yielding 100 rushing yards per game and giving up 162 passing yards per game. However, over the last 5 games, the secondary has allowed 219 yards per game and could be challenged by the Buckeyes wide receivers in the Big House. Michigan has 29 sacks on the year and will look to add to that total this weekend. Turnovers will be critical to both teams and this is an area that the unit must do a better job on. On the year, the Wolverines are -5 in turnover margin (+1 at home) and must be able to force turnovers against J.T Barrett. Michigan should play zone early on to force Barrett to methodically work down the field. If the Wolverines play man to man early on-this could create one on one matchups which the Buckeyes could take advantage of. Defensive lineman Willie Henry leads the team with 6.5 sacks while linebacker Joe Bolden leads the team with 67 total tackles.
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Joseph Lisi a former ABC Sports college football researcher, is the owner of www.GOFORTHE2.COM. He is a member if the FWAA (Football Writers Association Of America),Maxwell Football Club and is currently the content editor atwww.2FiveSports.com.He contributes regularly to www.Sid-Rosenberg.com and has been a featured guest every Tuesday night from 10:30-11:30pm EST on Yahoo Sports Radio With Ken Thomson(www.sportsxradio.com).
Joe has been featured on the FNTSY Sports Network and The Sid Rosenberg Sports Radio Show 640AM Sports (South Florida). You can follow him on Twitter: @Goforthe2.
Joe has a weekly radio show on www.blogtalkradio.com with former Georgia Bulldogs WR Corey Allen called: