10 under-the-radar players who could help Michigan football beat Ohio State

Wolverines looking for 11th straight victory

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - When the Michigan football team arrives in Columbus this weekend, it will do so with Big Ten title and College Football Playoff hopes intact. That's a major accomplishment for a team that got pushed around in the season opener at Notre Dame.

Jim Harbaugh's team has turned the season around and won 10 games in a row, largely thanks to unexpected contributions on both sides of the ball.

Nick Eubanks, for example, has made a few huge catches this year and is fourth on the team in receiving yards. On defense, Michigan has gotten 13.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks combined for Josh Uche and Kwity Paye.

If Michigan hopes to knock off Ohio State this weekend, it will need more contributions throughout the roster.

Shea Patterson, Karan Higdon, Devin Bush and the rest of Michigan's stars will be ready to go, but sometimes it can be an under-the-radar player who makes a difference, such as Dwayne Haskins coming in as a backup quarterback for Ohio State last season to win in the Big House.

Here are 10 under-the-radar players who could help Michigan win in Columbus for the first time since 2000.

RB Chris Evans

Season stats: 66 carries for 370 yards (5.6 average) and four touchdowns.

Chris Evans tries to avoid the tackle of Elijah McQueen against SMU on Sept. 15, 2018, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Higdon has taken on a massive load this season, carrying the ball 209 times for more than 1,100 yards. He's Michigan's most productive player and will certainly get his share of touches in Columbus.

His backup, Chris Evans, won't come anywhere near the 135 carries he earned last season, but he could still be a critical weapon for Harbaugh.

Evans is the type of player who has given Ohio State fits this year, more so than power-type backs such as Higdon. The Purdue game is a perfect example. Rondale Moore, one of the most elusive players in the nation, caught 12 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns. Running back D.J. Knox carried the ball 16 times for 128 yards and three scores.

Ohio State has been susceptible to big plays, ranking last in the country in opposing plays of at least 80 yards and 127th nationally in opposing plays of at least 70 yards. The Buckeyes have allowed 11 plays of at least 50 yards this season, and Evans is the type of player who could turn a decent run into a long touchdown if one tackler misses.

Evans hasn't had a big moment yet this season and there's no bigger opportunity than "The Game."

FB Ben Mason

Season stats: 28 carries for 73 yards (2.6 average) and six touchdowns.

Ben Mason dives in for a touchdown against Maryland on Oct. 6, 2018, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is an opportunity for both coaching staffs to open the playbook, and one of Michigan's secret weapons could be Ben Mason.

Yes, Mason does his primary job well, moving the chains for Michigan on short third and fourth down opportunities. He's also second on the team with six rushing touchdowns, so Michigan has an extra option around the goal line.

But Mason, who was recruited as a linebacker out of high school, has more athleticism than a typical fullback. He demonstrated that against Maryland when he caught a short pass and hurdled a defender for a 15-yard gain.

When Patterson doesn't hand Mason the ball, defenders don't often consider Mason a high priority as opposed to weapons such as Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and even Tarik Black. It wouldn't be a surprise if Michigan draws up a screen or a play that takes advantage of Mason outside the third-and-one scenarios.

WR Oliver Martin

Season stats: 10 catches for 121 yards and one touchdown.

Oliver Martin catches a touchdown pass against Rutgers at HighPoint.com Stadium on Nov. 10, 2018, in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

With the return of Black to the lineup, it could be argued that Oliver Martin is Michigan's fifth or sixth receiver. But that's the type of player who could change the game with one big play.

Martin had the best game of his career against Rutgers, catching three passes for 38 yards and a touchdown. He came one yard short of scoring twice.

Harbaugh loves to use versatile receivers who can make a play in the short passing game, beat a man downfield or even take the ball on a jet sweep. Martin is that type of player. He gained 11 yards on his first rushing attempt against Rutgers and will make the defense respect all the options.

Peoples-Jones, Collins and Zach Gentry will be Ohio State's main concerns on passing downs. That could work to Martin's advantage on underneath routes, which opponents have turned into big plays against the Buckeyes this season.

WR Ronnie Bell

Season stats: Six catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns.

Getty Images

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 6: Ronnie Bell #8 of the Michigan Wolverines dives for a first half touchdown while playing the Maryland Terrapins on October 6, 2018 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Michigan has tried to use Ronnie Bell as an Eddie McDoom replacement this season, and while it hasn't worked out so far, it could be a factor in Columbus.

On five end-around carries this season, Bell has a total of minus-2 yards. His longest run went for just 3 yards. Still, it's clearly a play Harbaugh believes in, because Bell got two carries in a huge game at Michigan State.

Bell has had a nice true freshman season at receiver, though he only has six catches. He's sixth on the team with 126 receiving yards and has found the end zone twice.

Like Evans, Bell is fast and shifty, and he could give Ohio State problems if the ball's in his hands.

TE Sean McKeon

Season stats: 12 catches for 109 yards and one touchdown.

Sean McKeon #84 of the Michigan Wolverines makes a 23-yard reception for a first down to set up a fourth quarter touchdown in a game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium on September 23, 2017. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Gentry and Eubanks have stolen the spotlight at tight end this season, but don't forget about Sean McKeon.

The redshirt sophomore caught a touchdown pass against Ohio State last year, but has been more of a third-down option in the passing game this season. McKeon won't reach last year's mark of 301 receiving yards, but it only takes one catch to change a season in a game like Michigan-Ohio State.

McKeon still sees the field regularly because he's a good blocker, so it wouldn't be a shock if he catches a big third-down pass or another touchdown against Ohio State.

DL Carlo Kemp

Season stats: 14 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.

Carlo Kemp celebrates a win over Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 20, 2018 in East Lansing. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Michigan's defensive line has four players with more than five tackles for loss this season, so Carlo Kemp has flown under the radar.

But the junior is one of the rotational guys who can play on the inside or the outside of the line for Don Brown. He's been in on one sack this season, but if Ohio State pays too much attention to Rashan Gary or Chase Winovich, he could break through and make a big play.

Kemp is an athletic defensive lineman who can get to the edge if Ohio State tries to get outside. He might not have the stats of a Winovich or an Uche, but Kemp is capable of making a game-changing play.

LB Josh Ross

Season stats: 43 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.

Josh Ross tackles Avery Davis of Notre Dame at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 1, 2018, in South Bend, Indiana. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

On a defense loaded with stars and NFL talent, Josh Ross is fourth in tackles behind Bush, Tyree Kinnel and Winovich.

Ross will be critical for Michigan if Ohio State tries to run the ball with the quarterback. It's a strategy that has worked for the Buckeyes over the last decade against Michigan and one that also worked for Indiana last weekend.

Ross is an excellent athlete who, like Bush, can get to the sideline and stop a ball carrier from turning upfield. He's made 2.5 tackles for loss this season, but his value will come in chasing down J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber if they bounce to the outside or tracking down Haskins and Tate Martell.

Ohio State hasn't been dominant along the offensive line, but it has elite athletes, so it might try to take advantage of that speed and elusiveness on the edges.

Ross and Bush will be key factors in minimizing those gains.

CB Brandon Watson

Season stats: 34 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions and six pass breakups.

Brandon Watson returns an interception 62 yards for a touchdown against Penn State at Michigan Stadium on Nov. 3, 2018, in Ann Arbor. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Michigan has one of the best cornerback duos in the country with David Long and Lavert Hill, but it's Brandon Watson who polishes off the nation's best pass defense.

Quarterbacks rarely target Long and Hill because of their coverage ability, so Watson has been called on more often to make plays.

Watson has responded by leading the team with three interceptions -- along with Josh Metellus -- and six pass breakups. As a fifth-year senior, Watson has turned the elite cornerback duo into a great cornerback trio, and that's why Brown can afford to send so many players after the quarterback.

Ohio State will be the greatest test yet for Michigan's pass defense, with Heisman Trophy candidate Haskins and several dangerous receivers. The Buckeyes will likely target Watson, so he'll have to be up to the task, as he's been all year.

DL Aidan Hutchinson

Season stats: 14 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.

Aidan Hutchinson rushes Adrian Martinez during Michigan's game against Nebraska on Sept. 22, 2018, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. (Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

For an example of how Aidan Hutchinson can impact a game, just watch Michigan's win over Nebraska.

The true freshman made a huge play against the Cornhuskers, bursting into the backfield, batting down a pass and forcing an intentional grounding penalty for a safety.

He's the sixth or seventh concern along the defensive line for opponents, which speaks to Michigan's depth at the position. The Wolverines absolutely have to put pressure on Haskins so he can't pick them apart in the short passing game, so complimentary players such as Hutchinson have to win one-on-one battles.

In the future, Hutchinson might be one of the staples of Michigan's defensive line. This weekend, he's the type of player who could make his impact felt with one or two big hits.

P Will Hart

Season stats: 35 punts with a 47.91-yard average, eight touchbacks and 14 inside the 20-yard line.

Michigan punter Will Hart (Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Most Michigan fans know Will Hart is having an excellent season -- as the Wolverines rank third in the country in yards per punt -- but he will be a major X factor against Ohio State.

Harbaugh will want to control the time of possession and limit the number of chances for Haskins and the Buckeyes offense. In order to control the ball, Michigan has to win the field position battle.

Ohio State's win over Michigan State is a great example of how a punter can impact a game. Drue Chrisman put four straight kicks inside the 10-yard line, and Michigan State simply couldn't do anything on offense. The Buckeyes eventually wore MSU down and ran away with a 20-point win.

Hart has put 14 punts inside the 20-yard line this season. It's critical that he forces Ohio State to drive the length of the field on Michigan's No. 1 defense. Short fields could force the Wolverines to play at a tempo that favors the Buckeyes.

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