Michigan vs. Ohio State: View from other side
VIEW FROM OTHER SIDE
Bill Rabinowitz, who covers Ohio State for the Columbus Dispatch, breaks down the Buckeyes for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into the Michigan-Ohio State game. Follow Rabinowitz on Twitter: @brdispatch.
Question: You've covered J.T. Barrett his entire career — there was a lot of conversation about what was wrong with him early in the season and then after the Iowa game. What's your evaluation of his overall game and how he's playing now?
Answer: Early in the season, he was tentative, and being a tick slow at quarterback can be deadly. But he needed time to develop chemistry with his receivers and for the offensive line to jell. As for Iowa, he made three horrible throws. (Josh Jackson, who had three interceptions that day, made a phenomenal play on the other pick.) The Iowa game will be one that will have OSU fans muttering unintelligibly for decades. Some things are inexplicable. Other than those two games, Barrett has played at a Heisman level. He's a great leader, has improved his accuracy, is somehow still an underrated runner and clearly a winner. He's not great on the deep ball, but it's not as if he's incapable of throwing it.
2017 MICHIGAN FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Q. Michigan's strength is its defense, so how do you see OSU's offense matching up?
A. This will be a huge challenge for Ohio State's offensive line, which has gone from question mark to strength. Demetrius Knox has filled in admirably for the injured Branden Bowen at right guard, and left guard Michael Jordan is solid. Center Billy Price is playing at a Rimington award level. Jamarco Jones is an All-Big Ten-caliber left tackle. Right tackle Isaiah Prince is the most improved lineman, as he needed to be. The matchup against Maurice Hurst, Rashan Gary, etc., is the most intriguing of the game. If the Buckeyes control that matchup, OSU wins (barring a crazy turnover differential).
Q. Let's say Brandon Peters starts, can a redshirt freshman have success against this Ohio State defense?
A. I would have said no if I hadn't seen the Iowa game. First-year starter Nate Stanley dissected the Buckeyes. But Peters doesn't have Stanley's arm and I'm not sure Michigan's offensive line is as good as Iowa's was that game. The Buckeyes' defensive line is incredibly deep and talented. Nick Bosa might be better than his brother Joey at the same stage of his career. Add in Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes, Dre'Mont Jones and others, and Michigan's line faces a huge challenge. OSU's linebackers have played better now that Chris Worley has moved outside and Tuf Borland has settled in at middle linebacker. Ohio State's secondary has also improved. Denzel Ward has quietly become a shutdown corner and Detroit native Damon Webb has raised his game at safety.
Q. The Buckeyes are sizable favorites entering this game and Michigan and have already secured a berth in the Big Ten title game. Could they have a letdown Saturday?
A. You're very funny.
Q. We hear Urban Meyer's quotes on what the rivalry game means to him and how the Buckeyes prepare for this game throughout the season. Can you shed some light on the kinds of things Meyer does to get this team ready for The Game?
A. In past years at least, they've played LL Cool J's "It's Time for War" non-stop in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center during Michigan week. Throughout campus, people have crossed out the letter M with red Xs. But it's really just a mindset. Meyer is almost unique in his single-mindedness all the time, but that is even more pronounced during Michigan week. As an Ohio native, he instinctively gets the rivalry and appreciates having a part in it. I bet if you were to ask how being undefeated against Michigan ranks with national titles/league titles, etc, it'd be right up there.
BUCKEYES TO WATCH
■ J.K. Dobbins, RB: Dobbins, a true freshman, has started every game and is the fourth Ohio State freshman to top 1,000 yards rushing (1,089). He averages 7.3 yards per carry, which ranks seventh nationally and first among freshmen. He is 30th nationally in rushing at 99.0 yards per game. Dobbins is joined by Detroit’s Mike Weber as a dynamic one-two running back punch. He missed most of the first four games with a hamstring issue, he now has 555 yards rushing and a team-best nine touchdowns. In the last two weeks, Weber, a redshirt sophomore, has rushed 20 times for 270 yards and four touchdowns (13.5 yards/rush). Four of his 20 carries have gone for 20 or more yards.
■ J.T. Barrett, QB: The senior quarterback is 35-6 as a starter and one victory away from tying Art Schlichter as the program’s all-time winningest quarterback. Schlichter was 36-11-1 from 1978 through 1981. Barrett has completed touchdown passes to eight different receivers this season. He has claimed 30 Ohio State program records and five Big Ten records. Barrett holds school records for passing yards (9,079) and Big Ten records for TDs responsible for (140) and touchdown passes (101). Barrett is second in Big Ten history with 12,149 total offensive yards and is just 543 from Drew Brees’ record. He is 10th in NCAA history in TDs responsible for and is 19th in NCAA history in rush yards by a QB (3,070).
■ Nick Bosa, DE: The sophomore defensive lineman has helped Ohio State’s defense to a ranking of 10th nationally with 8.0 tackles for loss per game. Bosa leads the team and is seventh in the Big Ten with 11.5 tackles for loss. Bosa also leads the Buckeyes with five sacks.
FACTS AND FIGURES
■ Getting offensive: The Ohio State offensive line has led the Buckeyes to national rankings of No. 4 in total offense, No. 3 in scoring, 19th in passing and 12th in rushing yards per game. But it doesn’t end there. The Buckeyes are No. 1 in total first downs with 308. Ohio State leads the Big Ten in rushing, passing, scoring and total offense.
■ Catches for everyone: Ohio State has a group of six receivers who have caught at least 17 passes apiece and at least two touchdown passes. A seventh — walk-on C.J. Saunders — has also caught 17 passes for 221 yards. Those seven wide receivers came into the season with just six combined receptions of 20 or more yards for their career. Eleven games into the season, the receivers have 36 such receptions. They had also come into 2017 with just four touchdown receptions. They have combined for 28 so far.
■ Stingy against the pass: The Buckeyes’ secondary has held five opponents to less than 100 yards passing this year. Twice in Big Ten play, they’ve limited opponents to less than 20 yards (16 vs. Maryland and 16 vs. Illinois). Ohio State ranks 15th nationally against the pass.