Last week, the Michigan Wolverines were tested by a good team from Illinois Fighting Illini in an exciting 19-17 win in Ann Arbor. Up to that point, it was perhaps their most comparable opponent of the season. But like November football, it’s time to move on to even bigger and better things. That comes this weekend in the form of the Ohio State Buckeyes.
In order for the Wolverines to do their job in Columbus, they need to slow down the Buckeyes’ passing game and also watch out for one of the best defensive players in college football. Let’s take a look at these three guys who can ruin The Game this weekend.
QB CJ Stroud
We’re going to start with the obvious here, and that’s CJ Stroud. His numbers this year have been just as flashy as his Heisman run last season. In 11 games, Stroud has thrown for 2,991 yards and a national-leading 35 passing touchdowns.
In OSU’s two ranked games this season, Stroud has been phenomenal, completing a staggering 74.6% of his passes with an average of 8.6 yards per completion. He has thrown for 300+ yards four times and had a six-touchdown streak against Michigan State. I don’t know if anyone in college football throws a better deep shot than Stroud. There are too many examples, but here’s one from last week against Maryland:
Last year, a big reason the Wolverines retired in the Big House was their passing rush. The team included a total of four sacks, all of which came from Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. But Ohio State has been elite at slowing pass rushes this year. Stroud has only been sacked seven times this season. Michigan needs the likes of Mike Morris, Eyobi Okie and others to take on Stroud. If he has the time of day to throw, in most cases he will hide.
WR Marvin Harrison Jr.
There are many reasons to be concerned about Marvin Harrison Jr. The sophomore is 6ft 4 tall and is one of the top receivers in college football. In 3rd or 4th place, Stroud is looking a lot in Harrison Jr.’s direction. He has a 92.0 PFF score for those occasions, leading the country at the wide receiver position.
Statistically, there might not be a better receiver in college football. In the absence of scheduled first-round pick Jaxson Smith-Njigba, Harrison Jr. leads the Buckeyes in receptions (65) and touchdowns (11). Last week, he became the eighth player in program history to surpass 1,000 yards in a season with this absurd catch:
There are such spectacular catches every week. Because of this, he averages 16 yards per reception and five 100+ yard games a year. Without a doubt, it’s the most explosive weapon the Buckeyes have on offense.
The reason this worries me is how the Wolverines’ corners have played against bigger receivers this year. Michigan State wide receiver Keon Coleman flaunted the perfect tape:
There were times this season when both DJ Turner and Gemon Green were beaten beyond measure by large, physical receivers. Harrison Jr. is the prototype NFL wide receiver and his game must be limited for Michigan to win this game on Saturday.
DL JT Tuimoloau
Michigan’s success last season came because it dominated the trenches on both sides of the ball. It is being asked to do the same this year and the biggest man to watch is defensive end JT Tuimoloau.
In Ohio State’s biggest game yet, on the stretch against Penn State, Tuimoloau was the international of the week after two fumbled recoveries, two interceptions (including a game-winning pick-six) and two sacks. It was one of the most impressive defenses I’ve ever seen.
Winning up front means keeping Tuimoloau away from JJ McCarthy on every descent. This means additional focus off the offensive line in the running game as Michigan look to get ahead with (hopefully) Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards.
If the Wolverines are to match Ohio State’s offense, they’ll need long, enduring rides. It all starts with winning up front and not letting the Buckeyes’ front seven interfere with this game.