Bob Wojnowski and Angelique Chengelis preview the Michigan-Ohio State game and Michigan State Insider Nick Hill previews the MSU-Maryland game. The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — The Michigan players admit that they all dwell on last year’s loss at Ohio State.
Losing 62-39 at Ohio Stadium after riding high on a 10-game winning streak was a gigantic fall. Now, a year later, the Buckeyes arrive at Michigan Stadium unbeaten and No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
There’s no Big Ten East Division title on the line. Ohio State already wrapped that up and will play for the Big Ten title and a shot at the national playoff. Michigan is 9-2 and in Jim Harbaugh’s fifth season as head coach and wants to snap the seven-game losing streak to its archrivals. The Buckeyes are 14-1 in the last 15 meetings.
“The game last year, it still stings,” senior tight end Sean McKeon said earlier this week on the Inside Michigan Football radio show. “Don’t want to feel that again. Some seniors on the team, the leaders, have already talked about it, we’re not going to let that happen again.
“Really looking to make a statement this year for sure.”
A win would mean so many tangible things for Michigan, like a 10-win season, but it would be much more than that, especially for the seniors who have never beaten the Buckeyes.
“This whole season comes down to this game at this point,” McKeon said. “A win would be huge for the program, would be big for every guy on this team. Really excited to go out there on Saturday and see what we can do.”
One of the biggest factors for the Wolverines will be finding a way to contain Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. Young returned last week after a two-game NCAA suspension and had a career-high nine tackles, four tackles-for-loss, three sacks and a forced fumble in the 28-17 win over then-No. 8 Penn State.
Considering he missed two games, his numbers this season are even more breathtaking — Young has 16.5 sacks, setting an Ohio State single-season sack record and leads the nation with 1.83 sacks per game.
“He’s really athletic,” Harbaugh said on his radio show this week. “He’s one of the best pass rushers I’ve seen in the college game in quite some time. Physical in the run. Can take on blocks, can also shrink the edge and athletic enough to get penetration, flow down the line of scrimmage.”
How Michigan will try to neutralize Young may be among the most interesting chess moves in the game. The tackles, Jon Runyan and Jalen Mayfield, will need help. The tight ends will be asked to assist and perhaps fullback Ben Mason plays a bigger role.
“That’s one thing I’ll probably emphasize this week in terms of preparing for this ball game,” tight end Nick Eubanks said earlier this week. “We’ll try to prevent him from getting back there.”
Giving Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson time to work will be critical against the Buckeyes defense, ranked No. 1 nationally, allowing an average 217.4 yards. They’re No. 1 in passing yards allowed (126.2) and scoring (10.5 points) and fifth against the run (91.2).
It all starts with Young.
“He’s a game-changer,” said Patterson, unbeaten the last two years at Michigan Stadium. “You’ve got to pay attention to him every single snap. Sometimes he’s capable of doing whatever he wants. A lot of respect for him and what he’s done.
“We’ll have some stuff.”
But will it be enough? Of course, there’s more to the game than preventing one player from doing what he does best, but keeping Young in check will go a long way toward Michigan efficiently operating its offense that has averaged 41.5 points during its four-game winning streak heading into the Ohio State game.
For the seniors, it will also go a long way toward potentially giving them that win over their archrival.
“Obviously, last game in the Big House,” McKeon said. “Definitely will have a lot of emotions for sure. Feel like the last four years have flown by so really excited to go out there one more time and get a win for Michigan.”
Ohio State at Michigan
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Records: Ohio State 11-0, 8-0 Big Ten; Michigan 9-2, 6-2
Line: Ohio State by 8½