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Michigan Wolverines @ Ohio State Buckeyes: Preview, Predictions & Prognostications

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J.T. Barrett, Ohio STate Buckeyes

When: Sat. Nov. 26, 2016; 12 pm ET
Where: Columbus, Ohio; Ohio Stadium (104,944)
TV: ABC
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 58-47-6
Last Meeting: Ohio State 42-13 win, in 2015
Line: Ohio State (-6.5)

The Game. It hasn’t had this much national significance since the memorable 2006 showdown of two undefeated teams sitting at #1 and #2 in the country. Although there have not yet been any countdown clocks put in the bottom corner of our cable screens, the full press is on with BTN airing a documentary remembering the 2006 game and all other media outlets posting long-form stories about Jim Harbaugh, Urban Meyer, and the state of this historic rivalry.

All in all, it’s a fun time to be a Wolverine or a Buckeye.

Michigan finally broke the hex Michigan State had on them a few weeks ago, and this series with OSU has been even more lopsided. Ohio State is 13-2 in the rivalry since Jim Tressel’s first season of 2001, and Michigan has not won in Ohio Stadium since 2000. If the Wolverines want to change that and begin to even up the series in current times, a better effort will be needed than what was shown the past two weeks against Iowa and Indiana. However, Michigan does appear to have the defense to stifle this Buckeye offense and keep the offense close, even if that unit is led by backup QB John O’Korn.

The Buckeyes come into this game with a strong defense of their own, albeit filled with young talent that sometimes plays inconsistently. The Wolverines have a huge edge in upperclassman and senior leadership, and it would be a good way to leave this football program if the OSU hex can be cast aside just like the MSU hex was earlier in 2016. That’s always easier said than done, especially when looking at an opponent like Urban Meyer and his Buckeyes.

Who will emerge from this huge spotlight game in the East Division, to win outright or share the division championship with Penn State? Let’s take a look at the keys to The Game, 2016 edition.

1 Burning Question: Will these Defenses Take Over and Decide this Showdown?

Michigan and Ohio State bring two of the best defenses in the country into this regular season finale. To this end, Michigan ranks 1st nationally with only 246 yards per game given up, while OSU is 4th nationally at 280 yards per game. These two also rank in the top 3 nationally in scoring defense. That would seem to add up to a defensive slugfest, much like when both of these teams took on Wisconsin in the month of October (the Badgers having a similar defense).

Of course, that was also the story when Lloyd Carr and Jim Tressel brought their teams into the 2006 game, which ended up in a 42-39 shootout, surprisingly. Perhaps nothing can be taken for granted with these two, especially when you consider that Ohio State has also scored 42 against the Wolverines in each of the last three meetings.

However, there are signs that this won’t end up anything like that 2006 contest.

J.T. Barrett may be a perfect fit for the Buckeye offense, but his throws have been inconsistent in quality this season, plus he does not have great proven receivers like Troy Smith relied on a decade ago. The Wolverines have given up more than 14 points only twice: against Colorado and Michigan State. So even though OSU has broken the 50-point mark four times in 11 games, and has only been held under 30 points three times, Michigan should be able to load up against the run game and make it tough for Ohio State to move the ball and achieve the normal point production.

Michigan does not have a Chad Henne either, as John O’Korn did not look great in admittedly unfavorable snowy conditions last week. Whether he starts or a dinged-up Wilton Speight does, one would figure that the Wolverines won’t find much room to throw against the ball-hawking OSU secondary. Despite Michigan’s hot start with many blowout wins at home, the team struggled against better defenses like Wisconsin and Iowa. OSU has not surrendered more than 24 points in any game, plus this unit boasts one of the best turnover margins in college football (+14). If Ohio State can get pressure by just rushing the defensive line, this will turn into a bunch of short drives for Michigan as well.

If one of these defenses is not as good as expected, then this game could turn lopsided very quickly. If both defenses are championship-caliber as advertised, then the game will potentially be decided by small things like mistakes and special teams play. Every score would be critical if this comes to pass and the defenses dominate.

2 Key Stats:

— 21.1% and 5.0%. That’s the third down conversation rate for opponents against Michigan, overall and then in third-and-long (8+ yard) situations, respectively.  The Buckeyes and the Wolverines both hold opponents under 30% conversions on third downs, but Michigan is a step ahead when a deep dive is taken into the specifics. For example, in those third-and-long situations, Michigan is nearly flawless at stopping opponents, while OSU gives up a more reasonable 21% conversions. Thus, a key for OSU will be avoiding any negative plays and keeping “on schedule” so as to avoid the third-and-long conundrum entirely. Michigan simply needs to force OSU into this situation to make the game easy to control.

— 90 and 44. That’s the number of 10+ yard runs achieved by Ohio State and Michigan in 2016, respectively.  Just looking at the overall offensive run statistics, the Wolverines and Buckeyes look pretty even on paper. To this end, OSU averages 263 yards on the ground while UM averages 235, easily the best two marks in the Big Ten. However, Ohio State has generated this offense using twice as many explosive run plays as Michigan. Considering that the running game and defense appear to be key in this game, breaking off more big runs could make all the difference. To this point, the Buckeyes have shown much more capability in that regard.

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3 Key Players:

Jabrill Peppers, Michigan LB/DB/KR/RB/etc.: A lot has been made about Peppers and the incredible number of positions Michigan has used him at during the season. Indeed, his return game prowess demands the Heisman candidate be listed as a key player in this contest. But during the Indiana game, Peppers took 45 snaps at his (new) primary position of linebacker, which more than doubles his season average for snaps at that position.  That is likely more indicative of what Michigan plans to do with Peppers against the Buckeyes than scheming against the Hoosiers. Peppers likely will serve two roles: bring pressure to disrupt J.T. Barrett on occasion, and cover OSU’s best weapon Curtis Samuel on most plays. If Peppers is successful in this defensive role, Ohio State will need to prove it can rely on other athletes to make plays and generate scores, not something seen often from the Buckeyes so far in 2016.

Curtis Samuel, Ohio State H-Back: If Peppers is mentioned because he must likely contain Curtis Samuel (along with star CB Jourdan Lewis), then it is no surprise to see the best player on the Buckeye roster listed as a key contributor in this game. Ohio State has fluctuated back and forth almost every other week between giving more touches to RB Mike Weber or Hybrid-Back Samuel. Last week against MSU and the Maryland game included heavy doses of Weber, which means Samuel could be the centerpiece of offensive game plans against the Wolverines. No other receiver has really distinguished himself for OSU, and Samuel provides the best potential for busting big plays running or passing if he gets to open space. Samuel also plays a key role in the return game, just like Peppers. If Michigan wants to keep OSU’s score in the 20’s or less, Samuel (who has 650 rushing and 790 receiving yards to go with 14 touchdowns) must be contained as the first step.

Malik Hooker, Ohio State S: Despite J.T. Barrett’s struggles with finding touch on deep passes in 2016, Michigan comes into this game with bigger question marks at quarterback: either start John O’Korn, who went a paltry 7 for 16 passing last week for fewer than 100 yards, or a dinged up Wilton Speight. The Buckeye defense has been generating sufficient pass pressure with rushing four linemen only, which frees up linebackers like Raekwon McMillan and safeties like Hooker to roam around and help with the aggressive man-to-man pass defense OSU plays. That scheme is the formula which has produced 17 interceptions and 6 pick-sixes for the Buckeyes in 2016. 5 of those interceptions and 2 scores have come from Hooker, making him the most dangerous man to the Michigan QB. If Hooker and the Silver Bullets improve on their already-amazing +14 turnover margin thanks to Michigan mistakes, that will likely be what turns this rivalry contest.

 4 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Michigan 28-17
Dave: Ohio State 24-14
Phil H.: Ohio State 27-24
Philip R.: TBD
Zach: TBD

Dave is a FWAA member and a Columnist focusing on Big Ten football for talking10. Before joining talking in 2014, he was a Featured Columnist for three years at Bleacher Report and previously wrote for seven years on SouthernCollegeSports.com. He was born in Hawkeye Country and went to college in Columbus, so there's plenty of B1G running through his blood. Dave is a patent and trademark attorney in his day job. If you have any questions in those areas or about his latest articles, please contact him on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy.

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Talking10 Podcast Episode 100: Something, something Urban Meyer

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Ohio State made its decision on Urban Meyer. Andy and Phil are here to break it all down for you and give you the truth in a hazy situation. What better way to celebrate episode 100 of the podcast than to spend 50 minutes breaking down a mess of a situation in Columbus, right?

We’ll talk our reactions to the press conference, break down the actual findings of OSU’s investigative report and we’ll even talk how the media-at-large and the OSU media handled the fallout from Wednesday night’s press conference.

Don’t forget you can listen to the podcast each week via Radio Public and other podcasting apps. 

Also, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram and Twitter @talkingB1G

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Urban Meyer and OSU AD put on suspension following investigation

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The media stakeout of the Ohio State Board of Trustee’s meeting can now end. It only took 12 hours or so, but answers finally came. 

According to multiple reports, including from the AP, OSU head coach Urban Meyer is suspended for the first three games of the season. In addition, athletic director Gene Smith will serve the same suspension from Aug. 31 to Sept. 16 — both will not receive pay during that time frame as well. 

Both came under fire as this story unfolded. It began just prior to the Big Ten media days in late July, the story that Zach Smith had been arrested for criminal trespassing in April of this year broke and Meyer fired Smith on Monday morning of the start of Big Ten media days.

Brett McMurphy then detailed in an exclusive report that Smith had previously been “arrested” back in 2015 for a second allegation of domestic abuse against his then-wife Courtney Smith. 

Meyer was questioned about that arrest and allegation from 2015 at media days and struck out against reporters repeated questioning. He would deny knowing of the arrest report back in 2015. 

However, further reporting by McMurphy put that denial in to further question and Ohio State decided to get to the bottom of it. 

Once Meyer was put on paid administrative leave, he would put a statement out admitting to knowing about the 2015 incident and alerting athletic administrators of the domestic abuse allegations. 

Meyer has stayed silent since that statement and awaited the outcome of the 14-day inquiry in to whom knew what and when and what action was taken. 

That investigation ended this past Sunday, with the committee verbally advising the Board of Trustees on Monday morning of its findings. Two days later, the Board of Trustees would come to meet publicly and then behind closed doors to discuss what would happen to Meyer and others involved in this situation. 

Meyer’s suspension is for the first three games, and on the field that is a big hit with three FBS games coming at the start of the season. OSU kicks off the year against Oregon State, plays a Big Ten contest against Rutgers and a massive game against TCU at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. 

We will have more on this situation and the reaction to what Meyer and Smith had to say on the talking10 Podcast tomorrow. 

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Report: OSU to suspend Urban Meyer

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The Ohio State University board of trustees have been verbally read in on the findings of a 14-day investigation in to the conduct of football head coach Urban Meyer. 

So, what will happen next? 

According to the Columbus Dispatch, it appears a suspension or even lighter punishment is coming for Meyer:

“Two sources connected to the investigation said the likely recommendation to university President Michael V. Drake is a suspension for Meyer. Drake and the board could also opt for a ‘time served’ punishment since Meyer has been removed from football activities for more than two weeks.”

Meyer has already been on suspension (or paid administrative leave) for the better part the month of August.

The meeting on Monday was able to take place because it was an “informational meeting” and no public business was conducted. However, there is a meeting scheduled for 9a.m. on Wednesday to discuss just what punishment would be recommended. 

Ultimately it will be the university president that makes the final decision, but the board of trustees will meet to send their recommendation to President Michael V. Drake, who is likely to adhere to the recommendation of the board. 

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Ohio State wins Cotton Bowl Classic: The good, bad and what it means for 2018

Buckeyes defense dominates USC en route to Cotton Bowl Classic victory.

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Some may say that Ohio State had a real gripe about not being selected to the College Football Playoff this season. Whether the Buckeyes believed they were snubbed or not, they certainly took out any frustration on USC in the Cotton Bowl Classic.

Ohio State used a dominating night on defense and just enough offense to beat the Trojans 24-7. Four turnovers were forced by the Buckeyes defense, resulting in a pick six and a huge shift in momentum late in the game too.

The win sends quarterback J.T. Barrett out on a high note, but it wasn’t his best effort on the field. He had just 114 yards passing and no touchdowns, while also putting up a Buckeyes-best 66 yards on the ground as well.

Luckily those 66 yards were enough to find the end zone twice in the first half for OSU.

Barrett got the Buckeyes on the board on their first possession and then put the Buckeyes up 24-0 on a 28-yard run late in the second quarter. However, it appeared momentum was shifting late in the half as Ronald Jones II put the ball over the goal line with just 1:29 to play in the first half.

That was it for the scoring though and it was a massive defensive message to the critics of the Buckeyes.

It all added up to the Big Ten coming away from a loaded day of action with a 5-0 record. Not only did the Buckeyes win, but so did Northwestern to help the Big Ten continue its banner bowl game start.

The Good

J.T. Barrett Continued to be Legendary

Few players in the history of Ohio State football have had the career that quarterback J.T. Barrett has had. Yet, it feels strange to say his career has been legendary. Maybe its the fact that he missed out on a Big Ten and national championship in 2015? Maybe it’s the fact that it somehow took until his senior season to win a Big Ten title as the quarterback?

Whatever it was, Barrett’s career just seemed incomplete. But, on Friday night Barrett added to his collegiate legend, setting the Big Ten’s total yards record that was previously held by some guy named Drew Brees.

There’s little doubt that Barrett is going to be remembered in Columbus for some time. Most importantly, Barrett was able to complete a post-season with a Big Ten championship and a win in a New Year’s Six game.

Not a bad way to go out in your college career.

Defense Got Turnover Happy

Ohio State showed it had a really good defense down the stretch run of the regular season, but it seemed to finally all come together in the Cotton Bowl. The Buckeyes forced USC quarterback and talked-about No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, Sam Darnold, to look rather average at best.

Part of Darnold’s issue came in the form of turnovers. Well, Darnold and USC in general, as the Trojans gave up the ball via turnover a whopping four times.

The last of which came as Darnold got hit from behind and let the ball fall right in to the waiting arms of an OSU defensive lineman.

It all added up to a USC offense that came in averaging 35 points per game being completely shutdown.

Let’s just say it was a great time for OSU to give its best defensive performance of the season too.

The Bad

Ohio State’s Offensive Performance

While a 24-7 scoreline would seem flattering, Ohio State’s offense really did minimal work on Friday night.

The Buckeyes amassed just 277 yards on 55 plays in the game, including just 114 yards in the passing game. Barrett getting a win in his final game was nice, but his passing game wasn’t. Barrett finished the game 11 of 17 passing for just 114 yards and no touchdowns.

Even more telling? The dynamic duo of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber was held to just 57 yards combined.

Given the domination of the defense all of this seems to be a bit nit-picky, but it should also be worrisome because this offense was up and down all 2017.

What it Means for 2018

It’s hard to say that this one game was make or break for any Ohio State players and their NFL draft status, but that is really the key from this game. Did Sam Hubbard’s great night make his decision easier? How many other guys will take off after this game?

Ultimately that is what is going to matter most heading in to the 2018 offseason.

However, what we can take away from the Cotton Bowl is the fact that the Buckeyes need some real work on the offensive side of the ball. Some of it is just simply growing up for young players, but we also saw what we saw most of this year in the pass game for OSU — there aren’t a lot of receiving options.

That group has got to regroup in a major way or the Buckeyes won’t be going anywhere but backwards on offense in 2018.

Dwayne Haskins is a better pure passer than J.T. Barrett, but it may not matter if no one can get open. Sure, you can give credit to the Trojans secondary, but the Buckeyes receivers did nothing to help themselves either.

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