Columbus, Ohio — Desmond Howard likes how Michigan and Ohio State match up and Kirk Herbstreit thinks it will be about defense and field position.
Howard and Herbstreit will be on the ESPN GameDay set Saturday for five hours before The Game, Ohio State No. 2 versus Michigan No. 3, at Ohio Stadium.
Herbstreit thinks the game will not match the high-scoring outcome of the 2006 Michigan-Ohio State game when OSU was ranked No. 1 and Michigan No. 2, the last time the two teams were both ranked in the nation’s top three. He certainly expects new wrinkles from both.
“On paper, I see a low-scoring game, field position, special teams, turnover margin, all those things playing a big part in who wins,” Herbstreit said Friday during a break from GameDay preparations. “The emotion, who can control the momentum, those kinds of things will go a long way.
“It’s Urban Meyer, it’s Jim Harbaugh, they’ve both saved things for this game. Jabrill Peppers is probably going to throw a pass, Ohio State is going to have a little something with a running quarterback and J.T. Barrett. You’re going to see some stuff. When the dust settles, it’s like a 21-17 kind of game. It’s going to be low scoring. Which team catches that big break in the fourth quarter is probably going to be the team that ends up winning the game.”
Howard said the winner will take advantage of vulnerabilities.
“it’s a good matchup, a really good matchup,” Howard said. “Both teams have some deficiencies. It will be interesting to see who can impose his will on the other team and exploit the other team’s flaws.”
Michigan and Ohio State are on an even playing field, Herbstreit said, but for the Michigan seniors who have never beaten Ohio State, it's about managing that pregame energy.
Kirk Herbstreit on the last chance for Michigan seniors to beat Ohio State.
"Some of those guys have never beaten Ohio State, and there’s such intensity for them to try to come into this game," Herbstreit said. "This is their last chance to go out and beat Ohio State. I have that perspective from the other side. I know what it feels like to go to bed and have never beaten Michigan. And what you have to be careful of is working yourself up so much because you want it so bad that that can also backfire on you. The challenge for Michigan will be to maintain their composure and for Ohio State, they’re looking to maintain the confidence they’ve been able to generate over the last however many years it’s been."
Michigan’s quarterback situation is murky. Starter Wilton Speight missed last week’s game against Indiana because of an unspecified injury to his left (non-throwing) shoulder, and John O’Korn started in his place. O’Korn was shaky in the first half but helped lead Michigan to the win.
Howard on Michigan quarterbacks Wilton Speight and John Korn possibly facing Ohio State.
“That’s a huge concern because Speight had played so well for so well and you knew what you were going to get with Speight under center,” Howard said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how he responds to this type of environment, this type of defense and just simply, this type of pressure. I think at the beginning of the game you may have some nervousness, but as the game progresses you need to settle in and execute.
“The silver lining for Michigan fans would be the fact you have coach Harbaugh preparing him for this game. I don’t think there’s a better head coach out there who can prepare a quarterback for an opponent. That’s pretty much the silver lining. He has to play much better than he played against Indiana, especially that first half. Second half, I think he started to get a good feel for the game. I don’t think the speed of the game was too much for him in the second half. He got the nice run, and I thought that was an element he brought to the offense that could be a difference maker on the field. Hopefully, he can build off what took place in the second half of the Indiana game and go from there.”
Desmond Howard discusses how the Michigan coach has changed the culture at Michigan.
Howard saw Michigan’s turnaround in Year Two under Harbaugh coming quickly based on his track record. Herbstreit thought it might take a bit longer.
“This is what he does, he turns programs around relatively quickly,” said Howard, the Heisman Trophy winner from Michigan. “The most important thing is he’s changed the culture. I think that’s key. Year Two, ranked No. 3 in the country, it’s pretty big, pretty relevant.
“First and foremost, when you get a new coach, it has to be the right fit. I don’t care how great this coach is at the program he’s coaching, if he’s not a great fit for your program, it’s just not going to work. As great as Jim Harbaugh is as a coach, he’s the right fit for Michigan. He understands the culture, he knows what Michigan football, at least in his mind, looks like, what it’s about. He understands the region, he understands the conference, so to me it’s not shocking or surprising he’s been able to do what he’s been able to do in such a short period of time, because he’s the right fit. I know the media loves to talk about his quirk or that quirk, he’s got khakis on, but what they don’t criticize him for is what he’s getting the checking, which is to coach. He’s a hell of a coach. You don’t ask me, go ask the 49ers.”
Herbstreit thought it might take a few more recruiting classes for Harbaugh to make the Wolverines as competitive in the national picture.
ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit on how Jim Harbaugh's arrival has affected the rivalry and the Big Ten.
“When they hired Jim Harbaugh, we were out at the Rose Bowl, I remember thinking it’s not about if but when he brings them back,” Herbstreit said. “I had the same feelings with Alabama hired Nick Saban. I thought, hope you get your shots in now because he’s bringing Bama back and that’s exactly how I feel about Jim Harbaugh.
“I made a comment earlier in this year Michigan is going to be good this year but his better teams are ahead of him. That’s from a physical, on paper standpoint. Not intangibles. This is a unique situation because of having a veteran group, but physically, he’s going to recruit better quarterbacks, better wide receivers, better running backs. Like the type of players that were there throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s when they were on fire sending guys to the NFL. That’s coming back.”
Herbstreit, a former OSU quarterback, said college football is better when Michigan and Ohio State are at their best.
“I guess I’m surprised because (Harbaugh has) inherited this team, they’ve bought into his culture and the fact they’re at the level where they are, I think anybody has to be surprised that it’s been this quick,” Herbstreit said of Michigan. “As a fan of the Big Ten and being at Ohio State, I’m a huge fan of him bringing Michigan back, because it’s healthy for the rivalry, it’s great for the Big Ten and it’s great for college football anytime you bring that brand back to where he has brought them.”
It has been 10 years since the Michigan-Ohio State game has had so much on the line.
“I love it. I love the buildup, and the anticipation, the personalities,” Herbstreit said. “The rivalry has always been great, but when we had that 10-year war, those big, bombastic personalities, you didn’t know what would happen. It just added to it. It added to the spice.
“It was always great, but now we’re all bracing, hoping we get those two big personalities on both sidelines. I’m part of hoping it’s what everyone is hoping for.”
The 10-year war involved Ohio State coach Woody Hayes and Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, two big personalities, to be sure. Now, it’s Ohio State coach Urban Meyer facing off against Harbaugh.
“Wow this game is huge. It’s fun,” Howard said. “Hopefully it lives up to the hype. Excited about it. College football is better when the schools like Michigan and USC, some of the perennial powerhouses are relevant. Obviously, this is an exciting time not just for both programs but college football in general.”