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Know The Enemy: It's All On The Line Against Ohio State

Michigan is a home dog as they prepare to host Ohio State.

Michigan and Ohio State are both 10-1 and ready to punch a ticket to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game. Ohio State is favored by just seven points in The Big House tomorrow despite blowing out two good teams over the past two weeks. 

Brendan Gulick covers Ohio State football for Buckeyes Now and has been doing so for four years. He's an expert on all things Ohio State and really gave some great insight into the roster and expectations for tomorrow's game. Michigan fans won't like his prediction, but the info he provided is as good as it gets.

Team Strength

Ohio State’s biggest strength is their explosiveness on offense. C.J. Stroud emerged as a Heisman candidate during his first season as a starter and he’s guiding the most prolific offense in college football. The Buckeyes lead the nation in yards per play, yards per game, total offense and scoring offense. True freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson is second in the country in yards per carry and has eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards. Jaxon Smith-Njigba leads the receiving unit with 1,132 yards and six scores. He broke Ohio State’s single-game catches record against Nebraska a few weeks ago. Chris Olave, who last week became the Buckeyes’ all-time leader in touchdown catches, has continued to have a great year. Garrett Wilson, who like Olave is a projected first round pick, is also having an incredible season. The three have combined for nearly 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns.

The Buckeyes are on the verge of becoming just the second team in FBS history to have three 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher.

Team Weakness

Right now, there aren’t many. The defense got off to an extremely rough start to the season, but has been significantly improved. Before Matt Barnes took over play-calling duties, the Buckeyes were ranked 112th in the country in defensive stop rate. Stop rate is a measurement of whether a defense is successful, including how many drives ends in punts, turnovers or a turnover on downs. Since making the change after week 2, the Silver Bullets have gotten stops on 88 of the 112 drives they’ve faced, which is second best in the Big Ten in that stretch. As a team, Ohio State now ranks 13th in the country in stop rate, and if you exclude the first two weeks of the season, they are top 5 nationally over the last 10 weeks. All that is to say that the defense is no longer the liability it was at the beginning of the season.

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If there is one player in particular that has struggled a bit this season, its safety Bryson Shaw. He came on when Josh Proctor suffered a season-ending leg injury early in the year. Shaw has gotten considerably better, but you won’t confuse him with an All-American either.

Three Players To Know

QB C.J. Stroud, No. 7

Stroud is about to make his first start in The Game. He certainly isn’t playing like a redshirt freshman and he’s got a legitimate case for winning the Heisman Trophy … but he’s also never played in an environment like the one he will be in on Saturday. The stats are great, the makeup is great and he’s got a ton of offensive options around him to help move the ball. But he’s got to be at his best on Saturday and he’s going to be under some duress against the best pass rush he’s seen all year.

LB Steele Chambers, No. 22

Chambers is a converted linebacker after playing running back for the Buckeyes last year. The linebacking corps had plenty of question marks coming into the season after graduating four players and with the mid-season transfers from Dallas Gant and K’Vaughan Pope. Chambers has probably cemented himself as the most reliable player in that unit as the season has gone on and he’s playing at a really high level right now. Expect him to fly to the football.

OL Thayer Munford No. 75

Thayer Munford is the only offensive lineman that’s started a game against Michigan before. I know everyone’s eyes are going to be drawn to the skill guys on the outside, and I get that, but this game is going to be won and lost at the line of scrimmage. If either team is going to run the ball effectively and protect their quarterback from a very good opposing defensive front, the offensive line has to play well. Ohio State’s “Block O” recipient this year was Munford, who has one of the most powerful voices in the locker room this year. He chose to pass on the NFL Draft last year for a chance to make one more run with this team, which certainly included a chance to play in this game. Keep your eye on him tomorrow at left guard.

Game Overview/Prediction:

I can see the Buckeyes putting up 50+ points, as they’ve done it pretty regularly this year (and the last two times they’ve played this game). I can also see Michigan controlling the clock a bit with an established rushing attack, keeping Ohio State’s offense off the field. The reality is nobody has had an answer for this offense this year and college football is largely an offensive game. Teams that win the national title nowadays are teams that have elite offenses and very good defenses, not teams with elite defense and capable offenses. Given the Buckeyes’ quick strike capability and how well they’re now playing on the defensive side of the ball, I’m not expecting this to be particularly close. 

Ohio State 45, Michigan 24