Michigan Hopes '68 Magic Solves 62-39 Ohio State Dominance
They are seeing ghosts in Ann Arbor this week and they like it.
The apparitions are 50 years old, and they're whispering encouragement and embracing parallels between what they did a half-century ago and what possibilities await Saturday in Michigan Stadium.
It all sounds so symmetrical, the fact those 1969 Wolverines avenged an embarrassing, 50-14 loss to Ohio State the year before with an epic upset of the seemingly-invincible Buckeyes on the cusp of completing an unbeaten regular season.
And now here comes OSU, ranked No. 2, 11-0 and 9.5-point favorites to win an eighth straight game in the series.
These Wolverines, like their forefathers, are fueled by resurgence since mid-season and a lingering grudge from a 62-39 blowout loss in Columbus last season.
But here's the thing about that awful performance, the most points Michigan ever allowed in regulation of any game in school history and the most yards (567) in four years under head coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive guru Don Brown.
It could have, and probably should have, been worse.
OSU twice drove to the Michigan 2-yard line in the second quarter after its lead had been shaved to 21-19, and both times the Buckeyes settled for field goals.
A touchdown either time, or both times, and we'd be talking about an even uglier flashback.
However scary that memory may be, what Michigan should know is that this edition of the Buckeyes is far more explosive than last year's group and their defense is dramatically better.
OSU quarterback Justin Fields offers a run threat Dwyane Haskins didn't pose. And even though three of Haskins' receivers moved on to the NFL, OSU is no less deep at that position.
Fields has 33 touchdown passes to one interception, and he's scored 10 rushing touchdowns.
Running back J.K. Dobbins has 1,446 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.
His backup, Master Teague, has 751 rushing yards, or 116 more than Michigan's leading rusher, Zach Charbonnet.
That could be dismissed as a factor of Teague racking up numbers against overmatched backups if the truth weren't that he's demonstrably more physical and faster than Charbonnet, Hassan Haskins or Tru Wilson, all of whom share carries.
Michigan has an extremely talented stable of wide receivers, but OSU starts a secondary as deep an any in the country, one that need not cover long with Chase Young and Company collapsing the pocket.
If Michigan's offensive line can block Young and the other talent around him to give Shea Patterson time, and if it can clear space to provide some semblance of a running game against a defense allowing just 91 yards rushing per-game, well, then, maybe an upset is possible.
But how likely is that with a Michigan running game that ranks a woeful eighth in the league?
"We know how big this game is," Michigan guard Ben Bredeson said. "We know what it means to us. Really, we’ve been taking this game personally all year. We’ve been preparing for it since last year. We're very excited to have that chance to go play."
Look, there's no doubt Michigan is a proud program, and its players desire to reverse the fortunes of last season are completely genuine and understandable.
But watching Ohio State continuously run away from the Wolverines' defenders, watching it block a better Michigan defensive line (Chase Winovich) and linebackers (Devin Bush) than the Wolverines have now with an offensive line that wasn't as good in 2018 as it is now...well, a 23-point turnaround just doesn't seem possible.
Of course, Michigan isn't likely foolish enough to try covering OSU man-to-man like it did a year ago. The Wolverines have introduced more zone concepts since mid-season, and Brown is an old head who undoubtedly has some surprise schemes in store for the Buckeyes on Saturday.
Harbaugh said as much on Monday, either for effect or from extreme confidence.
""Everything is possible for this one," Harbaugh said. "Everything we've done. Everything that could be done. Everything that could be changed. Anything that could be added. Don't mind your opponents knowing that. All things are possible."
That's what the ghosts are telling him.
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