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Michigan football earns 3rd chance in 6 years to play Ohio State for Big Ten East, playoff

Winner of Michigan-Ohio State game will go to Big Ten title game with chance to clinch playoff spot

Aidan Hutchinson #97 and Daxton Hill #30 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrate during the game against the Maryland Terrapins at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium on November 20, 2021 in College Park, Maryland. (G Fiume, 2021 Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – For the third time in the past six years, Michigan football will play Ohio State with a Big Ten East title and playoff appearance on the line. But this time, it’ll happen on Michigan’s turf.

The Wolverines pushed all their chips to the center of the table this weekend when they trounced Maryland by 41 points to improve to 10-1 on the season.

Ohio State, meanwhile, opened eyes nationwide by scoring on seven straight drives to open the game against Michigan State -- a top 10 team with only one loss of its own. The dominating performance against the very team that beat Michigan a few weeks ago vaulted Ohio State to the top tier of national championship contenders.

Cade McNamara #12 of the Michigan Wolverines throws a pass in the first half against the Maryland Terrapins at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium on November 20, 2021 in College Park, Maryland. (2021 Getty Images)

The Buckeyes look like a juggernaut, and nobody expects Michigan to have a chance. But this Michigan team has made a habit out of breaking trends.

In 2016, the stakes were the same: Michigan and Ohio State met as 10-1 opponents with the Big Ten East and a playoff spot on the line. That game lasted two overtimes, and Michigan came within an inch of victory.

Two years later, Michigan was favored against the Buckeyes after winning 10 games in a row, but got embarrassed.

Both of those games were in Columbus. Now, Michigan will have a chance -- its best chance -- to change the narrative at home.

The Wolverines haven’t been nearly as impressive as Ohio State overall, but they still managed to overachieve this season. They won in Madison and Happy Valley. They overcame late blown leads to survive against Nebraska and Penn State. Only the final few minutes of the Michigan State game felt like a typical Michigan football letdown.

My point: This Michigan team has proven to be different than others during the Jim Harbaugh era. Is it different enough to overcome Ohio State, its greatest and most intimidating obstacle? We’re going to find out in a few days.

Matchup

The most obvious question after last weekend is: How will Michigan stack up against the powerful Ohio State passing attack?

The Buckeyes passed for 449 yards against Michigan State and rank third in the nation with 10 yards per pass attempt. They’re also sixth nationally in passing yards per game, at 362.3.

Michigan’s defense has been surprisingly solid in defending the pass, allowing just 5.8 yard per pass attempt (seventh nationally) and 178.4 passing yards per game (eighth). But how much of that is thanks to a lethal duo of pass rushers?

Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo are tied for ninth in the country with 10 sacks apiece. As a team, Michigan has sacked opposing quarterbacks 29 times in 11 games (35th).

That duo will face its toughest test of the season Saturday, as Ohio State ranks 12th in the country with only 13 sacks allowed. Can the defensive backs defend three NFL-caliber wide receivers long enough for Hutchinson and Ojabo to get to C.J. Stroud? Maybe the better questions is: Can Hutchinson and Ojabo get to Stroud before those receivers inevitably break open?

The Michigan Wolverines play against the Maryland Terrapins at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium on November 20, 2021 in College Park, Maryland. (2021 Getty Images)

This truly feels like the type of game Michigan needs to control on offense. Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum (who appears ready for a return) have to move the ball against Ohio State’s 12th-ranked rushing defense (3.1 yards per attempt allowed). They have to pick up first downs and keep the clock running, otherwise the game could spiral out of control in the same way it did for Michigan State over the weekend.

Donovan Edwards could also be a weapon out of the backfield. He caught 10 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown at Maryland, giving Cade McNamara a safety net and adding another element to an evolving offense.

Everything has to fall perfectly into place on offense. The receivers have to stop dropping passes. McNamara can’t throw the ball off of Winged helmets. Fumbles are completely off the table.

Michigan was a better team than Michigan State on Oct. 30, but still lost. Now, as the underdog hosting a rival at home, the Wolverines hope that same script plays out in Ann Arbor.

Stroud is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba would all be the best offensive weapon on Michigan’s roster. TreVeyon Henderson is often an afterthought, but he averages 7.3 yards per carry and has 1,329 yards and 17 total touchdowns as a freshman.

Oh yeah, and Jeremy Ruckert is a pest at tight end, too.

Michigan isn’t going to stop the Ohio State offense because nobody does. The battle has to be won with offensive execution and smart game management.

What’s on the line

To reiterate, the winner of this game earns the Big Ten East crown and will play the West champ for the conference title. If the winner of this game survives in Indianapolis, it will be the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the College Football Playoff.

None of that is new to Ohio State, which has won each of the last four Big Ten titles and played in four of the seven playoffs. But for Michigan, this win would mean everything.


About the Author:

Derick is a Senior Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.