Behind Enemy Lines: Ohio State Buckeyes

We’re closing in on ‘The Game’ this Saturday when Michigan travels to Columbus to take on Ohio State.

The Wolverines and Buckeyes both hold an 11-0 record and the winner will head to Indianapolis to play for the Big Ten title and a chance to get into the College Football Playoff.

Last season, Michigan defeated Ohio State in Ann Arbor, 42-27. The Wolverines have lost eight-straight games in Columbus. The last time the maize and blue won there was back in 2000, the year Michigan captured a Big Ten Championship.

We know that Ohio State is a really good team and it will give Michigan all it wants on Saturday. But to get to know the Buckeyes a little better, we talked with Phil Harrison of Buckeyes Wire to get to really know this year’s Ohio State team.

We talked about the emotions going into the game, former Michigan players that haunt Buckeyes fans, and so much more.

How is Ohio State feeling going into this top-five matchup?

If I have the pulse of this one from an Ohio State perspective, I’d say there’s a little nervousness surrounding this one. After last year’s physical domination by Michigan, and some signs of OSU not being able to run the ball this year, there’s an apprehension that the Buckeyes may not be tough enough in this one either. There is still confidence from many, but I’d say the win last year has knocked the inevitable feeling out of Buckeye nation.

Ohio State's mindset after Michigan snapped its win-streak last season?

There is a definite revenge factor here and it’s probably not even to the level you’ve heard of in the media. Just like his previous two predecessors, Ryan Day is very good at making life in the Ohio State program all about Michigan 365 days a year. There are reminders up about The Game from last season and he has said that the loss last year was a big motivating factor in the offseason and through the season. It’s always a rivalry and you have to wonder how much more can be put into something that’s already elevated to the level that it is, but last year is definitely on the minds of everyone — from the coaches, to the players, to even the support personnel.

We hear all about the Ohio State offense but the Buckeyes' defense appears to be much better than last year. What is the strong suit of the Ohio State defense? Biggest weakness?

The strong suit of the defense this year is the ability to disguise coverages and be aggressive out of it. Too often last season, the defense was a read-and-react bunch but not this season. Jim Knowles has brought an attacking mindset that tries to force offenses into mistakes and negative plays as opposed to just sitting back and “playing solid defense.” By far, the biggest weakness has been the penchant to give up the big play through the air. The scheme and structure of the defense calls for DBs to be in 1:1 situations a lot and there’s been a problem making those 50/50 plays and giving up the big one vertically down the field.

How to slow down the Buckeyes' offense?

I think the template has already been sent, and it’s much of what we saw last season when Michigan put it out there for everyone. First and foremost, you have to start by having a ball control running attack on offense to limit how often the OSU offense is on the field. From there, if you can take away the running game and make the Buckeyes try to get everything through the air, it limits the effectiveness and balance to where it’s much easier to then call defenses to attack and put pressure on C.J. Stroud. If the Wolverines can rinse and repeat what they did last year, you can’t stop OSU’s offense totally — especially through the air — but you can slow it down enough to dictate tempo and win by way of a gut punch.

Last season, Michigan dominated the trenches on both sides of the ball against Ohio State. Is the battle in the trenches the biggest worry for Ohio State going into this game?

As far as the battle in the trenches go, yes, I’d say I’ve touched on that already and it’s by far the biggest worry in this one. Ohio State made a lot of changes on both sides of the ball (not just defense) because of what happened in Ann Arbor last season and having a tough mindset was the theme of the offseason. There have been signs and moments where this team seems to have what it takes to win a Donnybrook style of game, but there have also still been some leaks in the dam if you will. What has occurred so far this season doesn’t mean anything if Ohio State can’t be tough and do what’s needed in the game Saturday against Michigan.

This is the second year in a row that Harbaugh and Michigan will have at least 11 wins. Do you think this rivalry will go back-and-forth for years to come now that it looks as if the Wolverines are actually ‘back’.

I don’t know that I’m ready to say that Michigan is all the way back yet, but there are definitely some signs that the rivalry will be more even going forward. It seems like Harbaugh kind of fell into some temptation to change the way that he likes to run a program to fit the college game, but has now gone back to his brand of a hard-nosed, gritty culture. Now that the identity is set, if he can keep recruiting to what’s needed to get that done, Ohio State fans aren’t going to like where this thing is headed. It’s very important to keep that going though, that Michigan wins on Saturday to send that message to recruits and the college football world. Lose, and the narrative of “well, you have to be able to win one every once in a while,” will be deafening.

Is there any certain Michigan player from year’s past that haunts Ohio State fans in their sleep?

Oh yes. The two at the top are probably the two every Michigan fan can think of. Both Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson are at the very top of the lists. Not surprisingly, they both won one Heisman Trophies largely because of what they did against the Buckeyes and it’s a little hard seeing them both on national college football shows every week.

What do you believe happens on Saturday?

I’m not going to go all homer here. For the first time in year, I feel very unsettled about this one and genuinely have no idea what to expect. Despite what many fans that have the OSU fight song as their ringtone will tell you, Michigan is a big, big obstacle and a problem this year. The Wolverines are for real and this should be one whale of a game. Both teams have some injury concerns, but I think the game being in Columbus will be a huge lift. I hope Blake Corum is healthy and so are the players dinged up for OSU so that we see both at their best. I got Ohio State in a close one for the ages with a final score of 31-27.

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire