When: 12 p.m. ET, Saturday 11/28/2015
Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
All-Time Series: Michigan 58-46-6
Last Meeting: Ohio State 42-28, in 2014
Line: Michigan -1.5
That pretty much says it all for these two football programs, as the only rivalry that really competes in college football is the Iron Bowl.
Seasons are made or lost by the fate of this game, and that could be the case for both teams this year thanks to the losses at home for both to Michigan State. If the Spartans take care of PSU, this game will simply decide which teams stays in the Top 10 of the CFP rankings and in position for a major bowl game, perhaps even the Rose Bowl.
That means this game looks like an old school rendition of the 10 Year War, and it just so happens that an up-and-coming Michigan coach (like Bo Schembechler in 1969) has a chance to really re-kindle this rivalry with pure fire against a seemingly dominant head coach at OSU (like Woody Hayes, again in 1969).
So who will emerge in this East Division battle? Let’s count to 5 and find out.
1 Burning Question: Will Ohio State bounce back with authority, or is this team fundamentally flawed?
To say that Ohio State had a bad day against Michigan State last Saturday would be putting it kindly. 132 yards of offense and five first downs was all the Buckeyes could muster against the weather and a tough Spartans defensive front, which was scheming to stop J.T. Barrett runs and Ezekiel Elliott runs. The coaching staff never made the necessary play calling adjustments to burn MSU with the passing game, which led to the first loss in 23 games for this squad.
The dysfunction came out strong in the postgame as well, with Elliott ripping on his coaches’ play calling and two other non-senior players acknowledging that they were going pro next year. It all fell apart for the defending national champions and that can be a difficult thing to bounce back from.
However, there’s no better motivation than Michigan week, one would think, for the Ohio State football program. If these highly-talented players want to end their Ohio State careers with a perfect record against the rival, then bouncing back quickly and coming together as a team and a coaching staff will be vital. After all, this game features an opponent with arguably more talent than what MSU had last week (thanks in large part to injuries), and this game is in front of 110,000 hostile fans rather than a home crowd.
But can this team full of star athletes finally jell together and make something great happen? Time is running out, and Michigan certainly must hope that the Spartans did not “wake up” a slumbering giant at the worst time possible for the Wolverines.
2 Key Stats:
— 14.1 (OSU) and 14.9 (UM): That’s the scoring defense in points per game for both squads. The biggest cause for the resurgence in the Wolverines under Jim Harbaugh in year one of his tenure has been a tough and effective defense. Michigan has ranked in the top 10 nationally all season in total defense and scoring defense, but Ohio State has also been a team carried by the defense this season. Unlike the surprising 2006 game where two solid defenses (statistically) folded against good offenses, this game looks like a true Big Ten slobber knocker. That makes field position and small victories key to winning this year’s version of The Game.
— 93.5% (UM) and 79.5% (OSU): That’s the red zone offense scoring numbers for both teams. Michigan has been deadly efficient all season in the red zone, racking up 43 scores in 46 possessions, with 32 touchdowns and no turnovers. Meanwhile, Ohio State has struggled at times in the red zone, including three missed field goals and three turnovers. In a game which could be dominated by big defensive plays, as indicated above, this could be a huge edge for Michigan. Although the Buckeyes have admittedly been much more efficient with J.T. Barrett at quarterback in the red zone, OSU cannot afford mistakes in this game with 110,000 fans bearing down on them.
3 Key Players:
Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State RB: As if there were any other choice, given his comments to the media following the MSU loss. Elliott is the most compelling player in this game, not simply because he a driving force in putting the Wolverines away when this game was close last season. He will look to add to his conference-leading totals of 1458 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. If he receives a ton of touches and is effective, Michigan will have trouble keeping up as evidenced two weeks ago in the Indiana game when Jordan Howard became an unstoppable force.
Jabrill Peppers, Michigan DB: Clearly the centerpiece of the 2015 recruiting class that Brady Joke and Jim Harbaugh brought into Ann Arbor, Peppers is proving himself to be a defensive force each and every week. Despite not bringing down any interceptions yet this year, he has largely shut down passing games and receivers on his side of the field with 10 pass break-ups already this season. Add to that his occasional touches on offense and his punt returns (11.4 yard average), and this is a player who could be the next nightmare for the Buckeyes. Shades of Charles Woodson and Desmond Howard, perhaps, but to be that great he must begin making a huge impact in this most important of games.
Joey Bosa, Ohio State DE: Bosa had three offsides penalties against MSU, including during a critical fourth down on the game-tying drive. Look for Michigan’s offensive line to also scheme to put Bosa off kilter because no college line can effectively block him. Michigan QB Jake Rudock has had an effective season thanks to the line providing him with plenty of time, but that may not be the case this weekend with Bosa either making plays or opening opportunities for OSU’s other defensive linemen. This will be a star’s final regular season game before heading to the NFL, so kick back and enjoy watching the potential spectacle and Michigan’s number one priority when scheming on offense.
4 Bold Prognostications:
— Ohio State won’t attempt any field goals. The Buckeyes are one of the many college teams struggling with executing field goals this season, sitting on 7 of 12 on the season. Neither Sean Neurnberger nor Duke transfer Jack Willoughby have been able to find a groove, and Urban Meyer has clearly had enough, going for fourth downs more frequently in November. That continues here, as OSU will try to win with nothing but touchdowns.
— Michigan won’t break 75 yards rushing. The Ohio State defense has consistently taken one side of the opposing offense away this season, and I expect this week Luke Fickell and his staff will have the team geared to stop the run, in what looks like a field position and defense battle. With the athletic defensive line and solid crew of linebackers crowding the line, don’t expect many running lanes for De’Veon Smith or escape routes for Jake Rudock scrambles.
— 21 points will be sufficient to win. Not since Jim Tressel roamed the sidelines has this game ever been a defensive slugfest, as the loser has scored 34, 21, 28 and 41 points over the past few seasons. That trend ends this year, as three touchdowns will be sufficient against either of these great defenses to win The Game.
— Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller will have pass attempts. Although the poor offensive performance can likely be blamed on play calling and schemes, J.T. Barrett did not find a way to execute anything effectively last weekend. That means Cardale Jones should see some playing time, even if just to keep Michigan off-guard. Braxton Miller will also finally throw the ball one more time, as Urban Meyer pulls out all the stops to welcome Jim Harbaugh to the rivalry. I suspect one or both of these players will also throw an interception accordingly, if you want a REALLY bold prediction.
5 Staff Predictions:
Andy: Ohio State 27-17 (82-23 overall; 50-54 ATS)
Dave: Ohio State 21-20 (86-19 overall; 56-47 ATS)
Greg: Michigan 31-24 (79-26 overall; 61-42 ATS)
Matt: Ohio State 24-21 (83-22 overall; 58-45 ATS)
Phil: Michigan 21-17 (38-14 overall; 19-30 ATS) *joined in Week 5