Both Ohio State and Michigan vanquished bothersome-foes-of-the-past with wins over Penn State and Indiana this past weekend.
The Buckeyes got out to a 21-0 lead before settling in for a 28-17 victory over the Nittany Lions.
Michigan, meanwhile, had about 15 minutes of trouble with the Hoosiers before cruising to a 39-14 win.
The 39 points continued what has been a pretty fair offensive onslaught since the Wolverines turned their season around when they scored an unheard of seven points in both the third and fourth quarters in their 28-21 loss to Penn State.
Over the last four games, the Wolverines are scoring 41.5 points per game.
Over the same span, Ohio State’s starting defense has allowed one scoring drive of more than 33 yards.
In fact, the Buckeyes’ starting defense has given up just three touchdown drives of more than 33 yards all season long.
One of those drives featured a double pass while the Buckeyes were up 30-7, and the other came this past weekend when the OSU defense knocked Sean Clifford out of the game and backup Will Levis came in and Penn State had to change their offensive attack immediately. It took the Buckeye defense a bit longer to react, allowing a 9-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to make the score 21-7 OSU.
The point being, either Michigan is going to have to force some turnovers against the Ohio State offense, or do what nobody else has done against the Buckeye starters this season and have more than one sustained touchdown drive.
Though I suppose they could do both.
This week, Tom Orr and I are going Michigan heavy with our Buckeye Weekly podcast, if that sort of thing interests you. Monday’s show was a Mailbag episode from Buckeye fans. Tuesday’s show is just Tom and I breaking the Wolverines down and giving our thoughts on their relative strengths and weaknesses. Another episode will be dropping today where we discuss what Ryan Day and his team had to say about the game this week. Our game predictions can also be found in that podcast. We will also have an episode Thursday where we address the concerns of Michigan fans heading into the game.
In Tuesday’s show, we talk about a number of topics, including Michigan’s lack of a running game, which was present again on Saturday.
The Wolverines managed just 87 yards on the ground in 29 attempts for a very sad 3.0 yards per carry. They did this against an Indiana defense that gave up 192 yards rushing to Penn State the week before. They have also allowed 220 yards to Nebraska, 173 to Maryland, 142 freaking yards to Michigan State, and 306 to the Buckeyes.
And yet Michigan could manage just 87 yards. That’s the second week in a row they’ve been held under 90 yards rushing, which does not bode well for this week as they get ready to face the nation’s No. 5 rush defense.
It feels like Jim Harbaugh has almost given up on the running game, or at least realizes that he has to do other things to move the ball.
Over the last two games, the Michigan offense has relied on the passing game and the response has been 384 yards through the air against Michigan State and then 366 yards this past weekend against Indiana.
The number of teams who win The Game with more passing yards than their opponent is not quite as emphatic as those who win the rushing battle. The team that rushes for more yards per carry in this game has won every year since 2002, and the team that rushes for more yards than the other is 19-0 in the last 19 meetings.
Is there a scenario where you see Michigan outrushing Ohio State on Saturday?
When Michigan Was On Offense
Michigan was actually outrushed in this game and won by 25 points, so maybe they think they’re just fine. And as long as they protect Shea Patterson and he plays his best game of the year on Saturday, they could do it again.
Against the Hoosiers, Patterson completed 20-of-32 passes for 366 yards and five touchdowns. He was sacked two times and threw one interception.
When Patterson is confident and stepping into his throws, the offense moves in big chunks. And it doesn’t just have to be 50/50 balls.
Nico Collins had a 76-yard catch-and-run on a little slant/post dealie behind a linebacker. Patterson fired the ball in and Collins did the rest. There were several nice throws like that over the middle of the field.
Patterson is also — at times — putting the ball where it needs to be on wide throws, allowing receivers to continue running without stopping to reach back for an errant throw. Little things like ball placement could be what decides this game. Against either of these defenses on Saturday, stopping a receiver’s momentum in order to catch a pass is going to be a losing proposition.
Collins finished with a career-high six catches for a career-high 165 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. It was the first 100-yard day of Collins’ three-year Michigan career.
Donovan Peoples-Jones added five catches for 73 yards and a touchdown. Freshman receiver Giles Jackson gained 50 yards on his lone catch. He began the play in the backfield and then ran a wheel route. Ohio State might want to keep an eye out when No. 15 lines up at tailback on Saturday.
The most impressive part about the 366 yards passing for me is that leading receiver Ronnie Bell only caught one pass.
Indiana’s defense got after Patterson early, but he eventually settled in. He still made some throws that he can’t make against Ohio State (but probably will). It will be up to the Buckeyes to catch those passes.
Freshman running back Zach Charbonnet led the team with 46 yards rushing on eight carries, with one of those totes going for 22 yards. Redshirt freshman Hassan Haskins rushed for 44 yards on 13 carries with a long of seven yards.
Not for nothing, but not being able to break 100 yards rushing against Indiana is usually a sign that you’re probably not good enough to beat the No. 1 team in the nation, whoever that team might be.
Of course, rushing for over 225 yards in each of the last three meetings with the Hoosiers didn’t help Michigan against the Buckeyes either, so what the hell, right?
Michigan did also run a 2-point conversion play for the sole purpose of wasting Ohio State’s time this week.
When Michigan Was On Defense
Indiana went 75 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown on their first drive of the game. Their second drive ended in an interception at midfield when quarterback Peyton Ramsey was hit as he was throwing. The Hoosiers’ third possession was a 52-yard touchdown drive, giving Indiana a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter.
The Hoosiers’ next six drives netted all of 63 total yards and they didn’t have another sustained drive until the fourth quarter when the score was 39-14.
Indiana definitely caught Michigan off guard, but then the Wolverines finally caught on, caught up, and threw down.
They sacked Ramsey three times and picked him off once. He completed 17-of-29 passes for 217 yards and also rushed for three yards (after sacks) and a touchdown.
To be honest, his passing line could look a lot like what Justin Fields may produce on Saturday, depending on the weather. If those rushing numbers are the same, however, Michigan would be thrilled. And quite possibly victorious.
Indiana was without their top slot receiver, which made the move of freshman nickel Daxton Hill to safety easier to handle. Hill replaced the injured Brad Hawkins as the starting field safety for the Wolverines and led the team eight tackles and recorded Michigan’s interception. This was going to be his job eventually, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t give it back.
Hawkins’ status is still up in the air for this weekend, which could cause an issue because Ohio State has KJ Hill in the slot. Daxton Hill may still matchup with KJ Hill on nickel downs, but then that creates an issue at safety, where Michigan has depth issues.
Redshirt freshman cornerback Vincent Gray lined up at safety some, as well as corner, so he may be the guy to help out if Hawkins can’t go.
Even if Hawkins can go, the Michigan safeties are attackable.
And even though the cornerbacks are very good, they’ve been getting flagged quite a bit this year.
All three of Michigan’s top pass rushers — defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye, and rush end/OLB Josh Uche recorded a sack in this one. Ohio State’s weakness on offense is pass protection, so this is an area where Michigan can make some waves.
The Wolverines held Indiana to 97 yards rushing on 37 attempts. This is the seventh opponent Michigan has held under 100 yards rushing this year, which doesn’t even count the 101 yards given up to Penn State.
Ohio State, meanwhile, has yet to be held under 200 yards rushing. Their low output of the year was in their scrimmage at Rutgers when they went for 217 yards while trying to be polite and respectful of the rubble. Against ranked opponents this season, the Buckeyes have rushed for 270 yards against No. 18 Cincinnati, 264 yards against No. 13 Wisconsin, and 229 against No. 10 Penn State.
Indiana tried to keep Michigan’s defense spread out, and Ohio State will do the same, but the Wolverine interior will need to be ready for a much better running attack than what the Hoosiers have to offer.
The Michigan Special Teams
Giles Jackson had a 38-yard kickoff return as he becomes more and more of a player to watch on both offense and special teams.
Quinn Nordin made a 27-yard field goal. Michigan didn’t miss any field goals on the day, which is nice and sometimes rare.
Punter Will Hart had a rough day, averaging just 31.2 yards per punt. Only one of his punts was downed inside the 20-yard line. The rest of his punts did nothing to help Michigan’s defense.
Indiana did not have a punt or kickoff return.
What Does It All Mean?
It means if Michigan is only planning to run for 87 yards against Ohio State, then Shea Patterson better have the game of his life on Saturday.
Yes, the RPOs and quick screens out wide are also part of the running game in the coaches’ minds, but if the Michigan offensive line can’t get a push for the running game against this Ohio State defensive line, then exactly how long are they going to be able to protect Patterson? How long will they be able to go until they’re too worn down to keep their quarterback upright?
The Buckeyes will be rotating defensive linemen like they’re on a conveyor belt and if UM isn’t running any hurry up, then there will never be a reason for a tired lineman to be on the field.
You’re asking a lot of a quarterback who sometimes gets happy feet before the ball is even snapped.
It also means that if Ohio State turns the ball over three times like they did against Penn State, they may not like the outcome.
When people say Michigan has turned the corner since the Penn State game, what that means is they’re throwing the ball better and not turning it over nearly as much. They still can’t run the ball, but they have a +5 turnover/margin in their last four games.
Michigan is playing its best football right now on both sides of the ball, but they’re going to have to be even better on Saturday.
They will have to mask their deficiencies in depth up front on defense, and Don Brown will also have to guess right when calling for blitzes. They must protect Shea Patterson and get what they can on the ground.
But if it comes back down to the age-old question of which team runs the ball better, it’s hard to imagine this game going in Michigan’s direction.
The Road to The Game
Aug. 31 — Michigan 40 – Middle Tennessee 21 (1-0)
Sept. 7 — Michigan 24 – Army 21 (2-0)
Sept. 21 — Wisconsin 35 – Michigan 14 (2-1, 0-1)
Sept. 28 — Michigan 52 – Rutgers 0 (3-1, 1-1)
Oct. 5 — Michigan 10 – Iowa 3 (4-1, 2-1)
Oct. 12 — Michigan 42 – Illinois 25 (5-1, 3-1)
Oct. 19 — Penn State 28 – Michigan 21 (5-2, 3-2)
Oct. 26 — Michigan 45 – Notre Dame 14 (6-2, 3-2)
Nov. 2 — Michigan 38 – Maryland 7 (7-2, 4-2)
Nov. 16 — Michigan 44 – Michigan State 10 (8-2, 5-2)
Nov. 23 — Michigan 39 – Indiana 14 (9-2, 6-2)
Nov. 30 — Ohio State
Tony, your articles are usually pretty even-keeled and measured, but you read like an idiot in this one. Are you not remembering the Notre Dame game were Michigan ran for 300+ yards? MSU and Indiana have terrible secondaries, and so that’s why Michigan attacked them through the air. Honestly, you’re better than this. Pretty disappointed with this article.
Mike … The Notre Dame game is such as outlier and has not been repeated which makes it easy and sensible to write off as Notre Dame’s fault entirely. Perhaps the weather will repeat and we will see if Michigan’s running game returns.
I hope we can pass the ball a fair amount, as that makes the running game even more effective.
However, with cold, wet hands, I worry about the way Fields starts games by throwing too high. Those are the kind of passes that bounce off receivers’ hands and get picked off.
Keep ’em low, Justin, and enjoy your first game against TTUN.
Interesting writeup. Thank you! One thing to note about the rushing attack is that Michigan doesn’t bother with the QB running game against lesser opponents and when the game is out of hand. As Ohio State will remember from 2018, a shotgun rushing attack simply doesn’t work without a QB rushing threat. You can question the intelligence of continuing with a shotgun rushing attack in these situations, but this explains a lot of the YPC woes, as Michigan tends to crash into stacked boxes once the game is decided.
It should also be noted that looking at the box scores can be deceptive for something like YPC. Against MSU Michigan ran almost exclusively in the red zone and in garbage time, with very few traditional runs occurring in the open field. They had something like 7 carries from the RBs in other situations because MSU was selling out to stop the run and the RPO always turned into a pass.
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