Game Preview: Ohio State vs Michigan

With a game this big, you know it deserves a good hype video, and the Buckeye media team once again delivers.

The 118th edition of The Game will be one of the biggest in the series between the two of college footballs biggest blue-bloods. Both teams are entering the game with an 11-0 record, and tied at the top of the Big Ten East standings. Ohio State and Michigan are ranked 2 and 3 respectively in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, and are 2 of 4 remaining undefeated teams going into the last week of the regular season. This will be the first time since 2006 that these teams will meet with undefeated records, which Ohio State won 42-39.

A win for either team will be monumental, as they will clinch a spot in the Big Ten Championship game next week, and will play either Iowa or Purdue for a chance to win the Big Ten title, and clinch a spot in the College Football Playoff as the 1 or 2 seed. depending on what happens with Georgia the next two weeks of the season. The loser, although might not be out of the chance to make the College Football Playoff, will need some help, and will most like make the Rose Bowl against the Pac-12 representative. But for both teams, they now they just have to win to control their destiny, and not leave it to chance.ย 

For the Buckeyes, they are trying to shake off the narrative of being just a “finesse team” and not a “tough team” as former Wolverine Offensive Coordinator Josh Gattis called them after last years game. A win for the Buckeyes will also allow them to get a spin on the rivalry and one game closer to closing the gap of the overall record, which Michigan leads.

For the Wolverines, a win would mean 2 in a row after losing 9 straight previously, and a second straight trip to the Big Ten Championship Game.ย 

To add to the level of excitement for this game, both Big Noon Kickoff from FOX and ESPN’s College Gameday will be in Columbus to give pregame entertainment before these two teams kick off at noon on FOX.ย 

A last tidbit, for all of the future meteorologists who are curious about the conditions for the Buckeyes who were questioned if they can play in the snow, the temperatures for Columbus look to be partly cloudy with a high of 54 degrees.ย 

Know the Opponent:

Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh (7th season)
2022 Record: 11-0
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Conference: Big Ten

Ohio State Preview

The Buckeyes will host Michigan at home for the first time since 2018, as the 2020 edition of The Game was cancelled due to a COVID outbreak on the Michigan team leading up the match-up. The 2021 version of The Game left “scars” according to head coach Ryan Day, and it was his first, and as of November 25th 2022 only, regular season loss to a Big Ten opponent.ย 

“When you lose this game, it’s a tough year,” said Ohio State coach Ryan Day, whose team had to swallow a 42-27 beating by the Wolverines in 2021. “There’s no hiding from that.”

Ohio State used that game, and the home loss to Oregon earlier in the 2021 season, to fuel their offseason workout regimen to be a tough team. In response to the defensive performance, Ryan Day went out and hired Jim Knowles to make sure that side of the ball has an answer to the physicality of the Michigan offense, which 11 games into the season, there is a lot of optimism for that side of the ball, but everyone in the college football landscape knows this game is the true litmus test of how tough this team is and if their defense can stop the run.ย 

The path to get to this point for the Buckeyes was probably not what the fans would have liked to see, but at the same time, they are the only team in the country to have won every single game by double digits, and kept that streak last week against Maryland with a defensive score in the last minute of the game. the first 6 games of the season, Ohio State played a tough physical game against Notre Dame, who turned out to be a top 15 team, and has a chance to beat USC this weekend. The next 5 games for Ohio State, they were back on track for their offensive fire power with games against Arkansas State, Toledo, Wisconsin, Rutgers and Michigan State. Those games though didn’t come without some bumps on the road, as the injury issues for Ohio State really took a hit in the running back room for both TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, who have been splitting carries, and at times sat out of games. Couple that with the fact Jaxon Smith Njigba gas really only played a half of football this season, this Ohio State offense has been making it work as one of the best in the country without all of their star players, and that has to mean something.ย 

The second half of the season since the bye week, the Buckeyes have been very inconsistent in the run game, and has played sluggish in the first half, but then makes the adjustments to give them an edge to either blow out or make the plays to win in the second half. Penn State was a challenging game, as this was the first time since Notre Dame that the Buckeyes played a team that matched in talent, or was at least closer to their talent, and the Buckeyes struggled to stop the run on first down, and their corners missed tackles which led to long receptions for the Nittany Lions wide out. Where we need to see the difference between last years team, and this years team does come down to the improvements of defense, and J.T. Tuimoloau had one of the best defensive games ever played, and help get the Buckeyes some cushion to win that game more comfortably.ย 

Northwestern was an anomaly in the offensive game plan due to the high winds, and last weeks game against Maryland was a game where they just needed to get through it to win to stay undefeated. All respect to those two schools, and those games, but at the same time, both of those games were just needed to be a W at the end of the day, and keep the Buckeyes goals alive, which is to beat Michigan, Win the Big Ten Championship, and Win a National Championship. What is sobering is that after 11 games, we are finally at that point where the Buckeyes can achieve those goals, but they needed to win the games before it to put themselves in the best position. It is not about style points anymore, it’s about taking care of business, and they Buckeyes know that this weeks game is their next job to execute.ย 

CJ Stroud is still the Heisman favorite, and this game is his best chance to almost take the award going into the Championship game weekend. On the season, he has passed for 2991 yards with 35 touchdowns, which is tied for the most in the country, and only 4 interceptions. His quarterback ratting of 183.3 is the best in the country, and he has shown in the past few games that he is more willing to run the ball if the team needs it to move the chains. Stroud is taking this game a little more personally as this is most likely his last chance to get a win in this rivalry as the starting quarterback, and was mocked and challenged about his toughness after last years game. I expect him to make some plays where he channels his inner Troy Smith.

Miyan Williams did not play last week, but has a decent chance to get in the game this week. He leads all running backs with 783 yards on 117 carries and 13 touchdowns. TreVeyon Henderson is the second leading rusher so far, and with his injury flaring back up last week against Maryland in the first half, I don’t anticipate him playing this game at all, and that is probably for the best for his health. He has 571 yards on 107 carries and 6 touchdowns. Dallan Hayden will be the running back to watch this week for me. I believe that he will most likely get the most reps carrying the ball if Miyan is not 100% ready to go. Hayden has been impressive the last two weeks with his running abilities, and when it looked like the Buckeyes were stalling in the run game, Hayden was explosive with his run, and is averaging 5 yards a carry. He is making quick decisions, and running more north and south than he is east and west behind the line of scrimmage. In a game like this one against the countries top statistical run defense, the run game will be important to open the passing game.

In the passing game , Marvin Harrison Jr is leading the group with 1037 yards on 65 catches with 11 touchdowns. He is the 4th fastest player to hit 1000 yards, and is only the 8th player in Ohio State history to hit that mark. He was also named a Biletnikoff Award semi-finalist this week, and is viewed by many as the top receiver in the country, outside of Jaylin Hyatt in Tennessee who has slightly better numbers. Not far behind Harrison is Emeka Egbuka, who could be the 9th player to hit the 1000 yard mark. He has 914 yards receiving this season on 57 catches and 8 touchdowns. Cade Stover will be involved in this game as well, and has an impressive 31 catches for 386 yards and 5 touchdowns. He was asked this week about the team’s toughness and those who questioned it, and he gave an answer that I think most players in the Scarlet and Gray would agree with, “I donโ€™t give a s**t what anyone outside this program says about our toughness. We know what weโ€™ve got.”

To top things off, LebBron James made sure to gift this team some slick looking cleats:

Michigan Preview

Michigan is entering the game undefeated for the first time under Jim Harbaugh, and is seeking its second straight Big Ten Championship game appearance. The Wolverines won last years game with a heavy emphasis in the run game, and winning the game at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and it resulted in a 42-27 victory, the first win for Harbaugh against the Buckeyes as a head coach. After the game, Harbuagh quipped about Ryan Day “starting on third base, thinking he hit a triple” as a reference to both Ryan Day inheriting a team from Urban Meyer instead of building it himself, as well as a response to the 2020 comment Ryan Day had about hanging 100 on the Wolverines, which was not played due to the COVID cancellation from the Michigan team. This year though, he has changed his tone, and seems to be excited for the match up, comparing the two teams to two superheroes battling it out.

Michigan has been one of the most consistent teams in the country with their style of play which is based on Harbaugh’s favored approach to the game, which is a physical run game, and a pass game that compliments as a mid range yardage run. When you go into a game against the Wolverines, you know what they are going to do, and they are challenging you to try and stop it. They enter this game as the top scoring defense, top rush defense, and top overall defense. The biggest knock though for Michigan is their non-conference schedule, which were against some of the worst teams in the country with Colorado State, Hawai’i, and UConn (who is actually bowl eligible). To Michigan’s credit though, they won those games by over 50 points on average, and early in the season Harbaugh was trying to figure out who his quarterback was going to be between Cade McNamara, who led the team last year to the Playoffs, and JJ McCarthy, who was a top end recruit and has a bit more athletic ability in the run game. After the first two games, McCarthy earned the job, and has started ever since.ย 

They grinded through their next few wins against Maryland, Iowa and Indiana, but really made their mark against a ranked team in Penn State at home, and they dominated the game in the second half score wise, and won 41-17. Penn State had kept it close going into halftime thanks to some Michigan turnovers, but the Wolverine defense shut down the Nittany Lions and their star freshman running backs. The next week, Harbaugh finally beat Mel Tucker and the Michigan State Spartans 29-7. What is most memorable from that game though unfortunately was after the game with the brawl in the tunnel.ย 

Like the Buckeyes, the Wolverines started to show a little pressure in the first half in blowing the other team out, and that started with Rutgers, who had a lead going into halftime, but then Michigan routed the Scarlet Knights 52-17. The next week, Nebraksa hung around for a quarter and a half, but then behind Corum, the Wolverines finished winning 34-3.ย 

Last weeks game though against the Illinois Fighting Illini though was a lot closer for comfort and might have impacted this weeks game. Illinois’s defense was really strong and outside of a long run from Corum, they slowed down the powerful rushing attack, which is what this offense relies on the get yardage and momentum. Illinois actually lead 17-10 entering the 4th quarter. Blake Corum got hurt in the first half, and only played a few snaps in the second half. If Corum is out, that would really impact Michigan’s chances in this game.ย 

JJ McCarthy has passed for 1952 yards with 14 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. In part due to his good offensive line, who are finalists for the Joe Moore Award, and his elusive ability, he has only been sacked 8 times this year, and has 213 yards rushing on 49 carries with 3 touchdowns. Cade McNamara had season ending surgery a few weeks ago, so the back up for the Wolverines is most likely Davis Warren, who has 9 passing attempts this season.ย 

Blake Corum is the heart of this Michigan offense, and is part of why he is considered a Heisman contender. He has rushed for 1457 yards on 245 carries with 18 touchdowns, and averaging 5.9 yards a carry. Behind Corum is Donovan Edwards who was out the last two week due to an undisclosed injury. He has a bit more explosion to his play, and has 70 carries for 471 yards and 4 touchdowns this season. He is also used in in the passing game with 14 catches for 179 yards and 2 touchdowns. If he is not able to play for the third straight week, Michigan will rely on freshman CJ Stoke, who has 53 carries for 268 yards and 1 touchdown. If he is getting the start this week, the Wolverines will for sure make him as ready as possible for this offense, or else it will come down to McCarthy leading this team.

His top target to try and push the field is Ronnie Bell, and he has 48 catches for 641 yards and 2 touchdowns. He is the most talented receiver on the Michigan roster, and has been the most dependable catcher. The second leading receiver is Luke Schoomaker as a tight-end with 30 catches for 315 yards and 2 touchdowns. The receiver who leads the team in touchdown catches is Cornelius Johnson who has 25 catches for 300 yards and 4 touchdowns.ย 

Buckeye Spotlight

CJ Stroud. This is the moment that Stroud can cement his legacy in Buckeye lore, and all of the teams season goals are up for grabs. A strong game from him, and he can start to get his tailored suit ready for New York for the Heisman.ย 

Wolverine Spotlight

JJ McCarthy. The Wolverine offense is ran through the run game and Blake Corum, but a knee injury last week against Illinois, and his health might be in question. This means the focus will be on McCarthy, who has not been spectacular in the pass game, but can make plays with his legs. For the Wolverines to win two in a row, it will come down to if McCarthy can take over the offense.ย 

Water Cooler Stat of the Game

48. This is the 48th time that both Michigan and Ohio State are ranked for this game, which is 6 more times than Oklahoma vs Texas. This game also marks the 25th time that both are in the top 10, which is the most of any match up.

Prediction

The stakes donโ€™t get any bigger than they will this Saturday for the 118th edition fo The Game. To add to the impact for the winner and loser of this game, this will be the last time that a game in Columbus will determine playoff positioning with this magnitude, as in 2024, the Big Ten will have added USC and UCLA, and there is a strong chance that the Playoff will expand to 12 teams by that time. The biggest question that will help determine how this game will be played out is the health of Blake Corum. If he can play, he will bring the Michigan offense a drive that they have used all season in the power run game, and will try to use the same physical game plan they used last year to beat Ohio State. If Corum can not play, then the challenge will be on JJ McCarthy in making plays both in the passing game and the run game. I think this one will be close, as both teams are looking for something to prove, but I think ultimately CJ Stroud is going to be the difference maker and make the plays when he needs to. This will be his 2006 Troy Smith moment where he can make an impact for the Buckeyes championship hopes, as well has his Heisman.

Ohio State 42 – Michigan 24

Photo Credit: Bleacher Report

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