This will be the 100th straight season in which Ohio State and Michigan have collided, their 114th match-up overall.
The Wolverines head into this year’s edition with an 8-3 team that has losses to Michigan State, Penn State, and Wisconsin. That’s part of a trend for UM. When they kick off on Saturday, it will have been 422 days since they beat a team with a winning record.
While disappointing for Wolverines fans, it’s probably not a surprise that this is a rebuilding year for them. The team only returned six starters from 2016, and one was holder Garrett Moores. Another was quarterback Wilton Speight, who doesn’t figure to factor into this week’s game thanks to a vicious, vertebrae-breaking hit he suffered at Purdue.
Pep Hamilton says Brandon Peters is still in concussion protocol, Wilton Speight still practicing non-contact.
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) November 22, 2017
Speight was Michigan’s starting quarterback for their first four games. Sophomore Brandon Peters showed a lot of promise in the short time (three starts) he was on the field before he, too, was injured.
That leaves 6’4″, 211 pound signal caller John O’Korn. His four starts were sandwiched in between Speight’s and Peters’ time under center, and included the losses to the Spartans and Nittany Lions.
He has five interceptions and only one touchdown pass (against Purdue). He’s been sacked 16 times. Not an incredible rusher, he averages negative .05 yards per run, with a long of 14 yards.
As many Ohio State players and coaches mentioned this week, however, Michigan’s priority is to run, and they have two backs they rely on heavily: Karan Higdon and Chris Evans. They both average more than five yards per carry, as does Ty Issac, who has 88 carries of his own.
The Wolverines, despite the backs playing behind a line that has given up 29 sacks, are the 35th ranked rushing team nationally.
Meanwhile, there are only 14 other teams that have stymied the rush better than Michigan. Their success in that area is a big reason why they are the 11th ranked scoring defense only giving up 17.1 points per game, and are third in total defense.
They are especially stingy in the second half, only allowing opponents slightly less than an average of eight points after the break, and on third down, where opponents only convert 24.67 percent of the time.
Pacing that defense with 89 tackles is sophomore linebacker and Butkus Award finalist Devin Bush. He also has 9.5 TFLs, five sacks, and a team-leading nine passes defended.
Both defensive lineman Chase Winovich and linebacker/defensive back hybrid Khaleke Hudson lead the team in sacks with seven each. Nationally, the Wolverines are sixth in bringing down opposing quarterbacks.
Even more impressive than Michigan’s numbers against the run is their pass defense, as they lead the nation in that category, giving up only 144.4 yards per game. And they have more interceptions (9) than they have given up touchdown passes (8).
Ohio State looks to drop Jim Harbaugh to 0-3 in the Rivalry Game Saturday at noon on 97.1 The Fan.