Ahead of the Michigan football team’s matchup against Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday, The Daily’s football beat looks at what to watch for as the undefeated titans battle it out.
Can Michigan stop the Buckeyes?
Honestly, no. The Wolverines have no chance of stopping Ohio State’s aerial attack. The Buckeyes are deadly in the passing game, with Stroud’s Heisman hopeful quarterback paired with elite receivers Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka. The receivers are averaging 177.36 yards and 1.73 touchdowns per game, while Stroud is posting 9.7 yards per pass.
But while Michigan is unlikely to shut down Ohio State through the air, it could slow down the Buckeyes. And if the Wolverines want to win, that’s what they need to do.
First, the defensive line will almost certainly need pressure to force mistakes and force Stroud, but the Wolverines’ defensive backs will also need to hold their own. How will they do it? Using the same game plan as last year.
Michigan will need to mix up man and zone, blitz and double receivers at times. Anything the Wolverines can do to throw Stroud off his reads and make him second-guess his throws is a step toward slowing down the passing game and winning the game. In the 2021 game, receivers Jackson Smith-Njigba and Garrett Wilson both had 100-plus yards, but each had to work for it.
If Michigan can make it difficult for Stroud and his receivers to get what they want through the air, Ohio State will be forced to go to the ground — perhaps more than it wants to — and head straight for the Wolverines’ top-ranked defense in the battle. the country
The more he can do that, the closer Michigan is to victory. So let’s see if senior DJ Turner, graduate student Jamon Green and Wolverines safety can do enough to tip the scales in Michigan’s favor.
Can Michigan pressure CJ Stroud?
It’s hard to say Michigan slowed Stroud down a year ago, but the Wolverines really made him uncomfortable. They created four sacks, three by Aidan Hutchinson and a game-stopping one by David Ojab late in the fourth quarter.
This year, instead of Hutchinson and Ojab, they touted their “starless” defense — arguing that they are more productive as a unit as a whole without depending on any one player. While they keep opponents at bay on the scoreboard, the production from the defensive line hasn’t turned around as much. Hutchinson and Ojaba combined for 25 sacks last year. Michigan’s entire defense is 31 this year.
If the Wolverines want to beat the Buckeyes, they need to find ways to create pressure. Stroud is by far the most talented quarterback the team has faced all year, and he’s matured to pick apart Michigan’s inconsistent secondary. The Wolverines’ main hope to prevent those big passes is not giving Stroud enough time to get rid of them.
That task will likely start with senior defensive end Mike Morris, who leads the team with 7.5 sacks and has been its leading pass rusher this year. However, Morris sat out last week against Illinois and his status Saturday remains unclear. So the onus to hold the defensive line is on players like senior linebacker Mazie Smith, graduate Eyabi Oki and freshman linebacker Mason Graham. Smith has been a force up the middle, but will likely face double teams all game. Okie and Graham have shown their talent at times but will need to dominate in the trenches to thwart Stroud.
If the Wolverines’ pair of quarterbacks can do their best to embody Hutchinson and Ojab, Michigan could have a recipe for another win. Otherwise, if Stroud can throw, it’s going to be a long day for Wolverine.
Could Michigan’s game finally click?
Back in August, Michigan coaches warned opposing defenses to use venom against the Wolverines’ talented receiving corps. Along with the emergence of sophomore quarterback JJ McCarthy, Michigan seemed poised to tout an elite passing game.
It didn’t quite play out that way.
The offense thrived in the absence of a vertical passing threat, instead relying on a dominant rushing formation. For ten games, this formula worked. But it almost cost the Wolverines last Saturday against Illinois.
When junior Blake Corum joined sophomore Donovan Edwards on the sideline in the second half, Michigan’s rushing attack fizzled out. As the Wolverines looked for a spark, the apparent gap between McCarthy and his receivers prevailed.
Players and coaches insist that will change, citing a larger sample size for success during practice. McCarthy himself promised that the passage of the game will click. And there would be no better time to fulfill that promise than this Saturday in Columbus.
Michigan is — often for better, but sometimes for worse — stubborn in its style of play. He knows his strengths and embraces his identity. We saw firsthand that Saturday when the Wolverines continued to play third-, fourth- and even fifth-string football. It didn’t work, though Michigan’s pass rush hardly presented a better alternative.
The injury status of Corum and Edwards is approaching Saturday. That will determine how much the Wolverines will have to rely on their passing game. But to even hang on the Buckeyes’ vaunted offense, Michigan will need a better game from McCarthy and company than they did Saturday.
Who can handle the ball better?
The burning question on everyone’s mind: What is the health of Corum and Edwards?
That’s something that likely won’t be known until kick-off, but let’s assume the Wolverines are at least under-strength at the back. Then what happens?
Well, whoever has the better ball control will probably have the upper hand in this game — that’s how this rivalry usually goes. We all know Michigan has question marks at running back health wise, but we also know they have perhaps the best offensive line in the country again. If this unit can carry Michigan and get a consistent push at the line of scrimmage, then I like the Wolverines’ chances.
Looking at Ohio State, the side also has some injury issues with running backs Trayvon Henderson and Mian Williams. But just last week, freshman Dalan Haden stepped up and had a great performance. That means Ohio State has a good enough offensive line to run the ball for most opponents.
But Michigan isn’t most opponents. He has one of the best defenses in the country. The current battle will come down to two things:
Are the Wolverines’ backs healthy? And is Michigan’s defense as good as the stats show?
This will play a major factor in determining who wins on Saturday.