The Michigan defense has been the most complete and consistent part of the Wolverines this season, but that doesn’t make this weekend’s match up with Ohio State any easier.
College football teams want to be peaking in late November, and Urban Meyer has his team hitting on all cylinders. Its offense has been prolific and will be -- by far -- the best group Michigan has faced this year.
With the Michigan offense sputtering, the Michigan defense will be called upon to contain as much of the Buckeye attack as possible. This doesn’t seem like a game that the Wolverines will be able to win if it becomes a shoot out because the Buckeyes have the more consistent playmakers and the better offensive line.
Keeping it in a lower scoring range seems to be the best bet for Michigan. Doing that would mean the Michigan defense playing far and away its best game of the season.
But, that’s easier said than done. On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison didn’t hold back his compliments for this Ohio State group.
Is Braxton Miller the best QB the Wolverines have faced this year?
Yeah. No question.
What about running back Carlos Hyde?
[He's] the best running back in the league.
They have a good offensive line.
So then what’s the game plan for this Wolverines defensive group?
“I’m telling them that they have to be a Michigan defense, and a Michigan defense does whatever it has to do to win,” Mattison said. “All we’re trying to do is become as good as we can be and try to get 60 minutes.”
But on paper the match up between Michigan’s defense with Ohio State’s offense is pretty skewed toward the Buckeyes. In many of the important categories, Ohio State's offensive has had more solid showings that the Michigan (statistics with national rankings listed in parenthesis).
OSU points per game: 48.7 (No. 3)
Michigan points allowed per game: 25.1 (No. 52)
OSU offensive yards per play: 7.2 (No. 5)
U-M defensive yards per play: 4.93 (No. 21)
OSU yards per rush: 6.91 (No. 1)
U-M allowed yards per rush: 3.23 (No. 15)
OSU offensive third down conversions: 52.9% (No. 7)
U-M opponents third down conversions: 38.4% (No. 51)
Miller is obviously a big reason why Ohio State ranks in the top 10 in all four of those categories.
Few quarterbacks have improved their pocket presence as much as Miller over the past season. And when his arm isn’t hurting teams, he’s making opponents pay with his feet.
He has completed 68 percent of his passes this season (as opposed to 58 percent a season ago). His TD to interception ratio has improved from 15:6 to 19:4, with three games still left to play this season. And his yards per rush has gone from 5.6 to 6.4.
“He’s such a great athlete that when you try to pressure him, you’ve got to make sure you have every base covered,” Mattison said. “When he does break, or when he does beat a guy with his athleticism, a lot of times with the pressures, you’re running with wide receivers and there’s a pretty big field open, and you see that when you’re watching film.”
However, this game has proven time and time again that the spread and supposed distances between these two teams doesn’t truly matter. But what doesn’t seem out of the question is that the Wolverines defense needs to play a much more consistent and complete game.
“This game has always been different in some ways,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “Are they a good football team? Yeah. They’re a very good football team. Do we have to play better than we've played? I don't think there's any doubt about that, and we've got to be more consistent, and we’ve got to finish things better.”