The Game Before The Game (Michigan 59, Maryland 18)

Photo: Alexis Rankin

All season long, Michigan and Ohio State keep an eye fixated on each other to see if maybe, just maybe, they might have a slight edge when the two meet come week 13 of the season. The game before The Game, is the crescendo of that season-long exercise.

Michigan fans who tuned in to watch Ohio State murder Michigan State saw what they absolutely didn't need to see. Ohio State went crazy. In the first half alone, they put up 49 points and 500 yards on their first 7 drives. CJ Stroud went 29 for 31, tallied 393 yards passing and 6 touchdowns. They held MSU's Heisman-hopeful running back Kenneth Walker III to 24 yards on 5 carries. It was total domination of an opponent that, at least on paper, beat Michigan 3 weeks earlier.

Ohio State's 3-headed monster at receiver, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson looked every bit as dangerous as advertised, accounting for 5 of the 6 touchdown grabs. Ohio State scores fast, especially against teams on the ropes. They can sense when teams give up, which is what Michigan State did, and they delivered repeated knockout blows. They make you pay for every little mistake.

The second half was far less of a show, as both teams knew the outcome and substituted accordingly...especially Ohio State, who wanted to shut down the starters for obvious reasons.

All told, it was a bloodbath. Say what you will about Michigan State's effort, which was pretty awful once the OSU lead reached double digits, but it was clear that Ohio State has moved on from any early-season defensive struggles that led to the loss at home to Oregon and head-scratchers vs Tulsa and Minnesota. 

So right on cue, Ohio State is peaking in November, as they always do.


For Michigan, the game before The Game has recently been a bit more of a struggle. Michigan hasn't peaked heading into the Ohio State game in a while. 

2019: Win @ Indiana, 39-14
2018: Win vs Indiana, 31-20
2017: Loss @ Wisconsin 24-10
2016: Win vs Indiana, 20-10 (snow game)
2015: Win @ Penn State, 28-16
2014: Loss @ Maryland, 23-16
2013: Loss @ Iowa, 24-21

So on Saturday, when Michigan travelled to College Park to take on Maryland, expectations were admittedly high. No one expected a loss, or even really a nailbiter, but when you watch Ohio State annihilate someone you lost to a few weeks ago, it's hard to stomach anything less than total domination – which is pretty much what Michigan did.

Michigan started slow, their first drive was a punt. Maryland's first drive ended in a missed a 48-yard field goal.  But then Michigan put together a 11-play 70 yard touchdown drive topped off by a redzone touchdown pass from McNamara to Schoonmaker. A few punts later, Michigan scored on another redzone trip with a Haskins goal line run. Following a blocked Maryland punt by Matt Torey, JJ McCarthy entered, I presume to help jumpstart Michigan's offense which seemed to sputter for a bit. JJ quickly marched Michigan down the short field on 4 plays, scoring on a wonderful one-handed TD grab by Mike Sainristil in the corner of the endzone to make it 21-3.

Michigan was in control, and it was starting to feel like this would end up being a 34-10 type of game. Not sexy, but enough to get the win and go home. But the third quarter was when the fireworks started.

Michigan's first drive of the half gave them the 31-3 lead, but Maryland came right back with their first touchdown of the game with an oddly successful 9 play 74-yard drive. On the ensuing kickoff, AJ Henning caught a perfectly thrown cross-field lateral pass from Michael Barrett, and flew 79 yards down the Michigan sideline to the house to make it 38-10. Another frustratingly successful Maryland drive capped by a 17-yard Tagovialova touchdown scramble made it 38-18. Maryland wasn't going away. 

But on the next Michigan drive, Donovan Edwards...who had himself a day (10 catches for 170 yards) caught a wonderfully thrown wheel route pass from McNamara and scored from 77 yards out to finally squash any Maryland hopes for a comeback. The pick-6 by DJ Turner on the ensuing Maryland drive was just the cherry on top Michigan fans were looking for.

All told, this was about as least stressful or as satisfying a game before The Game as I can remember, at least during the Harbaugh era. Does this mean Michigan is ready or more prepared for the Buckeyes? I have no idea. Listen, Michigan has done all of the things they needed to do and say these last 12 months. Harbaugh hired a new defensive coordinator just because of this game. He's brought in younger staff assistants. There's a noticeable renewed emphasis on this rivalry from Michigan this year. At least from the outside, it seems Michigan is ready. Will it all be enough? No idea.

Ohio State is an absolute juggernaut right now. They're a buzzsaw. Just ask Michigan State. They have so many weapons on offense it's stupid. For Michigan to pull off a win this Saturday, a lot of things are going to have to go right. I'm not saying it can't happen, but it's unlikely.

But then again, it was unlikely in 1995 and 1996 when Ohio State was just as unbeatable by Michigan as they are now. They say throw out the record books in rivalry games...which is a nice thing to say, but that hasn't seemed the case in this rivalry in a while. But for the first time in a very long time, Michigan and Ohio State are playing for the league/division crown in the Big House. That's not nothing. Home field advantage hasn't mattered much in this rivalry lately, but it certainly won't hurt this year.

Ohio State is going to get their plays this weekend, they just will...they're too good. What Michigan absolutely can't do is flinch. They can't throw in the towel when things take a turn...which it will at some point. What few teams do to Ohio State is punch back. Michigan absolutely must punch back. They can't let 1 touchdown turn into 3 or 6. They say half of this sport is mental...and that's never more true than when you're playing a better team. Physically, I think Michigan can hang with Ohio State. But it's the mental side of it...the knowing you're going to win versus the hoping you're going to win. You can't beat Ohio State by hoping you're going to win.

The ONLY way Michigan will ever stop this losing streak and dethrone Ohio State from atop the Big Ten east, is to win a game they're not supposed to win. Like 1969. They can't just sit back and wait for Ohio State to have a down year or something like that. They have to beat a fully armed and operational Ohio State. Only then, will they truly begin to turn the tide in this rivalry.

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