ANN ARBOR, Mich. — In 2022, the narrative was set, Ohio State had vastly improved its defense that had let it down in the year previous, when Michigan football ran it down the Buckeyes’ throat. Former Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles played the big difference, and OSU had clearly found itself in a more advantageous position going into The Game.
Only three teams had eclipsed 300 yards of offense while two of those managed over 400 yards (Penn State and Maryland, with Toledo being the outlier). The belief was that Michigan would struggle to score against Knowles’ defense that was designed to bend, not break, and keep everything in front of it.
However, 530 yards and 45 points later, it wasn’t to be.
The narrative has reset this year, but this time, no team has gotten more than 361 yards (Rutgers). Notre Dame managed just 10 yards shy of that. No team has put more than 17 points up on the Buckeyes this year (Maryland). Thus, Michigan has found itself in a position to either change the narrative or fall into it.
A challenge that the team in Ann Arbor relishes.
“Ohio State is a great team, coached by great coaches, and their defense is one of the best,” senior running back Blake Corum said. “They’re definitely going to provide a challenge for us. But we’re always up for the challenge. They’re fundamentally sound, they play good as a unit and they fly around. So it should be a good game, we just have to have a good week of preparation and prepare for the top defenses.”
Statistically, Ohio State has the best scoring defense Michigan will face (second, behind Michigan at No. 1), the second-best total defense (No. 3, behind Penn State at No. 2 and Michigan at No. 1), the best in yards per play (3.99, good for No. 1; Penn State is No. 3, Michigan is No. 4), the best passing defense (No. 1, Michigan is No. 2, Penn State No. 6), and the third-best rushing defense (Penn State is No. 4, Nebraska is No. 6, Michigan is No. 9, Ohio State is No. 21).
That said, acting head coach and Michigan offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore believes that Ohio State will present the team’s biggest challenge on that side of the ball, outside of when the Wolverines go good-on-good in practice.
“Besides our defense, I think the best one obviously,” Moore said. “I think Penn State was up there and then Purdue’s up there. But the stats speak for themselves. And you see it on film. They’re good at every position. They’re deep at every position. So it’s gonna be something we got to prepare for mentally and physically. So we’re excited for it.”
This is a challenge that quarterback J.J. McCarthy relishes, especially because thematically (though not schematically) it’s a very similar defensive approach. He feels that having gone up against a bend-don’t-break defense is something that he and his offensive teammates have thrived against throughout the week and that will help the Wolverines when lined up across from the Buckeyes.
“They definitely keep a lot more in front of them, they try to make you earn it each and every drive,” McCarthy said. “And I love that because that’s what our defense does, too. So we’ve seen it all year and win against it all year. But they’re a great defense, athletes all over the board. And it’s gonna be a fun one.”
Michigan and Ohio State will kick off at noon EST at The Big House. The Game will be nationally televised on Fox.
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