Michigan first-half observations: Defense holding Ohio State in check so far

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — With snow flurries circulating, this has been a physical first half between Michigan and Ohio State in the 117th meeting of the two rivals.

This is the first time the teams have played since 2019, having missed last year’s game when Michigan was forced to cancel because of a COVID outbreak. The Wolverines take a 14-13 lead into halftime with a Big Ten East Division title and a spot in the championship game on the line.

Michigan defensive back Vincent Gray (4) breaks up a pass intended for Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave (2) during the first half.

Michigan took the lead late in the half on a one-yard run from Hassan Haskins, who earlier in the drive made a critical fourth-down conversion. A 37-yard pass from Cade McNamara to Cornelius Johnson put Michigan at the Ohio State 2-yard line.

Ohio State made a 30-yard field goal with nine seconds left in the half to pull within one point.

Michigan’s fans have been loud during the first half and forced Ohio State into three false starts.

Michigan defense making noise

This matchup is strength against strength, Ohio State’s top-rated prolific offense and against Michigan’s defense ranked seventh nationally under first-year coordinator Mike Macdonald.

Things started out well for the Wolverines’ defense, as they forced a three-and-out on Ohio State’s first series of the game that started from the Buckeyes’ 4-yard line. On the Buckeyes’ first play, center Luke Wypler snapped early and quarterback C.J. Stroud bobbled the snap. Back-to-back incompletions after gaining a yard led to OSU punting.

The Buckeyes next drive was set up by Bryson Shaw’s interception of Cade McNamara in the red zone after the Wolverines reached the 15-yard line. OSU got a big 28-yard run from TreVeyon Henderson to the Michigan 21-yard line, but after reaching the Michigan 3-yard line, the Buckeyes stalled. Stroud threw incomplete and then the Buckeyes got a costly false start bumping them back five yards for a 3rd-and-8. Aidan Hutchinson, who had been getting pressure and close, then sacked Stroud for a six-yard loss. Ohio State settled for a 31-yard field goal after driving 64 yards on 12 plays.

Critical mistakes

Many thought heading into this game that the Wolverines would have to have a perfect performance to win. But some imperfect moments have happened early. McNamara, who entered the game with 14 touchdowns against two interceptions, was picked off as the Wolverines were driving deep in Ohio State territory on first down after connected with Roman Wilson for 24 yards.

Wilson’s reception put Michigan at the Michigan 15-yard line, but McNamara was interception by Shaw ending the Wolverines’ hopes of building a 14-0 lead. The drive had started at the OSU 39-yard line after an A.J. Henning return of 17 yards.

In the opening minutes of the second quarter, German Green was called for catch interference on a punt return. While Ohio State wasn’t able to take advantage, the drive ending when Mike Morris broke up a third-down pass from Stroud, this was the kind of mistake Michigan can’t afford.

Hutchinson ties his father

Aidan Hutchinson came back to Michigan in large part for one more shot at Ohio State. He also had some personal records he wanted, including beat his father, Chris Hutchinson’s, sack total during his All-American season at Michigan in 1992.

Chris Hutchinson had 11 sacks during that season, getting his 11th against OSU quarterback Kirk Herbstreit. Aidan Hutchinson’s sack of Stroud in the first quarter for a six-yard loss gives him 11 for the season, tying his father for second on the all-time list. LaMarr Woodley and David Bowens share Michigan’s single-season record with 12.


Twitter: @chengelis