This Saturday, Ohio State and Michigan will face each other for the 114th time. This rivalry is historic. Other schools claim their rivalries equal “The Game.” Some even claim to surmount it. Regardless of a person’s loyalties, this rivalry is universally respected. The Game has determined the outright champion of the Big Ten 22 times. Another 27 times it played a role in deciding the champion. No other rivalry features two blood blues with so many conference championship and New Year’s Day bowl implications.
This year’s match-up does not have the expectations some fans might wish. Yet, it could affect the college football landscape. Ohio State will enter the Big House the clear favorite. The Buckeyes are first in the Big Ten East and looking for a statement win to set up a colossal Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin. Winning the Big Ten certainly would be a consolation prize for a somewhat disappointing Buckeyes season. Decidedly winning both games could convince the playoff committee if other Top 5 teams go down. Michigan comes in at 8-3 overall and in fourth place in the Big Ten East. They have nothing to lose. Winning on Saturday sends their archrival’s season down in flames.
Ohio State’s Path to Indianapolis
On paper, the Buckeyes should easily win. Bookmakers in Las Vegas currently favor the Buckeyes by 12 points. This is not without reason. Ohio State averaged nearly 550 yards per game with J.T. Barrett under center and J.K. Dobbins at running back. Though it might seem like common sense, all the Buckeyes have to do is score. Against ranked opponents, Michigan has only averaged 11 points per game. The Buckeyes have never scored less than 24 points. Even a couple of touchdowns should ensure a Buckeyes victory.
The Key: J.T. Barrett
The key to scoring for the Buckeyes will be taking pressure off of quarterback J.T. Barrett. Michigan has the best defense Ohio State will face this season. In both of their loses, the Buckeyes struggled offensively. Against Iowa, Barrett threw four interceptions. No team can overcome that kind of setback. Undeniably Barrett was partially to blame. However, in that game, with his mere 63 rushing yards, Barrett also led the Buckeyes on the ground. Ohio State’s running backs must show up. Similarly, in the Buckeyes’ loss to Oklahoma, Dobbins rushed for only six more yards than Barrett. Barrett never found the endzone through the air that game. The Buckeyes cannot risk Barrett’s mistakes in the air without support from the backfield.
However, defensively the Buckeyes are in luck as Michigan’s offense is in disarray. The Wolverines offense averages a mere 360 yards this season. Michigan’s quarterback situation is currently a mess. The original starter, Wilton Speight, is out with a spinal injury. His back up, John O’Korn, was benched in favor of Brandon Peters. Peters is currently under concussion protocol. If O’Korn starts, he will likely struggle against this Ohio State Defense. Additionally, Michigan’s number one and three leading rushers are listed as questionable. Ohio State’s defense should stifle this banged up Michigan offense.
Michigan’s Only Hope?
Michigan’s defense represents their best hope on Saturday. The Wolverines’ defense is undeniably great. The defense has given up a mere 260 yards per game and is ranked third in total defense. Most importantly, Michigan allows a mere 166 yards per game. To win this game, Michigan must stop Ohio State’s run attack. Doing so will allow Don Brown to turn up the pressure on J.T. Barrett and force the mistakes characteristic of the Buckeyes’ two loses this season.
Unfortunately, the picture is bleak for the Wolverines on offense. Ohio State’s offense averages nearly 200 more yards than Michigan’s offense. Should the game become a shootout, the Wolverines’ offense cannot keep up. Given the uncertainty at quarterback, Michigan’s only choice is the run game. Even with injuries in the backfield, Michigan still can play seasoned backs. With Chris Evan and Kareem Walker leading the way, the rest of the corps can fill the gaps. Michigan must rely on their backfield early to take the day.
The Best Rivalry In Sports
Any college football fan should appreciate Saturday’s rivalry game in Ann Arbor. Two blue bloods meet in one of college football’s most iconic, and largest, stadium. A win gives one team, the Buckeyes, a shot at the conference title. While the other, Michigan, looks to add further disappointment to their archrival’s season.
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