Michigan football and Ohio State each have one more game before they collide on Nov. 26 in Columbus for the regular season finale. Both hope to remain undefeated before then, and certainly, one team will get the opportunity to emerge undefeated after, assuming that both take care of business this next week. But, as we wait for next Saturday, everything is being looked at through the lens of what each team presents en route to The Game.
On Monday morning, Fox Sports’ premier analyst Joel Klatt did a thorough breakdown on his podcast about what he’s seen from the Wolverines. Like most pundits and plaudits out there, Klatt is very high on the maize and blue, but he does still have a few questions about this team. He’s confident that Michigan is a good team, despite the schedule, but there are things he still wants to see. Even so, he isn’t sure that any deficiencies that the Wolverines have would preclude them from beating the Buckeyes in a week and a half.
“So a couple of things for Michigan and listen, we are hurtling towards Nov. 26, right?” Klatt said. “I mean these two teams, they are so good and you have to — and I probably should have done this before talking about Ohio State — when you hear me talk about these two teams, the bar is really high because they have to play each other. And each of them are as good as anybody out there. You know, I think Georgia is No. 1 right now. And then these two teams are right there, right behind. And Ohio State and Michigan, they’re both really good, really good. And so when I’m posing these questions, they are small questions about these teams because they are really good teams. Best team that Michigan has had? Well, I mean, obviously with last year as well, but boy, this one, this one is really good. And let me start there.
“What do I know about Michigan? There’s a couple of things that I know about Michigan. One of them is that their defense is better than I anticipated. So in the offseason, I remember having a lot of discussions with people about Michigan and I said to them, I was like, you know that that was a magical team. It was a magical chemistry. And in particular, some of those defensive players like — there’s a lot to replace on the defensive side of the ball. And I look up and I’m like, ‘Man, this defense in 2022 is a little bit better than last year’s defense,’ and the numbers even bear that out. This is the No. 1 scoring defense and No. 1 total defense in America. This is the No. 4 passing defense in America. They’re really good. And I wasn’t expecting that. So pleasantly surprised. This defense is way better than I anticipated. Think about what they lost. First of all, they lost their coordinator Mike Macdonald, they lost Aidan Hutchinson, first rounder, David Ojabo, should have been a first rounder, wasn’t only because that that Achilles injury. Josh Ross, he led them in tackles, Daxton Hill, he was a first rounder, Brad Hawkins, he was a great leader up there in tackles. That’s a lot to miss. You don’t just replace all of those guys. It’s hard to replace one of those guys, you lose your coordinator and it’s like, ‘Boy, we got to bring in another defensive coordinator.’ And so now, all of a sudden, you enter into the mix, you’ve got Jesse Minter, you’ve got guys like Mike Morris, Mazi Smith, Mike Sainristil. The entire defensive line, by the way, getting the job done, and they’ve gotten even better. This is the No. 1 defense in America statistically. I tell you what, they get after the quarterback. I did not anticipate Michigan having a better pass rush in 2022 than they did in 2021. They don’t have an individual that’s better than Aidan Hutchinson or David Ojabo. But their pass rush as a whole is much more productive. Does that shock you when I say that? Yeah, it does. Why? Because I was floored when I looked at the numbers. I’m like, ‘Whoa, wait, that can’t be true. I started hitting the filters. I’m like, hold on a second. 2021, Michigan, two and a half sacks per game. 2022 Michigan, 3.1 sacks per game. So that means in 2021, last year with Hutchinson and Ojabo, when they won the Big Ten, when they went to the playoff, they were fifth in the Big Ten in sacks, fifth in the Big Ten this year. No. 1 best pass rush in the conference. That’s a really good defense. That is a really good defense.
“And yet in the back of my mind, all I can think about is like have they been tested? That’s the question that everybody asks when it comes to Michigan have they been tested? And obviously you can throw out the conference opponents and whatever, right? And I’m gonna get into some schedule makeup stuff during the course of the week as we start to look at like resumes in the CFP in this four-team, subjective invitational that we have right now, but it’s actually true. So, Michigan has not been tested by a very good offense yet. The best offense that they’ve faced so far is Penn State. Probably the next best offense that they faced is probably Maryland. And, you know, there’s not a lot of quarterbacks that they’ve faced that all the sudden you look up and you’re like, ‘Wow, you know, that was that was a really good passing game. That was a really good quarterback.’ They haven’t seen that. And so should they be No. 1? Yeah, at this point. I mean, if you look at their schedule, that’s a concern.
“Having said that, they’ve totally dominated and they’ve done it because they’ve maintained their architecture and the way that they’re, they’re built and they’ve actually added to it the way that they’re built. I really love their built in basically four prongs, if you will. No. 1: build a run wall. That means being really stout and large and physical on the interior of your defensive line. They’ve got that with with a guy like Mazi Smith, you got to have hard edges that can rush the quarterback and set the edge. They’ve got that with a rotation guys out there that are playing really well. You’ve got to have hybrid style, middle of the field players like linebackers and safeties — they have that. And then you’ve got to have really good cover corners and they have that. Their architecture is very good and it’s specifically built to go face a team like Ohio State. So that’ll be interesting as we’re moving forward.
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“What’s another thing that I know about Michigan? There’s another thing that I know about Michigan and that’s, hey, we get it, you can run the ball. Oh man, I will tell you this though: when I’m watching Michigan, there is something beautiful in this sport, and maybe I’m just nostalgic about it. You know, a lot of teams fit into this category, by the way, and I mentioned a few of them, but I think that there’s something really beautiful about a team that has a really strong identity and scheme. And that scheme still works. Like everybody knows what’s about to happen. And then it still works. There’s something really beautiful about that to me. There’s something like — it’s really hard to explain that — I think the best analogy would be like if you’re putting a puzzle together and it’s like the feeling when you’ve got just the last few pieces, and you know exactly which pieces are going to go where and they just fall into place. And they’re the kind of the quickest pieces that you put together in the entire puzzle. Like that’s, it’s really difficult. It’s really hard and yet all the sudden it’s just like, oh, man, it just like unfolds before you. That’s what the run game does. It just kind of unfolds and it’s so methodical. It’s so methodical.
“They just beat people to death, right? This Michigan run game is really beautiful to watch. I mean, think about Blake Corum’s day against Nebraska on Saturday. He didn’t even have a rush longer than 12 yards and still averaged over six yards per carry. That’s just like — it’s astounding. What he’s been doing ever since Big Ten play opened up: seven-straight games of 100 yards. He’s he’s got 1,100 yards over those seven games. That leads, college football — 193 attempts. That’s 27 and a half attempts a game. You know what’s coming, they know that what they’re gonna do, they know that you know, and they don’t care. They don’t care at all. And they’re still successful. There is a really beautiful rigidity to this run game.
“Their offensive line is fantastic. I think that Olu Oluwatimi, the transfer from Virginia at the center position, is one of the better transfer pickups of the entire cycle. He’s made that offensive line better. It was an offensive line that was really good a year ago and they’re they’re better now. Corum has taken his game to a totally different level. It’s really good and was like, hey, we get it. We get it. It’s really good. And by the way, it may be great at the expense of their quarterback. And that’s at the back of my mind.
“So defensively, They’re unbelievable. They’re the No. 1 defense in America and it’s like yeah, they have they really been tested by a quality offense? I don’t know. I don’t know. Just kind of in the back of your mind. Well, this run game is unbelievable. One of the best run games that I’ve seen in America, right? Again, they know they’re going to run the ball, you know they’re going to run the ball. They know you know they’re going to run the ball and it’s like, they don’t care and it’s still successful. But have they done that at the expense of their quarterback? It’s just lingering in the back of my mind.
“See, that the whole year last year, we were talking about J.J. McCarthy getting some of those snaps in those games for Cade McNamara. And we were thinking to ourselves, like, boy, if they needed to go to a different gear, if the ceiling needed to be raised on Michigan as a team, as an offense, then they would maybe need to go with J.J. McCarthy, right? He gives them just a little bit something else, something extra that they didn’t have under Cade McNamara — a higher ceiling, but they’ve never tested that. I don’t know if they have the higher ceiling or not. So in all these games that they’ve been slowly bludgeoning people to death, which has been highly impressive and in some ways beautiful, they haven’t developed their passing game. So in the back of my mind, I’m like, OK, if they get into a game, where there’s some obvious passing situations, can they do it? I don’t know. Because Saturday, they had a chance to, in colder weather and weather that they might face like, let’s say Nov. 26, against Ohio State, they had a chance to allow their quarterback in a game that was well in-hand and particularly the way their No. 1 defense in America is playing. It’s like hey, maybe you can, you know, take a series or two and develop your passing game — didn’t do it. J.J. McCarthy threw four passes in the second half.
“So listen, I think he’s a really talented player. But everything about their passing game, and even him specifically as a player at this point, is just speculation. Because I haven’t seen it. It’s just potential. I haven’t seen it and in the last two games, we’ve seen him complete under 50% of his passes. This was a guy that was early in the year completing a high percentage almost up there near 80% of his passes. So is he getting worse or are defenses getting better? I’m not sure. I’m not sure. So lingering in the back of my head is that there’s this dominant, beautiful, physical run game for the Michigan Wolverines. And it may be that way right now at the expense of the development of their young quarterback.
“Guess who else knows that by the way? Ohio State. So just like Michigan knows exactly what’s going on with Marvin Harrison Jr. and his 49% of the receiving production in the last three games as the season has gone on, guess what? Ohio State knows exactly what they need to come in and try to stop when they face Michigan. So, the question then remains: what happens when Ohio State gets Marvin Harrison taken away from them? What happens if Michigan gets Blake Corum taken away from them? Where do they go after that? So the reason I moved to Ohio State back up to two is that they’ve proven some things outside of Marvin Harrison — like 340 rushing yards, where I’m like, OK, they may have some answers. Michigan might have some answers outside of their run game, I just haven’t seen them yet. And and I think that that’s at least a little a little concern in the back of your head.”