The annual matchup between Ohio State and Michigan is easily one of college football’s top rivalries, and there’s an added layer of intrigue for 2015 with the arrival of Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor. The former Michigan quarterback has brought immediate improvement, guiding the Wolverines to a 9-2 record in his first season and pushing the program back into the national conversation. There’s plenty at stake for Harbaugh and Ohio State in this one, as the winner of Saturday’s matchup has a chance to win the Big Ten title if Michigan State loses to Penn State.
For the first time since Week 2 of the 2014 college football season, Ohio State is preparing for a game after a loss the prior Saturday. The Buckeyes’ 23-game winning streak came to an abrupt end last week, as Michigan State won a 17-14 slugfest in Columbus. The defeat turned Ohio State from one of the favorites to win the College Football Playoff into a team just fighting to get back in the conversation to be in the top four. Needless to say, the Buckeyes need a lot of help to get into the playoff mix.
Michigan holds a 58-46-6 series edge over Ohio State. However, the Buckeyes have won 10 out of the last 11 games in this rivalry.
Ohio State at Michigan
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 28 at Noon ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Michigan -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Ohio State’s Offense
How will the Buckeyes respond from the worst statistical performance under coach Urban Meyer? Ohio State managed only 132 yards on 45 plays (2.9 yards per play) in last week’s loss to Michigan State. Additionally, the Buckeyes recorded just five first downs, 86 rushing yards and never had a play go longer than 16 yards. Several areas need attention for Meyer’s offense, and it’s tough to make drastic changes in just a week. Meyer mentioned in press availability that he would take on a bigger role in the play-calling going forward. Can the Buckeyes get this offense back on track and generate a few big passing plays against a standout Michigan secondary in a must-win situation to keep playoff hopes alive?
2. The Battle at the Line of Scrimmage
It’s an old cliché, but winning games starts in the trenches. Last week, Ohio State was dominated at the point of attack, as running back Ezekiel Elliott was limited to just 33 yards on 12 carries. Quarterback J.T. Barrett also failed to make an impact on rushes, recording only 44 yards on 15 attempts. Can Michigan contain Elliott and Barrett and disrupt the timing of the passing game? On paper, the Wolverines should have a good chance to match what Michigan State was able to do. Michigan leads the Big Ten in rush defense and held Penn State to just 70 yards on the ground after allowing 307 yards to Indiana on Nov. 14. On the other side of the battle, can the Wolverines generate a push against an Ohio State defensive front limiting opponents to 3.4 yards per carry? Michigan has been held to 150 or fewer yards on the ground in each of its last five games. This unit will also be under pressure against an aggressive Ohio State pass rush, which includes standout Joey Bosa (15 TFL) and tackle Adolphus Washington. After Michigan State dominated Ohio State in the trenches last week, will the Buckeyes respond with a better effort up front? Or will Michigan’s lines of scrimmage control the point of attack?
3. Michigan QB Jake Rudock
Michigan’s offense has improved its scoring average by 11 points from last season. Harbaugh’s return has played a huge role in the improvement, but Rudock is quietly putting together a solid year and appeared more comfortable within the offense as the season progressed. The Iowa transfer tossed six touchdown passes in the 48-41 win over Indiana and threw for 256 yards and two scores against Penn State last week. The senior also has three reliable targets in receivers Amara Darboh (52 catches) and Jehu Chesson (14.5 ypc) and tight end Jake Butt (43 catches). The Buckeyes are stingy against the pass, limiting opponents to a completion percentage of 49.1 and surrendering only 11 scores all season. Rudock has a chance to cement a place in Michigan history with a win over Ohio State this Saturday. With the Wolverines dealing with an up-and-down ground attack, there’s a lot of pressure on Rudock’s shoulders to deliver this week.
This is a tough matchup to get a read on this Saturday. Ohio State’s offense can’t be as bad as it played last week, right? The Buckeyes have to do a better job of committing to the ground attack and clearing rushing lanes for Ezekiel Elliott. Additionally, Meyer and his offensive staff have to be willing to take chances downfield. That’s a tough matchup against a Michigan secondary limiting opponents to just six passing scores all year. However, Ohio State’s offense has to be willing to be more aggressive than it was last week. The intensity of this rivalry is only going to increase with Harbaugh back in Ann Arbor. And there’s no question motivation is on Michigan’s side after losing three in a row in this series. However, the guess here is Ohio State’s offense shows sign of life, while the defense makes just enough stops in the second half to leave Ann Arbor with a win.