It’s Monday somewhere, right?
This past weekend the Michigan Wolverines came away with a 31-20 hard-fought win over Indiana in their final tune-up game of the season.
The game was surprising for a number of reasons, but mainly because Michigan usually loses games when the final score is 31-20.
Indiana led this game three times and carried a scoring advantage into the third quarter. Eventually, however, galactic order was restored and the Wolverines wore the Hoosiers down both offensively and defensively.
The story of the game was Indiana’s ability to move the ball, which as it relates to Ohio State, is a significant development.
Sure, some people might look at the Buckeyes’ defense from last Saturday and raise their eyebrows at what Michigan’s offense might be able to do this weekend, but I seriously doubt that the Wolverines were even watching that game.
And anyway, I thought we were supposed to throw the records and defensive stats out the window for rivalry games.
When Michigan Was On Offense
The Wolverines put up 507 yards of total offense and were tremendously balanced throughout the game, but much of that yardage was wasted because they couldn’t capitalize in the red zone.
On eight trips into the red zone, Michigan’s offense managed just one touchdown. If they match that number this weekend, they will lose.
The Wolverines rushed for 257 yards and passed for 250. Running back Karan Higdon again led the way, this time with 101 yards rushing on 21 carries. His long rush was 14 yards. Ohio State would probably take that this week if you asked them, especially the 14-yard run as the longest rush of the day.
Quarterback Shea Patterson added 68 yards on nine carries. His 19-yard run was the longest of the day for the Wolverines. He wasn’t sacked, so all of those attempts resulted in positive yards. Ohio State needs to force some negative rushes (i.e. sacks) this week against Patterson. If he isn’t tackled in the backfield this weekend, you have to like Michigan’s chances.
Chris Evans added 10 rushes for 44 yards and Tru Wilson added 42 yards on six carries.
The Michigan running game right now is peaking and each of the four contributors listed above are capable of making a play on Saturday.
Given how important winning the rushing battle in this game is, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both teams trying to force the run to the point of being stubborn.
It appeared that Michigan was running quite a few RPOs, so some of those running calls could turn into completions to the receivers and tight ends.
Patterson wasn’t great throwing the ball against Indiana. He completed 16-of-28 passes for 250 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He did complete passes of 41 and 42 yards to tight ends Nick Eubanks and Zach Gentry, respectively. Gentry also caught a 39-yarder. (Side note: I have picked up Zach Gentry and plan to start him on Saturday in my fantasy league’s championship game. Hopefully that’s not a jinx to the Wolverines and their talented pass catcher.)
All week I have been thinking that we will see the double pass from Patterson to Gentry to somebody else against Ohio State, so I was surprised to see them pull a double pass out this week from Patterson to Peoples-Jones to Gentry. Obviously it was done to put something on film for Ohio State, but Gentry is a former quarterback, so this feels like one big setup to me.
Looking at Michigan’s passing numbers, it is impressive that the Wolverines can throw for 250 yards and only 67 of those yards are from wide receivers Nico Collins, Tarik Black, and Peoples-Jones. All three of those guys are capable of big plays, so even when they are “shut down,” there are still tight ends getting big yards down the field.
When Michigan Was On Defense
One week after the Michigan defense allowed 193 yards rushing to a Rutgers offense that rushed for a third of that total against Ohio State, the Wolverines gave up 190 yards rushing to an Indiana offense that rushed for 84 yards against OSU earlier this season.
If you only look at the paragraph above and absolutely nothing else, there is an argument that Ohio State actually has the better run defense this weekend.
Hoosiers running back Stevie Scott rushed for 139 yards on 30 carries, scoring once and fumbling once. Indiana stuck with the run because the Michigan defense allowed consistent gains. Scott was complemented very well by quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who gained 68 yards on five non-sack rushing attempts.
Ramsey is a better scrambler than Dwayne Haskins, but with Michigan’s man-to-man defense, there are going to be areas to run into for Haskins. He would rather throw the ball — and there will be areas to do that as well — but free yards should be hard to pass up this weekend. If you can move a chain, you move it — unless somebody is open by a considerable distance.
Ramsey completed 16-of-35 passes for 195 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He was sacked twice. Ramsey was on the move quite a bit due to pressure, but also because he just seems to like running around.
Slot receiver Luke Timian gave Michigan some issues, catching six passes for 62 yards. Nick Westbrook added 84 yards on four receptions. Slants and other inside routes were successful. Ohio State runs plenty of slants and meshes and the number of open receivers running six or seven yards downfield was alarming in this game. Ramsey overthrew a few receivers on those plays, which Haskins may do as well if there is pressure.
(We will be dropping a new episode of the Buckeye Weekly podcast on Thursday where we discuss Michigan fans’ concerns that we solicited from Twitter, and the inside passing against the Wolverine safeties was a popular topic. You can subscribe now and have the show hit your inbox when it gets posted. There’s a new show every day this week discussing The Game, if that sort of thing interests you.)
Of course, pressure will be impacted by the availability of defensive end Chase Winovich, who left the game with a shoulder-type injury. Information is slow to come out, but Jim Harbaugh and his players have been pretty straightforward in saying that Winovich isn’t definitely out, which maybe means he definitely is?
Who knows. We’ll see on Saturday.
Generally if a player doesn’t play in this game it’s because his body won’t allow it. Pain passes, but injuries pull up a chair, look you in the eye, and say, “We need to talk.”
The Michigan Special Teams
Place-kicker Quinn Nordin has apparently been benched due to inconsistency, so Jim Harbaugh turned to freshman Jake Moody. Moody has been the kickoff guy this year, but in his first appearance kicking for points, he set a Michigan record for points scored by a kicker (19) and field goals made (6). If he attempts six field goals this weekend, however, Harbaugh will not be happy.
Moody’s longest attempt on the day was 33 yards, so even though he was perfect last weekend, he wasn’t really tested.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that if this was the Michigan defense we had seen all season long, the Wolverines would not be a favorite this weekend.
Indiana had 11 possessions and seven of them went into Michigan territory. This is a Hoosier offense that is ranked seventh in the Big Ten in total offense.
Could we chalk it up to looking ahead to Ohio State? Sure.
But just as Ohio State’s defense needs to play its best game of the season this weekend in order to win, the Wolverine defense needs to be much better than it was last week or else we could be in for a shootout.
Michigan’s defense faced a season-high 75 plays against Indiana. It’s the most they have seen since the double-overtime loss to Ohio State in 2016. That was the game where the Wolverine defense was so exhausted that they couldn’t keep JT Barrett from picking up a game-saving first down on fourth-and-one.
If Michigan isn’t a stone wall against the Ohio State running game, then that will open up the Buckeyes’ tempo offense, which could have a negative impact on a defense that has a middle linebacker who was cramping just last week against Indiana.
While the Wolverine defense is versatile, tempo is one of those things that pays dividends in the fourth quarter, which is usually where the Buckeyes close this game out.
It also means that a diverse and multiple Michigan offense will be facing an Ohio State defense that can sometimes get in its own way.
If Jim Harbaugh remains straightforward with his playcalling and formations, however, then that would play into the Buckeyes’ hands. That doesn’t mean they’ll be able to stop it, it just means they will be more likely to have tacklers around the ball.
Three weeks ago, there was almost no point in writing about the possibilities of an Ohio State victory. They couldn’t run the ball and they couldn’t stop the run either.
Now, however, here we are at present day and the OSU running game has come back right as Michigan’s run defense has taken a tiny hiatus.
This will be the best offense Michigan has seen and they will need to be prepared. But if they can bully the Buckeye offensive line, everything will fall into place for the Wolverines.
Defensively, the Buckeyes will have to play their best game of the season, but their best game could still mean giving up 24 points. Is this OSU offense likely to then score 27 if that happens?
I don’t know, but I do know it’s more likely than it was even a week ago.
The Road To The Game
Sept 1 – at Notre Dame 17-24 (0-1)
Sept 8 – Western Michigan 49-3 (1-1)
Sept 15 – SMU 45-20 (2-1)
Sept 22 – Nebraska 56-10 (3-1, 1-0)
Sept 29 – at Northwestern 20-17 (4-1, 2-0)
Oct 6 – Maryland 42-21 (5-1, 3-0)
Oct 13 – Wisconsin 38-14 (6-1, 4-0)
Oct 20 – at Michigan State 21-7 (7-1, 5-0)
Nov 3 – Penn State 42-7 (8-1, 6-0)
Nov 10 – at Rutgers 42-7 (9-1, 7-0)
Nov 17 – Indiana 31-20 (10-1, 8-0)
Nov 24 – at Ohio State