Game Thoughts: Michigan

It wasn't easy and the final score isn't an accurate portrayal of the game with Michigan, but once again Ohio State found a way to win Saturday. Who stood out for the Buckeyes in victory?

- The loss of J.T. Barrett is heartbreaking in a lot of ways, mostly for the player himself, because he was such a feel-good story and an easy player to root for. He is also a great quarterback, and only going to get better and better. It's impossible for me to see Barrett leaving Ohio State without a Heisman trophy. His season is over, but this might have been the best quarterback play I've ever seen at Ohio State in a lot of years of watching the team.

- The best part of this Ohio State team is that the whole is greater than the individual parts. There's just no way their NFL teams are giving back Mewhort, Linsley and Norwell for Boren, Baldwin and Price. Not a chance. And while Mike Thomas and Corey Smith are decent players, they aren't ready to be NFL starters like Philly Brown is. Zeke Elliott is a man, but not quite Carlos Hyde just yet. But this offense is better.

- Defensively, things aren't real good right now and haven't been for a while. The stats aren't pretty. But when this group needs a stop, or a pick, or a fumble, they seem to be able to come up with it. Would the Steelers rather have Darron Lee over Ryan Shazier today? Please. How about Denver? They giving you Roby back for Eli Apple today? Not a chance. This team is better collectively than they are individually. They are a team in so many ways more than last year, without the individual stars.

- I hate awards and stats and that BS. I like wins. I have no idea who has won coach of the year in the conference or nationally, and do not care. But it's hard to imagine one team being better coached than Ohio State this year. They are a young team, and they started the year poorly, and things could have spiraled downward after Virginia Tech. Urban Meyer and his staff deserve a ton of credit this year, and guiding this team to where they are today just shows once again that coaching matters in college football. It matters greatly.

- Where do they go from here? Can they beat Wisconsin? That answer is absolutely YES. Will they beat Wisconsin? That's going to require a week's worth of thought for me. I see this as a dead even game. I haven't seen the Las Vegas line yet, but I would make this a "pick" game and go from there.

- I know everyone will have Cardale Jones as THE key figure this week, and I get that totally. They will have to scale back the offense under Jones, because he cannot do what Barrett does, but Ohio State can devise a plan that gives Jones a chance at success.

- To me, the key is Chris Ash. He was brought to Ohio State to fix this defense, and the results have been mixed at best. EVERYONE is running on Ohio State in the past month, and if that trend continues Melvin Gordon will make the numbers add up as fast as the national debt accumulates. Michigan controlled the ball yesterday, something they could not do against Miami of Ohio or Maryland. Indiana moved the ball on Ohio State, yet couldn't score 21 on hapless Purdue yesterday. THAT HAS TO CHANGE. And quickly.

- Ohio State will not be able to win a shootout with Cardale Jones if it comes down to matching score for score. He's not J.T. Barrett, nor is it fair to expect him to be. If the game unfolds like last year's Clemson game, Ohio State will suffer the same ending. If they get stuck 17-0 like they did in last year's title game, they will lose once again.

- The defense MUST set the tone and slow down Gordon, and then make Stave beat them through the air. If he turns into Peyton Manning once again like he did against Ohio State last year for a half, you live with that. But you make the lesser player beat you, not the star. This is the Bill Belichick playbook: Never let the star beat you. Make a role player be a star to beat you. And it's a great philosophy.

- It all starts with the defensive line, and while they're good, they have to play better than they have recently. At this point, the linebackers are who they are. Same with Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell. Neither group is real strong against the run. But guys like Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett must step up and be great this week against Wisconsin, not just good. Great.

- For the Michigan game, it was sort of a strange game plan not seeing the ball go to the playmakers like Devin Smith and Jalin Marshall, but at least Corey Smith had a few moments. Cardale Jones can throw it a long way, and Devin can run a long way in a hurry, so look for him over the top of the Badger defense. Jalin coming around on the jet-sweep is doable this week as well. I do not see Cardale going through progressions and finding his third receiver, as that's not his game.

- Zeke Elliott has gotten so good over the second half of the season, and he is one of the team MVP's, without question. He does so many things that contribute to winning football. He's a very smart football player, and he brings a lot more to the table than just running the football. He is more of an Eddie George type than Hyde, but Zeke could be huge against Wisconsin and could run for 200 large ones. He did so many positive things against Michigan that he deserves a lot of credit for the win.

- The offensive line play has been stunning to me, and they deserve a lot of credit for the successful season. They were good against Michigan once again, even when J.T. was struggling early in the game. Again, this also goes to Ed Warriner and the coaching this team receives. Never saw this group being this good after the first two games, and they deserve a lot of praise.

- Looking forward, can Ohio State make the final-four with an ugly win over Wisconsin? If Cardale gacks it up, will the committee put them in over Baylor or TCU? There's just no way to answer that, but I think Florida State and Oregon are both very vulnerable this week. I also think Ohio State winning, even ugly, brings a certain Cinderella aspect into play that makes them a great national story as the big underdog.

- Ohio State is usually perceived as a "big-hat, no-cattle" type of team, one that beats everyone in their bad league, and then shrinks on the big stage and gets killed by Florida and LSU. Fair or not, that has been the national definition the past decade or so. The loss of Braxton Miller and the loss of J.T. Barrett now has Ohio State as the lovable underdog nationally, and I think a win over Wisconsin not only gets them in the playoff, but will make them the sentimental favorite across the country.

- But before anyone gets to that point Ohio State must beat a darn good Wisconsin team. Will be looking closely at that matchup all week, and will have a prediction by Friday.

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