THE GAME: Ohio State @ Michigan Predictions

The Big House. The Horseshoe. The Maize and Blue. The Scarlet and Grey. Bo Schembechler. Woody Hayes. The Ten Year War. The Big Two and the Little Eight. Jim Harbaugh. Urban Meyer.

This will be the 100th consecutive meeting between the arch-rivals, 113 meetings in total. Records and rankings are thrown out the window because after kickoff, the only thing that matters is beating that team on the other sideline, it’s an absolute war. To keep it short, these schools don’t like each other and that’s just how it is.

(9-2) no. 9 ranked, Ohio State, will come to Ann Arbor and play (8-3) unranked, Michigan. This rivalry is widely considered to be one of the best in all of sports, despite the 21st century being a tad-lopsided in favor of the Buckeyes.

The Block M Insider has just four contributors for both our blog and to run our Twitter pages, and this article is featuring opinions and predictions on how “The Game” will potentially unfold come this Saturday:

Shane: 

Not many will be predicting a Michigan victory in Ann Arbor come Saturday when the Buckeyes will come to the Big House as a likely double digit favorite. Wolverine season-ticket holders everywhere have been looking to sell their tickets, feeling similar to the 2013 game that held little to no confidence throughout the fan-base.

I’d love to sit here and say that the intensity of this rivalry is going to lift this younger, inexperienced, lesser coached, less talented Michigan team to a victory come Saturday but that simply hasn’t been the case in my lifetime. I don’t think this team is good enough to hang with the Buckeyes, but I’m also a firm believer that in college football on any given day, anything is possible.

This Michigan defense is a stout unit with a front to be reckoned with, however they have a inexperienced secondary with plenty of vulnerabilities that have been exposed to man coverage specifically this season. Overall, this group is arguably atop in the nation in terms of quality, they’d be able to perform at a higher level had their offense give them time to rest in between possessions. Going up against this Buckeye offense who has more dimensions than one, they’ll be able to spread it out to attack these said vulnerabilities within the Michigan defense. This will be the best total offense that Michigan has gone up against this season, Penn State being the 2nd best as they put up 42 points. Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown must prepare their best game-plan along with unanimous execution to limit the Heisman hopeful, J.T. Barrett, freshman RB, J.K. Dobbins, and the rest of the Buckeye play-makers.

Offensively in Ann Arbor, this season has not been a favorable one and it’s difficult to say things will change this week. We’ve seen three different quarterbacks under center for Michigan this season and Brandon Peters, the fan favorite, is not a guarantee for play on Saturday, remains in concussion protocol. Wilton Speight’s status remains in non-contact for practice, not likely he dresses. If both are out for the game, that would likely leave it up to John O’Korn, or Alex Malzone if they wanted to risk playing someone with no experience. It’s no secret that the offense has clicked the most efficiently while having Peters in the huddle and it would be in Michigan’s favor to have him ready to go, but the real bread and butter to this unit are two men named Karan Higdon and Chris Evans. The passing game struggle has allowed the run game to open up several times this season; Higdon is 124 yards away from being Michigan’s first 1,000 yard rusher in a season since Fitz Toussiant in 2011. Evans has carried his weight as well with a 594 yard season thus far. Unfortunately for the offense, Ohio State’s run-defense is their strength and Iowa, who routed the Buckeyes, were able to expose their secondary. I can’t express how crucial it is for Michigan to have Brandon Peters’ arm, gives them the best chance to move the ball in my opinion because we’ve seen the John O’Korn offense and I really don’t think there’s a chance with him under center.

As a fan, I’m hoping for a close game that comes within a possession or two at the very least, but I’m taking Ohio State in this one and expect them to cover the spread. This isn’t Michigan’s season, but a win over your rival would essentially forgive the losses this season strictly due to transitional circumstances after losing over 40 seniors and returning less than 5 total starters. Michigan is the least experienced team in the FBS to my understanding, currently fighting for a 9 or 10 win season while the Buckeyes are trying to make their case to the committee for yet another college football playoff appearance.

Prediction: Ohio State 34, Michigan 14.

Mark:

Weird things happen in sports.  It’s the unpredictability that makes fans go crazy.  For Michigan fans, it’s “The Game.”  There have been so many upsets in this rivalry.  They are actually easy to remember.

1969 – Michigan 24, Ohio State 12

1987 – Ohio State 23, Michigan 20

1996 – Michigan 13, Ohio State 9

2016 – Ohio State 30, Michigan 27 (2OT)

Why do I list all of the more memorable ones?   That’s the point.  This game is SPECIAL.  This game is TRADITION.  And for both fan bases who reside on the internet like they know it all, those four games above prove that when you least expect it, we know nothing.

So now let’s move on to 2017…

QUICK FACTS

  • Michigan has allowed 14 points or less in the last 10 home games.  Last team to score more than 14…Ohio State in 1015.
  • Not a player on Michigan’s roster has beaten Ohio State.
  • Ohio State has only scored less than 30 points twice (Oklahoma & Iowa).
  • Michigan has only given up more than 24 points in a game once (Penn State).

Do you know what the problem with facts can lead to?  Short-sighted conclusions based on insufficient evidence.

So let’s get to it.  To the casual observer and to the most loyal fan, this seems to be a game that Ohio State should win. This is the game that Michigan has been preparing for since last year’s loss in the Horseshoe.

The Buckeye offense is potent and features playmakers all over the field…including a dual-threat quarterback.  J.T. Barrett is good enough to make Michigan fans sick to their stomachs.  Why?  Barrett is the only real quarterback that is going to force Michigan into a “Spy” situation.  Don Brown will have to assign somebody to mirror Barrett because the “Cover 10” defense that Michigan uses is the most vulnerable to a scrambling quarterback.  While OSU has made recent gains in the run game with Dobbins and Weber, there is nothing to suggest that they will be able to run against Michigan.   In the passing game, it’s about containable pressure on Barrett while winning the individual matchups outside.

Will he play?  Earlier in the week, my sources around Schembechler Hall thought it was more likely that Peters would play.  As the week has gone on, that outlook has dimmed just a bit. As I pen this prediction, my gut tells me that O’Korn is the starter.  Most Michigan fans just clicked to another website because they think that tells the whole story but let me add a twist to their perceived ending.  Here’s what UM has to do to be in position to win:

  • Be efficient in the intermediate passing game (5-15 yards down field)
  • Stay out of ’22’ personnel and run the ball while spreading out the Buckeye defense
  • Use designed runs/rollouts to enable O’Korn to be on the move
  • Take shots downfield as the Buckeye defense starts to roll to the line of scrimmage as the game is much tighter than they expect.

In both OSU losses, you see the OSU defense lose steam in the second half.  Why?  This Buckeye team is really not built to dominate for four quarters.  They are much more like Ivan Drago from Rocky IV.  They are going to try to knock you out early.  Harbaugh and Co. has to put the Rocky Balboa shorts on and just keep punching.

That’s how upsets happen.  Being told you can’t win can motivate but does this Michigan team have enough toughness to stand in and punch with the B1G Ten’s Drago (no matter how flawed they are).

The answer…yes and it’ll shock the hell out of most of us.

Prediction: Michigan 24, Ohio State 12. 

Now let me get back to my Rocky training montage.

 

 

Brandon: 

First played in 1897, the 2017 edition will be played in Ann Arbor at the Big House. The Ohio State-Michigan game is one of, if not the, biggest rivalries in sports.

This year’s Buckeyes team comes into this game ranked no. 9 by the College Football Playoff Committee while the Wolverines will be unranked. Ohio State is sporting a 9-2 record with a tough loss to a good Oklahoma Sooner squad along with a blowout loss to Iowa on the road. Michigan will come into this one with an 8-3 record with close losses to Michigan State and Wisconsin and a drubbing at the hands of the Penn State Nittany Lions.

So while these teams are only separated by a game in the standings, they’ll be playing for completely different reasons. OSU has already clinched the East for a spot in the conference title game, a win against Michigan on the road and a victory against the Wisconsin Badgers in Indy gives the Buckeyes and the Big Ten a resume worthy of potential consideration for the CFP final four. Michigan on the other hand is looking to beat their rival for the first time since 2011 and have a chance at their third consecutive 10-win season under Jim Harbaugh.

I believe this game will come down to the battle of the quarterbacks. J.T. Barrett leads this Buckeye team and they are currently the fourth ranked offense in the nation when it comes to yards per game as they are averaging over 546 total YPG. They are also averaging over 44 points per contest as well.

Michigan, on the other hand, comes into this game having played three different QBs this season (Wilton Speight, John O’Korn, Brandon Peters) with Speight being sidelined due to injury, O’Korn being benched due to poor play, and Peters playing decent but he is now hurt as well and is uncertain for Saturday’s matchup.

If OSU is going to be victorious, they will need two key elements. First, their defense will need to contain the run game that Michigan employs; Karan Higdon, Chris Evans and Ty Issac provide the offense with a lethal backfield when clicking on all cylinders. When Michigan’s ground game is going, it helps their defense by allowing them to control the time of possession battle. Second, they will also have to not get picked apart by the weak air attack that U of M employs, regardless of who is under center. Iowa put up 55 on the Buckeyes a couple of weeks back and they accomplished it primarily through the air.

If the Wolverines are going to come out of this game with a win, they will have to do two things as well. First, whoever is playing at quarterback will need to attack the weak part of Ohio State’s defense, which is their secondary. Secondly, they will have to put pressure on J.T. Barrett. He one fine player, but when you contain him and make him throw from the pocket, he isn’t himself. This will be a tall task for this Michigan defense, but it is a must if they want to leave the Big House on a high note.

As for my final score prediction, I believe this one could get ugly. Ohio State is a double-digit (I’ve seen anywhere from -11 to -14) favorite in Vegas and I think they will cover the spread. Not saying Michigan can’t shock the world and pull of the upset, but I just see that as a long shot. J.T. won’t be short this year, folks.

Prediction: Ohio State 31, Michigan 13.

Michael:

November 25th, 2017 3:50 pm. The ESPN ticker scrolls along, you catch a glimpse of something deceives your eye, you check again and it was true. Michigan defeats Ohio State.

Harbaugh finally gets his signature win, on the heels of a defensive masterpiece constructed by Don Brown. Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton dig up their best game plan, and the offense clicks just enough to pull of the upset.

Prediction: Michigan 28, Ohio State 7.

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Can Michigan Win Their Next Two?

Jim Harbaugh’s 8-2 Michigan Wolverines are currently on a three-game win streak (Rutgers, Minnesota, Maryland), all in which they beat by two or more possessions. Redshirt freshman QB, Brandon Peters, has seen the start in two of the last three games, but was given significant playing time against Rutgers after struggles from John O’Korn.

Peters through three games: (28 for 46, 329 yards, 4 touchdowns, 60.9 completion percentage, 7.15 yards per attempt, long: 35).

The run game has also been lifted since Peters stepped under center; the two biggest contributors to the latest emergence of the rushing attack are both sophomores, Karan Higdon and Chris Evans.

Higdon this season: (129 attempts, 854 yards, 6.6 yards per carry, 10 touchdowns, long: 77); Evans this season: (104 attempts, 569 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 6 touchdowns, long: 67)

The quality of defenses in the past three games haven’t exactly been A-list, but it’s nice to finally see Michigan establish the identity they’ve been looking for. This is just what this team needs before playing in this two-game skid against top teams, undefeated Wisconsin and an Ohio State team coming off an absolute rout over Michigan State.

There were concerns in the 2nd half of the Maryland matchup on Saturday; despite winning in convincing fashion, 35-10, the Terps were able to outgain Michigan in total yards (340-305). It was evident that Michigan took their foot off the gas coming out of the locker room into the 3rd quarter. Maryland was also able to outscore the Wolverines in the 2nd half, 10-7, went on a 10-0 run deep into the fourth quarter.

Should Michigan fans worry about their incapability to put a stake in Maryland yesterday, or are they simply over thinking it?

Either way, the schedule faces its most difficult consecutive weeks to date. Michigan still has a sliver of a chance to win the East, but I’d imagine the realistic goal for this team is what’s in front of them, finishing the regular season 10-2.

Since 2006, Michigan is 0-15 against top 25 ranked teams in road match-ups. The last two top ten ranked teams that Michigan has beaten? Both were against Wisconsin at home (2008, 2016).

This Saturday, Michigan will play the only undefeated team left in the conference, top 5 ranked Wisconsin. As of today, the Wolverines are just an 8.5 point spread underdog, which is awfully generous in my opinion. The Big Ten West front-runners have convincingly handled every team put in front of them this season, top wins over Northwestern and Iowa, who both cracked the CFP top 25 in week 11.

The following Saturday, November 25th, Michigan will host Ohio State in the Big House. The last time Michigan beat their rival was November 26th, 2011 in Ann Arbor when current Cincinnati head coach, Luke Fickell, was the interim head coach for the Buckeyes. The 21st century has not been a kind one for Michigan in regards to this rivalry, and if we’re being honest, it hasn’t been kind to Michigan for multiple reasons. Despite already having two losses with two more games left to play in the regular season, Ohio State has looked good for the most part this season and Michigan simply hasn’t.

The S&P probability is giving Michigan just an 8.7 percent chance to win the next two, a 41.6 percent chance to win just one of the next two, and a 49.7 percent chance to lose both and finish 8-4 on the regular season.

Michigan’s offense has been primarily executing, most especially in the run game, which is an important key for success in their next two games. Very crucial for this unit to build off the recent success and to stick with a similar game-plan which is a run-first, pass conservatively scheme, nothing too fancy.

There’s nothing that could lift a young quarterback’s confidence like coming off the bench and assisting in running the table for a Michigan team that was facing offensive struggles prior to him seeing the field. Brandon Peters is the more favorable candidate for the starting job in 2018, will likely have a competition against a likely healthy Wilton Speight. Win or lose the next two, Peters will gain experience and get a better feel for what type of intensity college football has to offer.

Don Brown’s defense has done their job in just about every week except for the Penn State game that displayed multiple schematic issues. Khaleke Hudson has been a significant play-maker for this unit in replacing Jabrill Peppers at the viper position. A young secondary that initially had some communication issues seems to now be hitting their stride, defensive backs like sophomores David Long and Lavert Hill are making names for themselves as of late.

There isn’t a whole lot of reason for odds-makers in Vegas to put any confidence into Michigan in the next two weeks. They’re underdogs this Saturday, and will surely be underdogs next week for the Ohio State game, the odds will be stacked against them.

As for a fan-base who has had quite the emotional roller-coaster with their beloved head coach, they crave these potential signature wins over Wisconsin on the road, and beating Ohio State at home. These wins would not only make Michigan fans believe in Harbaugh again, but it should also silence his doubters. One of the biggest issues that fans and anaylysts have had over Jim Harbaugh is his poor record against rivals thus far at Michigan, which is 1-4.

Winning out would lift Jim Harbaugh to his third consecutive ten win season at his alma mater and would be entering 2018 with a talented team and a confident, sophomore quarterback who has 6 games of experience under his belt. Even though Michigan’s chance at the Big Ten is highly an unlikely one, there’s still a lot at stake for the remainder of the season.

 

It’s Time to Start Brandon Peters

Last Saturday, Michigan was humiliated on national television in prime-time. Penn State beat up on the now unranked Wolverines 42-13 in Happy Valley, a loss was a probable prediction, just surprising to see it in blowout fashion. Sitting at 5-2, Michigan’s hopes for a division title are all but officially crushed. Outside of two touchdown scoring drives, the offense remained lifeless and was shutout in the 2nd half.

Meet Brandon Peters: 6’4 gunslinger redshirt freshman, Michigan’s backup quarterback, former no. 1 overall recruit in the state of Indiana, the favorable candidate for the starting job in 2018, was in the conversation to win the starting job for this season.

Peters went 9-17, threw for 160 yards, and added a score in the Spring Game earlier in 2017.

A large portion of the Michigan fan-base wanted the redshirt freshman to be the starter this season after seeing him in the Spring Game. Harbaugh ultimately decided to stick with the experience, putting two veterans ahead of Peters on the depth chart, Speight and O’Korn. Which was reasonable and predictable in my mind, an inexperienced team usually can benefit from having a veteran QB, right?

The offense is as bad as it’s been in years for Michigan, the quarterback play hasn’t been flawless, but it hasn’t been the primary issue. The pocket collapses too quickly, not good separation thus far from young receivers, run-game very inconsistent, play-calling has been questionable and they’ve displayed overall bad communication throughout the unit as a whole.

This season was expected, by many, to be a transitional season considering the amount of talent departing from the program a season ago, graduating over 40 seniors, losing 11 to the NFL draft, and being faced with the task of retooling a very youthful team. Michigan fans, of course, are going to expect a lot, it’s in their nature and they crave a championship (haven’t won a conference title since ’04).

Harbaugh’s seat is not hot, if he keeps losing big games then it’ll definitely get there, but that’s a conversation for another day. Michigan is currently 5-2, both in-division losses, likely crushing any hopes to win the Big Ten yet again for the Wolverines. The reality of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure is that there’s now legitimate pressure to win big games, and championships for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. The only goals in front of Michigan for this regular season are to win 10 games, spoil Ohio State’s season, and win a bowl game.

Prior to Saturday, I was in support for the idea of keeping the guy with the most experience under-center, safest bet for the specific circumstances. It’s officially time to bench John O’Korn for Brandon Peters. It’s a distasteful decision if you have empathy towards O’Korn’s situation, but even he has to understand what’s best for the program. Like I said before, quarterbacks are not the issue with this offense, but he’s just not the future, his eligibility will expire at the end of 2017, Peters has the rest of this season, and three entire seasons left in Ann Arbor.

If I’m Jim Harbaugh, I want a ready-to-go, experienced quarterback for 2018. Wilton Speight will have a remaining season of eligibility but that’s not promising — we don’t know if Speight will ever be able to play football again, vertebrae injuries aren’t a joke. Harbaugh was asked about Speight following the Penn State game and had this to say about his situation: “Get healthy – that’s where most of his efforts are being concentrated. He’s at practice. I know he’s chomping at the bit. His bones (are) healing back together. It takes time. He’s been a good teammate. I know he’s chomping at the bit.”

Michigan’s remaining schedule consists of: Rutgers, Minnesota, @ Maryland, @ no. 5 Wisconsin, and no. 6 Ohio State. The Rutgers game this Saturday is an ideal matchup for a debut start where Peters can hit the ground running, build some confidence, have his home crowd behind him while he’d likely earn his first win as a starter for Michigan.

Rutgers, Minnesota, and Maryland are games that Michigan should win and I believe they’ll handle all three teams somewhat convincingly, all good opportunities for Brandon Peters to get his feel for Big Ten football, create a rhythm, and grow with an also young offense.

With three favorable match-ups under Peters’ belt, he should appear collected and confident heading into the Wisconsin, and Ohio State games. These two games will give Peters an even better feel for college football intensity, playing Wisconsin on the road, and then playing in the arguably biggest rivalry in American sports are both opportunities which a lot of quarterbacks strive to get.

Do I think Michigan can win at least one of these marquee November games, or potentially both? Nothing surprises me in college football today, it’s a crazy game. If a Brandon Peters led offense is able to host a likely top ten ranked Ohio State team, and pull off a win? Think about the confidence that’ll give the young quarterback headed into the 2018 season.

I don’t have faith that Jim Harbaugh starts Brandon Peters from here on out, as I believe he should, but I do have faith that he’ll have more than one opportunity to see an increased amount of playing time, most especially in the next three weeks. A championship team more times than not features an, at least, competent quarterback, and we need to prepare the young buck for the spotlight.

Harbaugh was asked about the possibility of Peters seeing more snaps/playing time and said: “Just going along the process of readying him to play. The backup quarterback always needs to be ready to play.” Still referring to him as the backup behind O’Korn.

What does this team have to lose at this point? The Brandon Peters era needs to begin, the fan-base craves it, and Michigan needs the Indiana native to be ready. Sorry John O’Korn, but college football is a business which revolves around winning, and you’re 2-2 (3-2 if you count Purdue, played three-quarters) as a starter, 0-2 in big games.

 

 

 

Harbaugh’s Fake Quarterback Competition Part 3

Jim Harbaugh is somewhat of a great football mind, and he’s proven that time after time. The former Michigan QB’s football IQ is off the charts, and that’s normally the case for a vast majority of head football coaches. He’s known to primarily specialize in quarterback play, and is credited with the emergence, and the success of multiple quarterbacks in the NFL.

The third fall camp for the Harbaugh era at Michigan features a very familiar headline — a quarterback battle. It’s a good thing though, right? In my own opinion, competition brings out the absolute best in everyone. I also believe that there has never been a real competition at Michigan under Harbaugh yet to date.

I personally believe that the Wolverine head coach knows exactly whose job it is to lose going into every season, and he likes to make them feel like their job isn’t secure, so that they have motivations to up their level of play. I would go as far as to say that if you asked Jim Harbaugh who the 2017-18 starting quarterback was going to be on December 31st of 2016: he would’ve said Wilton Speight.

Speight is, and has been the clear-cut, obvious, most-experienced, candidate for the starting job this coming season, and the prior talks of RS-freshman Brandon Peters taking on the starting role were ridiculous. Peters is talented, great potential, likely one of Michigan’s future, down the road, starting field generals; he’s not ready for the spotlight just yet, Speight will be the starter this season, and depending on draft stock — the redshirt junior will be back for 2018-19 to start.

I went into 2016 hoping to see finally eligible, Houston, transfer QB, John O’Korn, take the field against Hawaii in the season opener, after-all he was more experienced, had entertaining highlights from his freshman season, seemed poised to win the job. After watching every game a season ago, including the Indiana game, I have not a doubt in my mind that Coach Harbaugh made the right call with his man, Wilton. A lengthy, strong armed, 240 pounded quarterback with elusive, smart, pocket escape ability is the exact type of guy that a pro-style offense, which Harbaugh runs, needs. Jim had his primary eye on Wilton from the get-go if you were to ask me.

The 2015-16 “quarterback competition”, between Jake Rudock, and Shane Morris, was about as fake as it gets. The talent, and experience deficit at the time between the two was massive, but if it weren’t for Rudock’s transfer decision: Morris would have started in 2015, and potentially could have saved his career at Michigan. Nothing against the former 5 star quarterback, very talented, and I’m very happy that he’s found a new-home in Central Michigan with the expectation of winning the starting role. Jake Rudock came to Michigan with a great deal of experience to work with, I compare his playing style to a certain former Michigan QB named Tom Brady. Shane Morris will only be remembered at Michigan simply for this mess. There’s a reason Jake Rudock chose to come play for Michigan, he knew he’d be the starter, and so did Jim Harbaugh.

This tactic isn’t exclusively to heighten the play of his quarterbacks, but it’s also done for the media, and to cause uncertainty in the week one match-up preparation.

It’s done for the media to simply keep Michigan in the headlines — to keep his program in the minds of recruits.

Lastly, it’s done to stir up the week one preparation, in other words: he’s playing mind games. Why let Florida know who to prepare for? Instead, let them prepare for a possible 2-3 quarterbacks, and keep them guessing. It’s not exactly a standout tactic, but it’s just genuinely smart, and I have a hard time understanding why teams are so quick to reveal their starter.

A majority of the seasons in Harbaugh’s tenure will very likely feature a supposed “QB competition”, and this is not a bad thing by any means. You’ll find out who Jim Harbaugh’s starter is after Michigan’s offense takes the field. Wilton Speight will be the starter in 2017 because the best quarterback will always take the field for a Jim Harbaugh coached football team.

Just keep in mind next time you’re in a Michigan Football blogger chatroom, a twitter thread, or a Facebook comment section arguing who you think the starting quarterback will be: Harbaugh’s likely known for months, and the competition that you’re so educated on, is all smoke and mirrors.