Thanksgiving has come and gone which means one thing for many homes in the Midwest: Michigan-Ohio State is here.
Michigan reporter Chantel Jennings and Ohio State reporter Austin Ward got together to discuss a few key topics surrounding The Game this season.
1. Ohio State enters as a heavy favorite. What would need to happen in order for the Wolverines to pull off the upset?
Austin Ward: The turnover bug would have to bite the Buckeyes a lot of times, and typically they do a pretty good job swatting it away. Braxton Miller had some issues handling the football at Northwestern and was on the brink at one point of getting pulled in favor of Kenny Guiton with the game potentially slipping away from Ohio State, but since then, mistakes with the football have been few and far between. As long as the Buckeyes aren’t giving away free possessions, they’re probably going to be putting up a lot of points with the third-ranked scoring attack in the nation, and keeping pace will be a real chore for the Wolverines.
Chantel Jennings: The Wolverines have struggled to get 11 guys on the same page on every single play this season and they would not only have to have each guy on the same page but each guy would have to play up to his utmost potential on the same play. But even on top of that, the Buckeyes would have to have some guys underachieve or, like Austin said, have struggles with turnovers. Michigan hasn’t had each guy play up to his potential. And Ohio State hasn’t struggled with turnovers. So the chances of the stars aligning like that seem pretty unlikely.
2. What's the mismatch to keep an eye out for?
Jennings: The Ohio State defensive line matched up against Michigan’s offensive front. The Wolverines have struggled to figure out which five belong on the field and the starting group that’s going up against the depth and talent of OSU’s D-line will be in only its second start as a full line this season. Specifically, the interior linemen, Erik Magnuson, Graham Glasgow and Kyle Kalis, against Ohio State’s tackles, Michael Bennett and Joel Hale, will be one of the biggest mismatches of the weekend.
Ward: Ryan Shazier has surely been licking his chops since he popped in tape of Michigan for the first time. The Ohio State linebacker has been unchained as a blitzer lately, and he has made life a nightmare for opposing offensive lines for the last month, making 11.5 of his Big Ten-leading 19.5 tackles for loss in the last four games. With the Wolverines struggling mightily to block anybody and giving up more tackles in the backfield than any team in the nation, Shazier is the last person they would want to see line up across from them.
3. What matchup will be the tightest?
Ward: Only four teams in the country have been more effective rushing the football this season than the Buckeyes, but if there’s one thing Michigan has been able to count on, it’s been a stout defense against the run. The Wolverines might well stack the box and try to force Miller to throw to beat them, a formula that worked for some defenses a year ago. But with a veteran offensive line with four senior starters and a dynamic combination in the backfield with Carlos Hyde partnering with Miller to run the spread option, nobody has really had an answer for Ohio State on the ground. Ranked No. 14 in the country defending the rush, perhaps the Wolverines will have a shot at making the Buckeyes try something else offensively.
Jennings: I’m with Austin on this one. I think Jake Ryan is due for a big game and if the Wolverines bring a lot of pressure and he plays up to his potential (as well as the other linebackers, who Brady Hoke said would return this weekend), then the Wolverines could produce a relatively solid defense against the running attack. Now, we’re talking about Hyde, who’s the best in the Big Ten, but I think Greg Mattison will have his defense coming in guns blazing, so we’ll see how this plays out.
4. What does a win do for the team you cover?
Jennings: Make no mistake, even if Michigan beats Ohio State on Saturday, Hoke will still call this season a failure because the Wolverines didn’t win the Big Ten title. However, a win over the Buckeyes would be a huge momentum and morale boost for the Wolverines and their fan base. And when it comes to bowl selection, a win over Ohio State and the fact the Wolverines would be riding that emotion definitely would make them a more attractive team (as opposed to a team that could head into the bowl selection process losing five of its last seven).
Ward: The stakes are already high for the Buckeyes every week considering the BCS implications as they currently sit third in the standings, waiting or hoping for Alabama or Florida State to slip up. Ohio State also has a second consecutive perfect regular season on the line, which gives them plenty to play for even before the rivalry is factored into the equation. But winning gold pants and establishing bragging rights remains as important to the Buckeyes as it always has been, with Urban Meyer going so far as to cover up the rest of the schedule in the team room this week to highlight the fact it’s a one-game season for his team. The postseason awaits, and Ohio State will play twice more. But beating “That Team Up North” has superseded even talk about the BCS or Big Ten title for the Buckeyes this week.