Ohio State football: What to watch for against Michigan

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 14: Quarterback J.T. Barrett
LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 14: Quarterback J.T. Barrett /

The moment we have all been waiting for: Thanksgiving week aka as Ohio State’s annual matchup versus Michigan in The Game.

The Game is here and Ann Arbor will be rocking as Ohio State looks to keep their playoff hopes alive, while the Wolverines try to play spoiler. This rivalry seems to bring out the best in both programs, so what should you keep an eye on against Michigan?

Will John O’Korn be able to throw the ball effectively

There’s a reason O’Korn wasn’t starting last week. Wilton Speight was already hurt and then Brandon Peters joined Speight on the sidelines with an injury of his own. That left O’Korn as the only healthy quarterback left standing for the Wolverines. If O’Korn had been throwing the ball well, Peters would not have been needed against Wisconsin.

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O’Korn is only 66 of 124 (53.2%) for 761 yards, 1 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions on the year. His 99.4 quarterback rating is the worst of all quarterbacks in the Big Ten with at least 115 attempts save for Rutgers’s Kyle Bolin.

O’Korn’s putrid performance against against Wisconsin after he replaced an injured Peters is now subject of a Twitter feud with former Wolverine Braylon Edwards. When Michigan folks can’t get out of their own way, it doesn’t bode well for them against the Buckeyes.

Ohio State’s pass defense hasn’t been stellar all year, but there has been a lot of success against bad passing attacks, like Rutgers, Michigan State, and Illinois. Michigan qualifies as a bad passing attack, ranking near the bottom in most passing categories in the Big Ten.

Making matters worse, they can’t protect the quarterback, allowing 29 sacks in 2017, tied for the second most in the conference. We all know the Buckeyes can get after the quarterback. If Michigan gets punished when putting the ball in the air, their offense will have a repeat of the 10 point, 234 yard day against the Badgers.

Wolverine running back depth, not Karan Higdon

Higdon is the Wolverines’s leading rusher with 874 yards on the ground in 2017. He leads the team with 10 touchdowns as well, which is among the best marks in the Big Ten.

While he splits some carries with Ty Isaac and Chris Evans, he’s the one that tends to get loose. What if you to were look at the game by game numbers? Maybe we’d rethink a bit on Higdon’s ability.

There were three huge games in a row in the middle of the season for Higdon. He ran for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns against Indiana on October 14th. The next week, it was 158 yards and 2 touchdowns against Rutgers.

After that, it was 200 yards and 2 more scores against Minnesota. Outside of those games, though. Higdon has not run for more than 65 yards in a game.

Take away those games and Higdon has run for 316 yards on 77 carries, a 4.1 yards per carry average and a per game average of only 39.5 yards. What allows Michigan to run the ball so well is the depth at the running back position.

Evans and Isaac are effective backs that can move the ball well. They both average over five yards per carry and both will see extended run against Ohio State, especially with O’Korn under center.

Ohio State has thrived against one dimensional running teams (see the Michigan State game for proof) and the Wolverine running back rotation is the only weapon right now at Jim Harbaugh’s disposal.

Will J.T. Barrett figure out the Wolverine pass defense?

Barrett is third in the Big Ten in passing yards per game and is statistically the most efficient passer in the conference. When he is able to throw effectively, the Ohio State offense isn’t just good, it’s a juggernaut.

Ohio State can’t just air it out, as we’ve seen how that works. But they cannot be a run only team, either. Barrett will need to throw well to keep the Buckeye offense moving in the right direction.

Michigan’s defensive strength is against the pass. They get after opposing quarterbacks, trailing only Wisconsin in the Big Ten in sacks and bring Chase Winovich and Kheleke Hudson off the edge, the only tandem that is more fearsome than any combo of the “Rushmen” package the Buckeyes throw out there.

The opportunity is there for Barrett to earn his fourth win over Michigan in his career (yes, 2014 counts). No Ohio State quarterback has ever done that. Ohio State has not lost to an unranked Michigan team since 1993, when Bobby Hoying and Raymont Harris were leading the Buckeye offense.

If Barrett’s arm travels to Ann Arbor, watch out.

The numbers, rankings, and all of the noise not mattering at all

Michigan didn’t care that they were unranked in 1993. Tim Biakabutuka didn’t care that he wasn’t supposed to run all over the Buckeyes in 1995 for 313 yards. 1969 saw the top ranked Buckeyes lose to Michigan in Bo Schembechler’s first year on campus.

Tyvis Powell’s PAT interception in 2013 saved a game where Ohio State was heavily favored. As the folks with the Detroit Free Press stated, “weird stuff happened” in the rivalry.

The Game has always been competitive and has always brought out the best of both teams. Why would 2017 be any different?

Say what you will about Harbaugh, but he’ll have the Wolverines ready to take on the favored Buckeyes. The Ann Arbor crowd will be rocking and even with a Big Ten Title game awaiting for the Buckeyes, there’s going to be some serious juice on the field.

One last thing to remember is that Michigan has nothing to lose in this game. There could be another L on the board, but they aren’t playing for their playoff lives and there is no trip to Indianapolis already sewn up.

The only thing left for Michigan to do is ruin what’s left of the Ohio State season. The Buckeyes need to be aware of that. They need to match that level of play and that level of intensity. Michigan will come out with a sense of purpose. Ohio State must do the same.

Game Prediction

The Game, 2017, will be a close game. Maybe not in the score, but the Wolverines are going to come out and throw some punches. They don’t have a “next week”, so they can play loose and relaxed.

Ohio State, though, will make O’Korn’s day miserable and will force the Wolverines to keep the ball on the ground.

Next: 5 reasons OSU will beat TTUN

Barrett won’t throw for 400 yards or anything, but he will be able to take advantage of Kevin Wilson’s renewed focus on the ground game to pick his spots, score points, and separate just enough to make Michigan have to throw the ball. Final Score: Ohio State 38, Michigan 21