Football The Rivalry

Inside Slant: Five Questions with the Michigan Beat

As we do around here when there is a big game, we go and seek out the perspective of the beat writers covering Ohio State’s opponent. This, obviously, is the biggest game, and it might just be the most hectic and busiest football week of the year because there are so many stories to write and then right in the middle of it, everybody stops for a day to do nothing but eat and watch football. The work, however, can’t stop, won’t stop.

As such, I have altered what we normally do here and instead of bothering just one beat writer a whole bunch, I decided to bother five beat writers just a little bit. (It’s harder for them to say no that way.)

So, as always, the normal bylaws and regulations for Q & A’s set forth by Geneva are followed here. The questions are mine, the answers are theirs. Lastly, I just want to thank all five of our guests for having enough time to help out because “enough time” is a thing that doesn’t really exist this week.

Heck, I barely had time to write this intro, and I certainly didn’t have time to write a better one.

So let’s get started.

Q: Where is Ohio State’s biggest advantage and how do you expect it to be exploited and countered?

Kyle Rowland, The Toledo Blade (@KyleRowland)
Michigan undoubtedly has one of the best defenses in the nation. Ohio State fans might be skeptical after last year’s unit was thrashed to the tune of 42 points and what seemed like 500 Ezekiel Elliott rushing yards, but the Wolverines were an injury-riddled bunch by November. That’s not the case this year.

The defensive line and secondary are outstanding, littered with some of the best players at their positions in the country. Jabrill Peppers, at linebacker, is obviously a do-it-all type guy. But one glaring deficiency is opponents’ ability to get the edge and produce explosive plays.

There’s little doubt Ohio State will try to exploit that, especially with Curtis Samuel getting into a groove in recent weeks. Michigan linebacker Mike McCray is the guy who has to avoid missed tackles. He’s struggled at times this season, and when he misses tackles or is out of position, it usually coincides with opponents gashing the Michigan defense.

You could see guys like Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton — both from Ohio — stick near the edge to keep the Buckeyes in check. They might also try some strategic corner blitzes to keep Ohio State honest.

Q: I can’t judge quarterback John O’Korn based off of his Indiana performance because of the weather, but how much better is he than that performance and how does Michigan best move the ball against Ohio State if he is again starting on Saturday?

Steve Lorenz, Wolverine 247 (@TremendousUM)
To be 100% honest, it has to remain a mystery as far as whether or not that’s the John O’Korn we would see going forward or not simply because it was our first time viewing him under center at Michigan. Everything else we’ve gotten regarding him have been practice reports. I would say this though: while Speight won the starting job in the spring and won it relatively comfortably, O’Korn would have won the job last year over Jake Rudock if he had been eligible.

For Michigan to move the ball on Saturday if O’Korn is the guy, he’s going to have to be better in the pocket. There were a handful of times against Indiana where the pocket was there and he didn’t take advantage of it, showing happy feet and putting himself in a position I would say was similar to what Devin Gardner used to do.

It’d be foolish to say the weather didn’t play a factor in his performance, but he also did non-weather things that didn’t help his cause either. I think to get him going you’d see Michigan run some screens and shorter, safer routes to get him acclimated and then go deeper later on in the game. Because he’s so green, it will be the best way to get him going.

Q: Where is Michigan’s biggest advantage and how do you expect it to be exploited and countered?

Angelique Chengelis, Detroit News (@chengelis)
Michigan’s biggest advantage is its defensive line and pass rush. Pro Football Focus has indicated Michigan’s pass rush generates pressure 52.3 percent of the time against opposing quarterbacks, best in college football. J.T. Barrett certainly isn’t an ordinary quarterback and can diffuse that defensive pressure on his own, but a key will be Ohio State’s pass protection, which has been good most of the season and could negate the Wolverines’ attacking nature.

Michigan does have considerable defensive line depth and can rotate to maintain fresh legs, and the Wolverines are coming off a solid run-stopping showing against up-tempo spread Indiana. They have a lot of confidence, but again, they haven’t faced anyone like Barrett and they’ve mentioned that a few times this week. The Wolverines feel like they can stop most running teams and will try to force Barrett to throw. If the OSU offensive line can just maintain against the defensive line and give Barrett time, that will counter Michigan’s pressure.

Q: Michigan will win if _____?

Mark Snyder, Detroit Free Press (@Mark__Snyder)
The Wolverines can run the ball. It seems simple to say but obviously so complicated to execute. While big plays often turn the tide in this rivalry — usually for the Buckeyes — keeping the ball away from them will be critical. Michigan’s defense has been strong in the red zone, but that could be more difficult against J.T. Barrett, a different QB than they’ve seen this year. It worked last week with De’veon Smith and covered the passing game struggles. A shootout won’t go well for the Wolverines.

Q: What do you think the plan will be for defending Curtis Samuel, and how will it change or stay the same when he is lined up in the backfield?

Nick Baumgardner, MLive (@NickBaumgardner)
Great question. I asked Don Brown about this Wednesday. He said, if he told me, he’d have to take me out. So we’ll have to see on the specifics. One thing he did say, though, was how important it was was to “chase athletes with athletes.” I think Michigan will use Jourdan Lewis on Samuel — at times — when he’s in the slot. But Jabrill Peppers is going to see time opposite him, which is interesting.

Peppers’ man-to-man coverage skills are not his best trait. Lewis is a master there. Peppers isn’t. This is probably where Michigan really misses Jeremy Clark, as a third, trusted corner in this situation would really help a lot. Either way, Michigan’s going to cover man-to-man for most of the time — as it has all season. We’ll see, though, who draws Samuel the most.

When he’s in the backfield, same thing. Athletes chasing athletes. Peppers has to be involved in this game. Big-time. This, to me, has to be his best defensive game of the year. He’s an ultimate defensive chess piece when he’s making plays. He has to excel Saturday for the Wolverines.