Ohio State football: Key match ups for “The Game”

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 28: Quarterback J.T. Barrett
ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 28: Quarterback J.T. Barrett /

“The Game” is upon us. Ohio State’s yearly regular season finale will help not only the rankings, but hopefully another win to their total. To achieve that though, what match ups must we keep an eye on?

An unranked Michigan team hasn’t beaten Ohio State since 1993, when Bobby Hoying was the starting quarterback and Eddie George was only the third leading rusher on the roster.

For 2017, Ohio State has everything to lose by falling to Michigan. It’s time for big time players to step up and make big time plays. With stars all over the field for both sides,  there are a handful of key match ups that will decide the fate of Saturday’s game.

Billy Price vs Maurice Hurst

Ohio State will need to run the ball to be effective. We’ve seen multiple times this season that when Ohio State is forced to be a pass first team, it doesn’t end well.

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That means Ohio State will need to control the trenches and be able to find gaps through the middle of the Wolverine defense.

Price is now the all-time leader in starts at Ohio State. Hurst is considered one of the best interior linemen in the Big Ten. Ohio State leads the Big Ten in rushing while Michigan allows only 116 yards per game on the ground.

Something has to give and whichever side gains the advantage is most likely to win on Saturday.

If Price can continue to provide huge blocks up the middle, Ohio State can keep the entire playbook open. When Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins can get into the middle of an opposing defense, that allows Kevin Wilson to keep the pressure on.

Michigan has a fast defense that can set the edge, so it is even more critical for Price, along with Demetrius Knox and Michael Jordan, to create running lanes for the Ohio State backs.

Jamarco Jones vs Chase Winovich

Winovich is fifth in the Big Ten in sacks per game from his defensive end spot, and second on the team behind safety/linebacker Khaleke Hudson. As a team, the Wolverines are only one sack behind Wisconsin for best in the Big Ten with 36 on the year.

Michigan can bring some heat and get after the quarterback, a key to their stout passing defense.

Jones plays left tackle for a reason and has elevated his play since stepping into the left tackle role last season. His ability to keep J.T. Barrett clean in passing situations and hold off the pass rush will limit what has made the Michigan passing defense so tough.

Just like with the rushing attack up the  middle, keeping Barrett off of the ground allows Wilson to keep the entire play book open.

Tuf Borland vs Karan Higdon

Really, you could insert any of the Buckeye linebackers here, but we’ll single out Borland.

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After taking over for Chris Worley in the middle, Borland has turned into a run stopping monster. As a result, he pushed Worley to the outside with injuries to Jerome Baker and Dante Booker forcing a shuffle of the unit.

At this point, Borland has been the best linebacker on the roster.

Higdon, even if he doesn’t know how to read scoreboards, is the most potent weapon that the Wolverine attack has to offer. He leads the team in rushing and has scored 10 touchdowns on the year.

His 874 rushing yards are more than Iowa’s Akrum Wadley and those touchdowns are more than any Ohio State back.

With little passing game to speak of, corralling Higdon means stopping the Wolverine offense.

Paris Campbell and Johnny Dixon vs Lavert Hill and Tyree Kinnel

Campbell leads the Buckeyes in receiving, even having missed a game. Johnny Dixon leads the Buckeyes in touchdowns. Both players cause defensive backs anxiety in different ways.

Campbell is lethal in the short passing game, using his elite speed to turn the corner and gain yards after the catch. Dixon is a speedster in his own right, but has caused significant damage up the middle of the field and averages 24.3 yards per catch.

Hill is the best cover corner on the Wolverines roster and will likely be tasked with trying to contain Campbell in early downs in an attempt to limit the types of quick hitters that have given Campbell the team lead in receiving yards.

Kinnel will see a lot of Dixon running deep routes to get in space, albeit up the seam or in the corner. If Kinnel can’t limit Dixon after the catch, he’ll get every bit of those 24.3 yards per catch.

Barrett vs the “Moment”

Barrett, love him or hate him, is one of the most accomplished players in Ohio State history. He’s also had success against Michigan in his career. He’s 37-68 for 413 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception, but has added 353 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground.

That’s even with last season’s dreadful 15-32, 124 yards dud in 2016.

Barrett’s big game performances have been a mix bag. For every Iowa and Oklahoma from 2017, there is a Michigan of 2015 or Oklahoma 2016.

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This will be Barrett’s fourth Michigan game and could cement his Buckeye legacy with four consecutive wins over the Wolverines. If good Barrett shows up, his dual threat capability can apply pressure to the Michigan defensive backfield to cover all over and as we’ve sad before, it keeps the entire play book open.