It’s time that time of the year again, time for one of the most historic rivalry battles in college football to take place, as the No. 3 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes travel to Ann Arbor to face-off against their rival, the Michigan Wolverines. Now normally this would be a game, where most fans would debate who is the better team and who will come out victorious. Unfortunately that isn’t the case this year for most fans this year.
Mainly because the Wolverines have struggled all season long especially their last few games, while the Buckeyes have demolished mostly all of their opponents. Now that isn’t to say that the Wolverines have no chance of winning because at the end of the day, this is still a rivalry game and you can bet both teams will give it their all. Plus no team is unbeatable. However, for the Wolverines to win they will have to follow certain steps to come victorious, starting with the offense.
Offensively, the Wolverines must step up in every aspect if they have any hope of beating Ohio State. It all starts with the offensive line giving quarterback Devin Gardner time in the pocket and opening up holes for the run game. If the line can be productive they may have a chance.
However, if the offensive line does their part, the rest of the Wolverine offense must be prepared to do their part, starting with the run game. The Wolverines must run the ball early and often, more importantly they must run the effectively. Running the ball won’t necessarily be easy seeing that the Buckeyes only allow opponents to rush for 95 rushing yards per game. Nonetheless, the run game doesn’t need to be dominant, they need the run game to offer balance. Running the ball, takes some much-needed pressure off the passing game to move the chains and helps with the Wolverines third down inefficiencies. It also helps the Wolverines to control the clock and keep the Buckeyes power house offense off the field. I would also suggest that the Wolverines continue switching it up at running back, definitely use Fitzgerald Toussaint but also continue using De’Veon Smith and Derrick Green since they have had some form of success late this season when running the ball.
Which leads me to the passing game and when it comes the passing game it all starts with quarterback Devin Gardner. He has struggled all season long with accuracy issues only completing 58 percent of his passes but his worst flaw is his decision-making. While he has thrown 17 touchdowns this season, he has also thrown 11 interceptions. Going into this game, he must make good decisions with the ball and take what the defense gives him. I understand that the offensive line is horrible and he barely has consistent targets to throw to besides wide receiver Jeremy Gallon and tight end Devin Funchess but that’s no excuse to force passes and turn the ball over. Overall, Gardner must make the right reads and do his best to get the ball out of his quickly and allow his receivers to make plays after the catch. If there is nothing there, I challenge him to tuck the ball and force the Buckeye defense to make a play in the open field. Now don’t misunderstand what I am saying, I don’t want Gardner running the ball a lot in this game but at times I think that he should run the ball and challenge the defense.
Ultimately for this Wolverine offense to be successful, offensive coordinator Al Borges must make some much-needed adjustments. At this point, we all know the Wolverines offensive line is horrible which gives Gardner limited time in the pocket. So I look for Al Borges to call short and intermediate passes such as slants, draws, curls even screens and trust the receivers to make plays after the catch. He can’t afford to call these long passing plays because the receivers have trouble getting separation from the defender plus Gardner doesn’t receive enough time in the pocket for the play to develop. So again, he should do his best to call short and intermediate passing play and if this scheme is successful, it will hopefully open up some deep threat opportunities but only if the short and intermediate scheme is successful first. Borges must also stick to the run and make changes in the backfield with the running backs when needed. So whether the run game is successful or not, he must run the ball to offer balance and not become one-dimensional.
Defensively, the Wolverines will have their hands full but I believe their best bet is to make the Buckeyes one-dimensional and to bend but not break. When it comes to making the Buckeyes one-dimensional, it all starts with containing or at least slowing down the run game which the Wolverines are capable of doing. While quarterback Braxton Miller has improved, this offense still is based on running back Carlos Hyde. So the Wolverines must slow him down from the start. Hyde is a very physical running back who wears down defenses, so the defensive line must be able to control the line of scrimmage so the linebackers can come into the backfield and make plays. However, Hyde is very physical, so the Wolverines can’t afford to be wimpy tacklers in this game, they must wrap up and finish all tackles to slow him down.
If the Wolverines are able to slow him down, now they are forcing Miller to beat them through the air. Now that won’t be easy since the Wolverines secondary has allowed the average quarterback to look like Tom Brady this season but this is where the bend but don’t break method comes in. While the Wolverines may not be able to stop Miller and his receiving core for the entire, they must be able to execute and force a few stops. To do this they must get some form of pressure on Miller, against Northwestern he was easily flustered when pressured so the Wolverines must do the same. However, the secondary along with the rest of the defense must be prepared to do their part and make plays on the ball when Miller does make mistakes with the ball. Overall if the Wolverines can force the Buckeyes into a few three and outs or force them to settle for a few field goals instead of touchdowns, they may have a chance to win.
There is no doubt that Michigan is the underdog in this game but that doesn’t mean they can’t win this game. Ohio State is a talented team but they have shown their flaws all season long, it’s just up to Michigan to take advantage of those flaws and make the right adjustments with their own flaws. If the defense can get a few stops or force a few turnovers, the offense must be prepared to capitalize on the defense’s success and do their part. If they execute on everything I said above, the Wolverines can win the game.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com