Three Things To Watch: Michigan Win The Battle At Quarterback

MichaelSpath

THE Game is 60 minutes long: Duh, right? 

Michigan hasn't always played a full 60 minutes against the Buckeyes, though. Over the last four years, U-M has led (2016) and shared a halftime lead (2017). It trailed by just four in 2015 and by five in 2018. Yet only once have the Wolverines lost by a touchdown or less in those four meetings - 2016, when they fell 30-27 in double overtime. 

Overall, Michigan has been outscored 106-46 in the second half by Ohio State since 2015, tight games becoming blowout losses to OSU. 

In its biggest games this year, U-M played 60 minutes of its best football just once, when the Maize and Blue hosted Notre Dame, and beat the Irish 45-14, outscoring the Blue and Gold in the first, second and fourth quarters. 

Michigan lost at Wisconsin and Penn State because it got dominated for long stretches - in Madison for three quarters, in State college for a half. 

Ohio State is ranked No. 1 nationally for a reason. The Buckeyes feature, arguably, the best offense and best defense in college football. They have lost only one quarter all season, last week to Penn State in the third when PSU ran off 17 unanswered and outscored OSU 17-7 overall. That wasn't enough, though, as Ohio State won the rest of the game 21-0 for a 28-17 victory.

To suggest Michigan will win three quarters against the Buckeyes would be silly, but the Wolverines can't lose three quarters either. This has to be the best game U-M has played all year and the most complete game it has played against Ohio State in the Jim Harbaugh era to pull off the upset. 

Fields Day: Arguably the best quarterback in college football not named Joe Burrows -- he ranks fourth in the country in pass efficiency rating at 190.26 -- OSU sophomore Justin Fields has a 33:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has proven to be a dynamic if not overwhelming passer (his 252 attempts ranks just 76th, largely because he rarely plays in the second half). 

He's also a terrific runner, and is without a doubt the most dangerous quarterback Michigan has played all season. But ... he's never played in THE Game. He's never played a ranked team on the road. He's never played in weather this cold. He faced adversity for, really, the first time all year last weekend against Penn State and had two fumbles (though overall was a plus for the Scarlet and Gray).  

We've seen plenty of quarterbacks tighten up in big games, especially away from home, and the hope is that Fields will finally prove mortal. Michigan's defense, led by its relentless and big-play front seven, has the type of athletes to harass Fields, putting him into situations he hasn't seen much of this year - long third-downs, no room to run, tighter windows to throw into. 

If he rises up, then he cements himself as one of the best in this rivalry's history. But if the Wolverines can limit OSU's top performer, it could be a field day for Michigan.  

Game Of My Life: Every Friday, we profile a former Wolverine great about his career and the best game he ever played. Today, that was former U-M signal-caller Brian Griese, whose best game was actually against Washington State in the Rose Bowl. His three performances against Ohio State? Meh. 

Griese completed 9 of 18 attempts for 103 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions in 1995's 31-23 upset of No. 2 Ohio State. A year later, another upset of the second-ranked Buckeyes: 8 of 14 for 120 yards and a touchdown, albeit the game-winning 69-yard touchdown pass to Tai Streets. In 1997, a No. 1 vs. No. 4 matchup, Griese completed 14 of 25 for 147 yards without a touchdown or a pick in Michigan's 20-14 win. 

In total, 31 of 57 (54.5%) for 370 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Not exactly game-changing performances. 

But that was then and this is now, and in today's college football the quarterback has to be the difference-maker in the biggest games. Michigan hasn't had the better QB performance since 2013, when Devin Gardner outslung Braxton Miller (to the tune of 451 yards and four TDs) but still lost. 

In the time since, Ohio State has had consistently better quarterback play. That might not change tomorrow, but for Michigan to win, senior Shea Patterson likely has to play the best game of his career. 

What does that look like? 400 yards and five touchdowns? 

Probably not if the weather forecasts hold serve (rain, potentially wintry mix of freezing rain) but Patterson needs to be efficient, he needs to protect the football and he needs to continue making plays, getting the ball quickly into the hands of his talented receivers in open space to allow them the opportunity to pick up yards after the catch. 

Patterson has been incredible the past two weeks, throwing for 750 yards with nine touchdowns and just one interception (on his final pass of the Indiana game). He has changed the narrative about him in recent games and now has a chance to create a legacy. Will he become the first QB since Denard Robinson in 2011 to beat Ohio State? For the Wolverines to win, he has to be special. 

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