By JERAMY STOVER, Sports Editor
The Saturday after Thanksgiving is always special. The two most historic teams in the Big Ten conference square off – Michigan and Ohio State.
But this season is different. There’s more than bragging rights on the line. The winner of this game will most likely head to the college football playoff and if Michigan wins they will go to the Big Ten championship game.
Ohio State on the other hand needs some help. With the Buckeyes losing to Penn State a few weeks ago, they need Michigan State to upset the Nittany Lions to make it to the championship game.
But going to the Big Ten title game plays second fiddle to making the playoffs which a birth to that is essentially on the line.
If you happened to forget about last year’s game, let me remind you. Ohio State walked into the Big House and smacked the Wolverines 42-13. It wasn’t even close. The Wolverines were embarrassed on home turf.
But this year is different – the two teams are different – and the scenery is different. Let’s breakdown the three phases of a football game and see who has the advantage.
Ohio State without question has a better offense than Michigan. I’m not sure it’s even close. The offensive lines are fairly similar, both have some studs but also some questionable guys. But it’s the skill position players where Ohio State has the talent and speed that the Wolverines can’t match. While running backs De’Veon Smith and Chris Evans have done a nice job leading the Wolverines rushing attack, they don’t have the skill that Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel do. Weber is averaging 6.3 yards per carry and Samuel 7.7- those are insane numbers.
The numbers make the offenses look more evenly matched than I think they truly are. Ohio State scores a point and a half more than Michigan per game and averaged just over 40 yards more per game. But the spread offense has given Michigan fits, especially when there is a lot of skill in that offense.
And finally we can’t neglect the fact that John O’Korn will probably start at quarterback for Michigan. There isn’t much indication if Wilton Speight will be healthy enough to play and we saw last week O’Korn was rusty starting his first game in nearly two years. Michigan fans don’t have much faith in O’Korn and I’m not sure I do either to go to Columbus and get the job done.
The advantage on the defensive side of the football has to go to the Wolverines. They are first in many key statistics. They are number one in the country in points allowed per game and total yards allowed per game. They have been fierce throughout the season. The most points they’ve allowed in a game was 28 to Colorado in week two – and 21 of those points came in the first quarter.
While Michigan’s defense as a whole is better than Ohio State’s, their edge containment has been sketchy. The Wolverines have struggled to contain outside rushes and screen passes. With Ohio State’s speed, that can be a problem for Michigan. Luckily for the Wolverines, J.T. Barrett hasn’t been as good throwing the ball as he has running the ball. Ohio State likes to use the read option with Barrett, Weber and Samuels often and that’s where star linebacker Jabrill Peppers could come in handy. Peppers will be utilized close to the line of scrimmage to chase down whomever gets the ball with his lightning speed.
While Ohio State’s kicker Tyler Durban has been more consistent than Michigan’s Kenny Allen this season, the Wolverines have the most blocked punts in the country and I give them the advantage on special teams because of that. Kenny Allen has turned it around since his mid-season woes as place kicker enough so that I have faith in him. Blocking punts can be a game changer and if Michigan can find a way to make one happen, that could be the difference between winning and losing.
We can’t forget about Peppers as punt and kick returner. He’s only had one return touchdown this season when he returned a punt for a score against Colorado, but he’s dangerous every time he has the ball. Again if Peppers can find a way to return a punt or kick for a touchdown, that could be the difference between winning and losing.
Even with two of the phrases going to Michigan, I’m not sure they can actually pull out a victory. Michigan’s offense just hasn’t looked good against tougher teams and I think Ohio State’s offense is going to have some success against that stout Wolverines defense. Even if Speight does play, I don’t think that’ll really matter. I can’t see the Buckeyes scoring less than 21 points and I’m not sure if the Wolverines can score that many.
Ohio State: 24 Michigan: 20