College Football Game of the Week: Ohio State vs. Michigan
Rivalry week in the world of college football is back, and, as always, it is one of the best weekends of sports on the calendar. In the 2019 edition of the midwestern rivalry affectionately nicknamed “The Game,” a newly top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes team travels to the Big House with yet another chance to bolster their playoff résumé with a ranked win. Michigan kept things close in the first half in last year’s game at the Horseshoe, but the Buckeyes demolished the Wolverines in the second half, squashing all hopes of a College Football Playoff berth for their bitter rival.
This time around, there’s no playoff spot on the line for the blue and maize, but there’s still plenty to play for. Sitting at No. 13 in the selection committee’s rankings means that an upset win at home against the best team in the nation could potentially vault the Wolverines into a New Year’s Six Bowl. It would also be Jim Harbaugh’s first victory against the Buckeyes since taking the helm of the Michigan program, and his inability to best Urban Meyer when he was still coaching has largely defined his tenure to this point. After losses to Wisconsin and Penn State put a damper on Michigan’s season way back in October, a victory over hated border-state rival Ohio State would end the season on a positive note.
With that all said, actually pulling off the upset is going to be a tall task. We just saw a Penn State team that the committee favors slightly more than Michigan keep the game interesting by making the Buckeyes pay for turnovers, which is a strategy that the Wolverines will also have to employ if they hope to win. Michigan has been good but not great in this area and will need to force Justin Fields into mistakes and take the ball away from him and that talented offense. The big challenge facing the Michigan defense is choosing which Ohio State strength to key in on and which one to concede. Do you allow Fields to gash you through the air, or do you limit him to scrambles (which he can still be effective at in open space)? Do you key in on J.K. Dobbins and shut down inside runs? The best strategy for Michigan might be forcing a talented but still young Fields to beat the defense with his arm. Allowing his athleticism to get the best of the defense is going to make things hard for the Wolverines, so the best that they can hope for is that Fields folds when challenged to make big-time throws.
A big matchup to watch: the Michigan offensive line versus “Superman” Chase Young and his fellow “Avengers” (as Joel Klatt incorrectly named them during the Penn State broadcast) on the defensive line. Young returned from suspension and did what he always does: wreak havoc and give the quarterback fits. Michigan has been able to stifle proficient pass-rushing units this season, which included limiting Penn State to a single sack. Limiting the damage that Young can do to quarterback Shea Patterson will help Michigan keep pace against Ohio State’s offense.
In the end, Ohio State is just too talented to lose this game. The Wolverines will battle into the early portion of the fourth quarter, but a Buckeyes team with immense talent on every unit will eventually win a physical battle of attrition.
Prediction: Ohio State 30, Michigan 20
Jeremy Ganes is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.