Today’s clash between Michigan and Ohio State will pit strength versus strength: the Wolverine defense for the Buckeye offense. Most handicapping that match-up, though, give Ohio State the edge. The Buckeye attack is a juggernaut, ranked 11th in the country and second in the Big Ten in total offense. Their success has been a function of the growth of J.T. Barrett. The redshirt freshman has vaulted himself into Heisman consideration by posting an eye-popping efficiency. He ranks eighth in the Big Ten in rushing with 849 yards (5.4 ypc), first in the Big Ten in pass efficiency at 171.4 (190/293 for 64.8% with 33TDs and 10 INTs), and first in total offense at 318.8 yards per game (over 65 yards better the #2 on the list, Connor Cook.
“J.T. Barrett… I remember the scouting report on him,” WTKA college football analyst Steve Clarke said. “He threw a little bit more of a lofty ball, but was accurate. There were some concerns that his being green going in there for the Ohio State Buckeye offense just wouldn’t be enough for them with an offensive line that had to replace four of five. There is nothing wrong with that offensive line outside of the Virginia Tech game. They’ve protected J.T. Barrett. J.T. Barrett has done enough to run, but his precision passing has been what’s been able to make a difference. With the speedsters that they have on the outside with Devin Smith and others, he’s been able to hit them in stride with pinpoint accuracy that Braxton Miller could not necessarily do. Ohio State’s offense has become explosive since the Virginia Tech game. They had a stretch earlier on in the Big Ten Conference play where they had four or five games averaging 50 points, just went and scored like a hot knife through butter at Michigan State. It just continued all the way through. Ohio State is the real deal on offense, and Marcus Ray will tell you, Ohio State’s offense makes you defend the entire field. That’s one of the thing that’s going to be tough for any team in the Big Ten to have to cover vertically and horizontally. They’ve been successful in that way.”
For Michigan there hope rest on their ability to keep the Ohio State ground game in check (the Wolverines rush defense ranks fourth in the league and 10th nationally at 107.2 yards per game and 2.94 yards per carry) and their ability to keep Barrett going wild.
“I think Michigan has to get to J.T. Barrett,” Big Ten Network analyst Marcus Ray said. “Playing man to man is probably not going to be a good idea. J.T. can tuck and run, but I don’t think Michigan can match up with some of the guys that I have seen out there. I think that Jalin Marshall in the slot is going to be a problem. Obviously, they’ve got guys that scored points against the one of the conference’s best defense in Michigan State. Ezekiel Elliot, I think he is going to have a huge game against Michigan. I say that because Ohio State spreads you out to run the ball inside. They’ll put three receivers out there and an H-back or two receivers, however, they’re going to spread you and keep eight guys in the box offensively to your six. They’ll double and chip up to those linebackers, have a little zone reads and that’s how Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde were able to do what they were doing. I’m expecting Urban Meyer to spread Greg Mattison out and force him to keep two safeties high to stop the deep ball and leave six men in the box for eight guys and Ohio State could potentially get five or six yards per carry in the first half.”
Another aspect of Michigan’s defensive strategy today will likely be using its offense to play defense. In other words, run the football, bleed the clock, and limit Ohio State’s offensive possessions. It’s not a ridiculous strategy when taking account a Buckeye rush defense that has been porous at times, including the last two games where they’ve surrendered over 200 yards on the ground in each.
“(Defense) is their Achilles heel,” said Clarke. “They just continue to give up yards, give up big plays and that’s kind of been there MO. They’re probably going to live with that because Ohio State’s offense is so good. The defense has allowed teams like Indiana to stay in the football game, Michigan State as well. They do just enough on defense to be able to get the job done. For whatever reason, they’re having their problems. Their defensive line took a hit as the season went along. Noah Spence was suspended for the year and he just lost his appeal that came out last night. So he’s a no-go for the Michigan game and for bowl season or Big Ten Championship game. They still have Adolphus Washington, they still have Michael Bennett up front and the other big man too was just named a finalist for the Bednarik Award, Joey Bosa. He is just a sack machine, a tackle for loss machine. He does not have an off week. He just consistently produces no matter who the opponent is. It is somebody that Michigan is going to definitely have to look out for. A little bit better I think in the secondary than they had. They’ve got an emerging cornerback, emerging safety there, but Michigan is going to have to play its. A game. They’re going to have to execute. They’re going to have to probably try to do some reversals, and I’m not talking about a reverse, but when Ohio State starts to load or starts to blitz on one side, they’ve got to go to the opposite side where the numbers are the least and then have plays happen. That means Devin Funchess has got to have his best game of the year on Saturday. He just absolutely has to have it. He’s got to be able to make plays, whether it is to hurdle, get around, and make catches. Do something against this Ohio State defense when the opportunity arises. I think you rightly pointed out, limit their possessions. How do you limit their possession, well you don’t do it with a quick strike offense. You do it by snapping the ball with four seconds left on the play clock and slowly making yards and first downs, much like Stanford did against Oregon last year. If you remember that, Stanford just ate up the clock. Went something like 16/19 on third down conversions, that’s what they’re going to need to do. Hold Ohio State’s possession to maybe nine or 10.”
Assuming the Michigan offense doesn’t shoot itself in the foot, there is a chance for them to accomplish being methodical
“I think what they could probably do well offensively is use the screen or draw, some type of play-action… misdirection kind of offense, where you use bootleg action, bring the backside guy into the flats,” said Ray. “Ohio State’s front four I think is too good for Michigan just to line up and try to pound the ball and the front four is not going to let Devin Gardner just drop back into a five step drop, scan the field, and go through his progressions. I expect to see Devin Gardner run the ball a lot more on quarterback designed draws and try to slow down the defense front with screens and draws. I think Ohio State is susceptible to that. I don’t think Michigan has the speed to get vertical on Ohio State in the secondary. I don’t think the quarterback will have time to scan the field and find Devin Funchess or whoever else he is trying to throw the ball too. So Nussmeier is going to have to get creative. When you see what Indiana did. Indiana has an NFL running back who can go 70 and 90 yards on the fastest team in this conference. Michigan doesn’t have that potential to hit a 90 yard homerun and make that game close. Michigan to me is never one play away, so they’re going to have to dial up a game plan that moves the chains and keeps that other team off the field. They can’t turn it over.”