Ohio State Secondary Ready to Defend Michigan Receivers
It is a stretch to concoct a scenario where Michigan upsets No. 1 Ohio State on Saturday, but if that's going to happen there has to be a foundation upon which the Wolverines will build their surprise.
The Buckeyes (11-0) are better across the board than their rivals. The Big Ten statistics say -- well, actually, shout -- as much.
There's not a team offensive or defensive category in which Michigan (9-2) is ranked higher than OSU, and in most of those areas the margin is either decisive or discouraging, depending on your rooting loyalty.
- Ohio State scores 16 more points and allows almost six fewer per game than Michigan.
- Ohio State gains 130 yards per-game more and allows 50 yards per-game less than the Wolverines.
Of the eight team categories on offense and defense in the conference, OSU leads the league in six, is second in rushing defense and third in passing offense.
Michigan ranks immediately behind second to Ohio State in only three areas, compared to the rest of the league. Two of those (total defensive yards allowed, passing yards allowed) aren't really close, but passing offense is the notable exception.
The Wolverines average 247.5 yards per-game to OSU's 248.3.
That's the likeliest place to put your maize-and-blue upset hopes -- on the backs of a talented receiving corp of Ronnie Bell, Nico Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones.
"They can do it all," Ohio State safety Jordan Fuller said. "They have guys with great hands that can go up and get the ball. Also, when they have the ball in their hands, they can do something with it. They can attack you every which way. That's something you have to be prepared for."
Big Ten statistical category
Ohio State (rank/ypg)
That presumes quarterback Shea Patterson will have time to throw in the face of Ohio State's pass rush that is far more than just Chase Young, although he's often enough.
Young's 16.5 sacks are a new school record, but the Buckeyes lead the nation with 47 sacks and have at least one from 15 different players.
Every element of defense keys off the other, so it's hard to say whether OSU is such a great pass coverage team because of its rush or because of its defensive backs.
Both help each other, of course, but while Young gets the adulation, the Buckeyes secondary could prove itself second to none should it get the chance to go toe-to-toe with Alabama, LSU or Clemson in the College Football Playoff.
Cornerbacks Jeffrey Okudah, Damon Arnette and Shaun Wade all start, with Fuller completing the defensive backfield.
Wade handles the slot against three-wide looks like Michigan features, although OSU's Friday morning injury report listed Wade as a game-time decision for Saturday.
If he can't go, his role would fall to Cameron Brown or Sevyn Banks, both of whom have played well with the snaps they've received in OSU's numerous blowouts this season.
The Buckeyes employ can employ three cornerbacks and one safety because of the coverage skills of linebacker Pete Werner, who labeled his effort Saturday in a win over Penn State and its accomplished tight end, Pat Frieremuth, the best he's played in his career.
Okudah is a likely Top 15 pick in the April draft as a junior eligible.
Arnette is a second- or third-day selection who will fill a nickel role in the NFL.
Wade might return next year, but as a third-year sophomore can also leave school and has rocketed up draft boards with his performance all season.
His interception two weeks ago at Rutgers, where he tipped the ball to himself and then came down with it, exhibited the exact ball awareness and athleticism that will make him an interesting evaluation when he submits his name for draft feedback.
Right now, though, there's a game to play against Michigan and its wide receiver corp, as well as the Big Ten title game and, likely, the Playoff thereafter.
"We're definitely looking forward to it," said Fuller, a two-time captain who led the team in tackles last year and is third this year. "After looking at the film and knowing them from previous years, they're definitely a talented group. We'll have our hands full with them, but I'm confident in our group as well."
Fuller iced OSU's win in Ann Arbor two years ago with an interception. Michigan had possession with 2:40 left, down just 24-20, but quarterback John O'Korn badly overthrew his receiver and Fuller made the easy catch.
Last year, Fuller intercepted Shea Patterson three plays after OSU blocked a punt for a touchdown. That set up another Buckeyes score that landed the knockout punch in an eventual 62-39 runaway.
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