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As an Ohio State football fan, we’re sure you follow the Michigan program well. After all, both teams typically look to see what the other is doing throughout the course of the season because of the historical rivalry between the two college football behemoths.
However, as of late, the Wolverine program has been declawed to an extent, even after Jim Harbaugh was hired to walk on Lake Michigan and come turn water into wine. Instead, he’s turned victories into “whine.”
But this year feels different in a way. And frankly, it is cut from a different cloth compared to recent seasons for the Wolverines. They are having quite the year up in Ann Arbor, winning every challenge before them aside from a three-point loss to rival Michigan State that should have probably gone in the win column.
So yeah, it’s been quite the turnaround from the last couple of seasons, and that means there are some things to digest as to why this Michigan team has been able to be an improved bunch with a lot of big goals still out in front of it. We’ll do our best to highlight five things that have gone into TTUN turning “The Game” into one that has a lot at stake in 2021for both teams.
The defense has been spectacular
This game is going to be crazy! https://t.co/hmoQYg0UpG
— WolverinesWire (@wolverineswire) November 23, 2021
It’s all started with the defense for Michigan. Gone is Dr. Blitz, Don Brown, and his unwillingness to change a whole lot when the Wolverines matched up with Ohio State. The 1:1 man-to-man defense left the OSU skill players with matchups they could take advantage of in the second level of the defense. Michigan couldn’t stay with the skill and speed of the OSU wideouts, and as a result, things got very, very ugly the last couple of meetings.
This year, new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald has changed things up. The Wolverines play a lot more zone and read and react a lot better as a collective unit. The result is a unit that is giving up just 16.3 points a game, good for seventh in the country.
Ohio State may have to work harder to score points and move the ball against this defense than the one it faced in 2018 and 2019.
The Michigan offense is more balanced than you think
Michigan RB Hassan Haskins tops 1,000 season rushing yards https://t.co/iuxWyjnEVz
— SanDaDon (@SanDaDon) November 20, 2021
Yes, Michigan likes to run the ball. The Wolverines are ranked No. 15 in the country when it comes to rushing yards per game. So, you can bet that Jim Harbaugh and company will try to control the clock and establish the running game as a priority.
But don’t let that lull you to sleep.
This is actually a pretty balanced offense. Obviously, the normal caveats apply here with today’s offenses moving the ball through the air in most cases more than on the ground, but yes, Michigan actually has more passing yards than running yards so far this season (2,525 to 2,402).
Quarterback Cade McNarma has most of that, with 2,142 yards through the air, and he’ll look to take advantage of the OSU secondary on this one with play-action and simple mismatches when he sees them.
OSU will attempt to stop the run first and foremost, but the defense can’t be keyed on that solely.
Michigan's offense is better than you think
Michigan QB Cade McNamara: “I wouldn’t say I’m very concerned about anything. I’d say we’re looking to take advantage of Ohio State. As the week progresses, we’re gonna find ways to do that. I know this offense is going to be very confident.” pic.twitter.com/6McOFqFPPr
— The Silver Bulletin (@tSilverBulletin) November 23, 2021
With the obvious mention that almost every offense can’t compare to what Ohio State is doing these days, the Michigan offense has been very, very good in 2021, and continues to get better. In fact, after last week, the Wolverines are now the No. 2 offense in scoring, and third in yards per game in the Big Ten.
And it’s not just all about stats. Michigan will get yards the tough way and make you pay a price physically. That tends to wear down the defense and keep opposing, explosive offenses off the field.
That’ll be the plan against Ohio State too, but that was also the plan Michigan State had before it got punched in the mouth by a trio of wide receivers and quarterback playing at a very high level.
Michigan has turned things around with an almost entirely new assistant coaching staff
#Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson is ‘fired up’ about the new coaching staff on the defensive side of the ball, calling them the smartest staff he’s been around.
Here’s why and how his role on the defense will be impacted under new DC Mike Macdonald. https://t.co/cbnVCPDMYq
— Isaiah Hole (@isaiahhole) March 2, 2021
It became pretty apparent when Jim Harbaugh signed a new contract with a significantly structured salary reduction during the offseason, that he was asked to make wholesale changes with his assistant coaches. All told, Michigan has a new defensive coordinator, defensive backs coach, safeties coach, running backs coach, quarterbacks coach, and a reassigned offensive line coach. Whew, that’s a lot.
But reports from the players and media out of Ann Arbor point to it re-energizing the program. And to be fair, and to give credit where credit is due, you can’t really argue with the results on the field.
It’s quite amazing too because a lot of the same players are there from last season, one that was a disaster and had many calling for Harbaugh’s head. It’s pretty tough to make changes like that and see an immediate impact and turn around, but that’s exactly what has occurred. It’s a younger staff that seems to relate well with the team, works hard, and has fresh ideas.
That has made all the difference in the world.
Michigan surprisingly has only beaten one currently ranked team so far this season
It really is amazing that Michigan is currently a top-five team in SP+, FPI, Sagarin, PFF and SRS, but the gap between them and Ohio State (No. 2 in all five categories) across the board is equivalent to the gap between Michigan and teams ranked in the 15-20 range.
— Zach Shaw (@_ZachShaw) November 22, 2021
As tough as everyone thought the Big Ten was earlier this year, teams have started to slide a bit. Because of that, Michigan has just one win over a team currently ranked (Wisconsin). That’s right. The Wolverines lost to Michigan State, and every other team they played has no longer got a number next to its name.
File that away for future reference. If Ohio State puts it on Michigan’s chin similar to the last couple of meetings, and like it did to the Spartans last week, you are going to hear that stat parrotted ad nauseum. And rightfully so. I don’t see the same type of game unfolding as what we saw last week, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Beating Ohio State would obviously add another ranked win in there, and a quality one at that. We’ll see if Michigan is up to the task.