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Saturday marks one of the biggest versions of The Game in history.
Since the inception of the Big Ten championship game and College Football Playoff, only once has the battle between Michigan and Ohio State meant that the winner got to go to Indianapolis with a playoff berth on the line (in 2016, Penn State had the tiebreaker over the Buckeyes).
In 2018, it didn’t go so well for the Wolverines. While the offense mustered 39 points, the defense surrendered 62 — unfathomable at the time, given that Michigan had one of the top defenses, if not the top going into The Game, in the country. But in 2016, the Wolverines dominated the game until they didn’t, letting OSU hang around until they managed to tie the game at the end of regulation before winning in double overtime.
Not only will Fox ‘Big Noon Kickoff’ be in Ann Arbor for The Game on Saturday, but ESPN ‘College GameDay’ will be, as well. On Wednesday, host Rece Davis and former Michigan wideout and Heisman Trophy-winner Desmond Howard met with select media to discuss Saturday’s big matchup, with Davis saying that this is the best opportunity that the maize and blue have had since that 2016 season to topple the Buckeyes.
“This is probably an equal shot — I don’t know if you can get much of a better shot than they had in ’16,” Davis said. “That was a really, really good Michigan team and the disputed ending and they were worthy of winning the game and obviously Ohio State did. I don’t mean that to make a judgment about the call, whether he was stopped short or not, just that both teams were worthy of winning that day. That was as good a shot.
“Since then, they’ve sort of been outmanned. And in many ways, I still think they are. If you look at the rosters top to bottom, you would take Ohio State’s roster if you didn’t bleed maize and blue or scarlet and grey and just chose — OK, 1-85, or 1-100 — whatever it might be; I think you’d take Ohio State’s roster.
“But, I hate to use this cliche, but styles make fights. Just because Michigan State played Michigan well and then got blown out doesn’t mean that Michigan doesn’t have a chance. Michigan has two elite pass rushers. I think the difference, the changes in the scheme is to play a little more zone and not try to keep up with those absolute first-round stars that Ohio State has at wide receiver. I’ll give them a chance, along with the pass rush, to maybe rattle a young quarterback. And that, to me, is the biggest thing they have going for them.
“Ohio State’s defense has done a pretty good job of, especially lately, stopping the run. For Michigan to have a chance, it will have to be a low-scoring game, they’ll have to have some negative plays with Hutchinson and Ojabo, and I think if they’re able to do that, I think they have a great chance to pull the upset.”
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Perhaps uncharacteristically, Howard isn’t so sure, given what he’s seen down in Columbus. He was present for the Buckeyes’ throttling of Michigan State, and as far as how he sees it, Ohio State is one of the best two teams in the nation at the moment.
But, he also notes, they play games for a reason.
“I don’t know, I really don’t know,” Howard said. “I think if you look at Ohio State and the way that they’re playing right now, the only team that matches up with Ohio State you’d think is Georgia — I mean, really. The way they’re playing right now has just been outstanding. And the only team that’s been impressive as Ohio State in the past three or four weeks has been Georgia. But that’s why we play the game. On paper, this should be — Ohio State’s got the three receivers the gentleman talked about, they’ve got C.J. Stroud who some may have as the Heisman frontrunner. So they have all the talent coming into the game, but that’s why we play the game.”
Much of the talk has been about how can Michigan slow the Ohio State offense, but what about what the Wolverines may be able to do on the offensive side of the ball?
As far as Davis sees it, the maize and blue have to be turnover-free, and hope that they can get some semblance of the running game going in order to have a chance on Saturday.
“Cade’s done a really good job of taking care of the ball. I think that’s the most important thing on Saturday, is you can’t give them free possessions, plus territory, you don’t want to short-circuit your own drives by making a mistake,” Davis said. “It’s tough to find a balance between making sure you have enough risk-taking as opposed to being risk-aversive. But I do think it’s really important for him to take care of the ball.
“I mentioned earlier that Ohio State’s done a better job later in the season of stopping the run. I don’t know that Michigan State could ever really get their running game much of a chance Saturday. But they’ve done a better job against it, but Michigan’s going to have to run. And I don’t know exactly — you guys may have more information about Blake Corum. I think if he’s able to play and give that more in-space, elusive, explosive guy from running back to pair with Haskins, who’s been phenomenal carrying the load while Blake’s been hurt, that one-two punch would really help them but also help them in their passing game, throwing it to the backs out of the backfield. I think they’re going to have to run, the question is can they? I think that will be one of the early indicators — probably not the first drive or even two, because usually everybody’s so jacked up, almost everybody has a hard time running it in a big game early on. That’s just sort of the way it goes a lot times. But if Michigan, before too much time elapses in the game, run the ball a little bit, I think that might be a good indicator that they might be in position to dictate the tempo of the game and have an opportunity to keep it tight, keep it close, and maybe find a way to win at the end.”