'The Game' Preview 2019

For the fourth time in five seasons under Jim Harbaugh, The Game will be played as a top 10 vs top 10 match-up (at least in the AP Poll). This year, however, it doesn't quite seem that way. For as much as Michigan has improved over the course of this year, the final challenge seems just as big as any other year.

The paths to how we got here were perhaps the opposite of pre-season expectation. Ohio State lost a hall of fame coach an a Heisman finalist QB. They reloaded, just like they do every year. Michigan was seeking a change in the offense and hired their fifth offensive coordinator in 10 years. They took a step back, just like they do every year this happens.

It took over half a season but Michigan's offense is finally looking to have the identity we were promised at the start of the season. A win over Ohio State would basically make Michigan's season a traditional monomyth:

Supernatural aid - #SpeedInSpace (but it doesn't work yet)
Threshold guardians - OT win over Army
Challenges - Blowout loss to Wisconsin
Abyss death - 1st half of the Penn State game
Abyss rebirth - 2nd half of the Penn State game
Transformation and revelation - actual speed in space concepts work, also CHUCK IT DOWNFIELD TO NICO is finally incorporated
Atonement - Blowout victories over rivals

The only thing left is a win over the final boss, the one that's plagued Ann Arbor for 15 years.With an improved offense, Michigan very much looks like a top 10 team. And yet still, Ohio State looks like a number one team.

Michigan absolutely has a chance. Depending on who you ask, that chance is probably between a 25%-40% chance. Jim Harbaugh has made Michigan football a very good football program. Ohio State has been a legendary football program. Is that fair? No. But is there hope? Yes, we tell ourselves for the Nth year in a row.

Michigan will be fine as long as they can contain Dobbins. And Fields. And Hill. And Olave. And Victor. And

Ohio State offense vs Michigan defense

Enter quarterback Justin Fields (#1), the Georgia transfer who ranks #8 on the all time list of recruits on 247. He's the #3 overall ranked QB behind only Vince Young and Trevor Lawrence. Dwayne Haskins was a nightmare for Michigan a year ago and that nightmare only continues nut this time, Ohio State's quarterback can actually run.

Fields has a staggering 33-1 TD/INT rate, and also has 10 rushing touchdowns on top of that. Against Penn State's #10 defense he was 16/22 for 188 yards and two touchdowns. He did fumble three times, though (two of them were lost, giving Penn State something resembling a chance). If there is one hope for stopping Fields it's that Ohio State is ranked #84 in sacks given up, having given up 25 on the season. There are very rumor-y rumors that Fields has a broken non-throwing hand and a rolled ankle from Penn State. If I had to guess though, he'll probably be fine. He jogged off the ankle at the end of the Penn State game. Logically one might say that he will be more prone to fumbles if the hand rumor is true but in this rivalry, all matters of luck go Ohio State's way.

Michigan will need to contain receiver K.J. Hill (#14). Hill is a 4.35 40 speedster type who we've seen dominate Michigan in the crossing routes as of a year ago. Don Brown has had a year to scheme away the crossing routes but K.J. Hill's speed can beat Michigan's defense all over the field just like KJ Hamler did for Penn State. Daxton Hill has that speed but in his first start against Indiana last week he had some freshman mental errors. It didn't matter much then but a mental error this week could easily cost six points. Brad Hawkins' return will be very important.

Despite that, K.J. Hill is only 3rd on the team in receiving yards. The top two go to Chris Olave (#17) and Binjimin Victor (#9). The two have 1,100 yards and 16 touchdowns combined. Ohio State's receiver depth rivals Michigan's, but luckily Michigan also has mostly the backfield depth to counter. The biggest concern will be if one of these guys goes one-on-one with Vincent Gray.

Because of course they do, Ohio State also has a first-rounder type running back in JK Dobbins (#2). He is 4th in the country in rushing yards (1,446), 8th in yards per carry (6.6), and 7th in rushing touchdowns. Where OSU's O-line lacks in pass rushing, they make up for in run support. Back-up running back Master Teague isn't far behind with 751 rushing yards and a 6.5 average (Michigan's lead rusher is Charbonnet with 635 yards and a 4.8 average). Ohio State's first touchdown against Penn State was mostly on the ground and there's a chance they score just as well against Michigan. Michigan's run defense is much better off than they were against Wisconsin but this may still be a bigger test.

Collins needs to play the game of his life
Ohio State Defense vs Michigan Offense

Enter defensive end Chase Young (#2). Despite sitting out two games, Chase Young leads the country in sacks (16.5) and now holds the Ohio State record for sacks in a season. If there were ever to be another defensive player to win the Heisman, it would be this man. He has done nothing but feast on offensive linemen, running backs, and quarterbacks all season. Michigan will most likely need to double him, leaving Davon Hamilton (#53) or Jashon Cornell (#9) more room to make a play. Ohio State's defensive line depth rivals Michigan's in 2016. I would not expect a productive day from Michigan's run game.

Chase Young vs Michigan's tackles is the first match-up to watch, the second will be Nico Collins vs Jeff Okudah (#1). Okudah was rated higher than even Chase Young in one October NFL Draft report. For most of the season, the "chuck it up to Nico Collins and see what happens" offense has (or at least would have) worked but Ohio State's backfield will be the greatest challenge. A bigger match-up might be between Donovan Peoples-Jones and whoever he lines up with. This will be some combination of Shaun Wade (#24), Damon Arnette (#3), or Pete Werner (#20).

Ohio State's defense is #1 in the country and for good reason. They held Penn State's #16 offense to 227 yards in a game that was a bit more lopsided than the score indicates. They held Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor to 52 yards on 20 carries (2.6 avg). They held Indiana's top 15 offense to 257 yards, including a 1.4 average on the ground.

Against Michigan State, we saw Michigan air it out and essentially give up on the run game (occasionally doing something to keep it honest but it was never really necessary). That will probably be what has to be done here for Michigan to have a chance. Not all hope is lost, however. For the first time in his career at Michigan, Shea Patterson threw for over 300 yards against a very talented MSU defense. Then he did it again against a solid Indiana defense. In the week 4 SP+, Michigan's offense was ranked as low as 72nd and now in week 13 they've moved up to 26th - you don't do that without playing like a top 15 or even top 10 unit.

Last year, Michigan's offense put up 39 points. If you told me they'd score 39 points tomorrow I would probably call that a Michigan win (but I would've said the same thing last year at pre-game, too). This year's Ohio State defense is improved and is a tier above MSU or Penn State.The last two games should give Michigan fans something resembling hope. Not much. Like the single star Frodo and Sam see when they're way deep in Mordor. It might not be much but it's there.

Don Brown woke up every morning thinking about the 2017 loss to Penn State. He has done the same for The Game
Best Case Scenario
Michigan is able to pressure Fields into some turnovers. JK Dobbins is held to below his Penn State game production. Don Brown works conjures wizard-level gameplans. The offense improves off of the MSU and Indiana production and Michigan pulls out a close win.

Worst Case Scenario
Last year 2.0

The Part Where Patrick Gets the Score Completely Wrong
Michigan - 21
Ohio State - 38

Past Highlights

go blue

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