COLUMBUS, Ohio — Six weeks ago, Matt Leinart needed to see a little bit more from Michigan football as it prepared to face Penn State. It was something of a ‘prove it’ moment for the Wolverines.
Then the Wolverines proved it.
However, it is a different animal facing Penn State at home in the middle of the season than it is to go to Columbus and beat Ohio State in its own stadium. In fact, Michigan hasn’t done so since 2000.
WolverinesWire caught back up with the former USC quarterback and Fox Sports analyst on the Big Noon Kickoff set on Friday to get his thoughts about The Game, what Michigan needs to do to win, if the Wolverines can escape with a victory if Blake Corum is limited or unavailable, and more.
Here is everything he told us.
Has J.J. McCarthy regressed or done what Michigan has asked him to do?
Yeah, I think it’s more that. He’s done everything they’ve asked him to do. They’ve put in the kind of the game in the hands of the run game and the offensive line and that’s who they are. They’re kind of going back to that physical-style run game that Jim Harbaugh has been known for.
I will say this: this game will come down to, I think, if he can make enough plays in the pass game. We’ve been kind of saying all year, they haven’t had to do it. J.J. has done a great job. He’s getting better. Last couple games, he’s struggled, the completion percentage has been down. This is gonna be a challenge — on the road, 100,000 people in this type of game. And especially with that, just injuries that they’re dealing with on the offensive side of the ball. There’s no doubt that he has the talent to do it. I think his legs could be a big factor in this game, because he’s a great runner. But yeah, he’s done extremely well, to this point, his team’s undefeated, that’s all you can ask for now. He’s gonna have to rise probably above the plate and take the team on his back. Which isexciting. It’s a good opportunity.
What's going to be the biggest challenge for Michigan?
Well, a couple of things. I mean, one, the crowd noise is gonna — it’s always huge in this game. It was a factor in Michigan’s win last year. So how do you negate that? You’ve got to start fast, got to take them out of it. That’s hard to do. And then I think the biggest thing, too, is just the health of the running backs — Blake Corum, Donovan Edwards, those guys. Blake Corum is a legit Heisman candidate. He’s a real deal. And again, he may be OK to go. He may not be — we don’t know, at this point right now. Donovan Edwards has been nursing an injury. So you don’t have those guys. It’s just tough. Because if you go back to Illinois last week, they really struggled moving the ball when Corum went out. They had the opening-drive touchdown, and then they had field goals the rest of the game. So Corum is an X-factor. If he’s healthy enough to go, we’ll find out, then they’ll be in the game. If not, it’s just gonna be a challenge for them because their offense isn’t built on throwing the football.
If Corum can't play, can Michigan still win?
Of course they can. They’ve got, in my opinion, the best offensive line in the country. They’ve got a great defense. They’ve got still talented players. So like, yeah, of course they can win this game, anything can happen. It’s just when your identity is running the football, being physical, and you’re not sure how that’s gonna look going into this game, it’s a challenge, but those boys will be ready. I mean, J.J. is — he’s played in big games this year. Played Penn State. He’s played in Indy, he’s done well. But he’s going to be asked to do more, I think, in this game, and ‘Can he?’ would be the question.
Can you gain any transitive property thoughts off of both teams' performances vs. Penn State?
I mean, it’s tough. You know, obviously Michigan played them at home, Ohio State went on the road to Penn State. But both — I mean, Penn State played Ohio State really tough. But playing in that stadium, on the road. I mean, homefield is a real thing. It’s just two different matchups.
It’s so funny when you tals about common opponents and all that, like — kind of throw that out the window in these games, in a rivalry game. These two teams hate each other. They know each other better than anybody, they know what type of game it’s going to be. They know the style. Ohio State is going to want to throw the ball all over the yard, Michigan wants to run it. Both play really good defense, so like it just comes down to a couple plays here and there. And obviously, the concern again for Michigan is just the health and Ohio State’s dealing with a lot of health issues at their running back spot, too. So like, both teams are kind of limping into this game, which I think makes it even more intriguing.
Thoughts on Michigan's defense vs. the Ohio State offense
Michigan, one of their strengths has been up front with Morris and Okie and those guys. they’ve been really good and there hasn’t been a drop-off from a year ago. I mean, Hutchinson’s a beast but collectively, that group has been outstanding, I think they are second in the Big Ten in sacks. That is the game.
Ohio State isn’t a great running team. They’ve had some gains, but they’re not a physical, run the football between the tackles — just not their DNA this year. If you can pressure Stroud and you can just get him off his timing because he’s as good as it gets when he when he’s clean in the pocket, he’s struggled at times against pressure. His completion percentage drops significantly. That’s how you make plays. That’s it. It literally comes down to that. If they can’t get to him and he can get the ball out, it’ll be a long day for that defense.
Michigan win the game if...
Michigan wins the game if they start fast and get up early and take the crowd out of it. And they also win the game if they can establish the run early, whether it’s Corum, Edwards, Stokes, whoever it is. If they can run the ball effectively, no matter who’s in there, they’re going to win the game.