People in Ann Arbor are giddy over beating the hated Ohio State Buckeyes two consecutive years after a decade and a half of misery. Plans are already being made for the College Football Playoff, even with the destination unknown. They should put on the brakes.
Five Reasons Why a Michigan Three-Peat Over Ohio State Won’t Be Easy
Yes, the man who was born on third base, according to Michigan football head coach Jim Harbaugh. Despite being the head man who lost the last two games to the Michigan Wolverines, head coach Ryan Day has an overall record at Ohio State of 49-6, including one victory against the Wolverines in his first season.
Give props to Day for showing some rarely-seen emotion after a last-second win versus the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in South Bend, Indiana. He also praised his team for its toughness in the same post-game interview where he was responding to comments made by former Fighting Irish coach and current ESPN analyst, Lou Holtz.
This is the kind of leadership the Buckeyes will need this year when they head to Ann Arbor, Michigan for the regular season finale. Too often of late, we’ve seen Ohio State put up pinball machine-like offensive numbers throughout the season only to falter when it matters most. Don’t discount the fire that burns with Day after two consecutive losses to their arch-rival, especially after his predecessor Urban Meyer went undefeated against Michigan during his tenure as Ohio State’s head coach.
Yes, some of you are undoubtedly saying what, Kyle McCord? He has far from the stats of C.J. Stroud and the late Dwayne Haskins, who both were quarterbacks for the Buckeyes. Some of the faithful in Columbus, Ohio were ready to give up on him after a poor performance in the opener when Ohio State put up a paltry 13 points against the Indiana Hoosiers. Something isn’t right when a healthy Marvin Harrison, Jr. has two catches for only 18 yards.
However, McCord showed grit and a lot of poise in the aforementioned last-second win at South Bend. While McCord is likely never to become a walking highlight reel, he does display many characteristics of former Buckeyes quarterback, Craig Kernzel. Krenzel led Ohio State to an undefeated season and national championship in 2002. McCord has rebounded nicely since the opener and has 17 touchdowns for the season against just four interceptions. McCord looks like someone that would be unwise to bet against.
The Stingy Defense
Led by second-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, the Buckeyes have allowed fewer than 11 points per game this season. Knowles had a successful stint at Oklahoma State, where his defensive units improved in each season. Knowles was then brought to Ohio State after the 2021 season, where the Buckeyes gave up 42 points to the Wolverines and 42 points to the Utah Utes in the Rose Bowl.
So far, they have shown significant improvement from last season, where they gave up over 22 points per game. However, those numbers are skewed by the points allowed in the Michigan game and then against the Georgia Bulldogs in the playoff. This year’s defense is playing with a toughness and aggressiveness that was missing in the recent years before Knowles arrived in Columbus.
Of course, last year, fans of Ohio State were saying the same thing. That was before Michigan traveled to and again beat Ohio State after the Wolverines ended a long drought to their arch-rivals by winning 42-27 in Ann Arbor during the 2021 campaign. But, after two straight losses to Michigan, the Buckeyes will head to Ann Arbor for the annual showdown with a chip on their shoulders.
The prolific Wolverine offense against the stingy Ohio State defense will likely determine the game’s outcome. The Michigan faithful need to be wary of overconfidence. For the Wolverines, this season is national championship or bust after consecutive disappointing results in the playoff. Never discount the pride of a rival that is beginning to feel disrespected. Even with the Buckeyes currently ranked No. 1 in the early College Football Playoff rankings, Michigan will be favored in their late November matchup, adding more fuel to the Buckeyes’ fire.
Distractions And The Khaki Man
Late on Friday afternoon, Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti announced that Harbaugh had been suspended as head football coach due to the sign-stealing scandal that erupted a few weeks ago. Based on their previously published stance, the school immediately requested an immediate temporary restraining order to block the suspension.
He is with his team in State College, Pennsylvania, awaiting a judge’s decision to determine whether he can coach against the Nittany Lions or any other games during the regular season. While the players will always say the right things in a situation that causes a distraction, there is no getting around the fact that this is a big distraction for the Michigan football team.
It’s anyone’s guess how the team will react and how Harbaugh’s potential absence on the sidelines will affect them. At the very least, things will be different if he isn’t coaching during the games. In that event, Ohio State will have an advantage they would not have otherwise had if he were on the sidelines.
The Bottom Line
The two previous contests between the Buckeyes and Wolverines appear to have been lopsided, with Michigan winning by 15 and 22 points, respectively. However, each game was in doubt until deep into the fourth quarter, with the Wolverines pulling away late. Last year’s game saw Michigan put up 45 points, however, the Wolverines had four extended touchdown plays. There is no guarantee something like that will happen again. The smart money expects a close game this year that goes down the wire.
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