Defense big concern as focus turns to Michigan
Ohio State is 6-0 against Michigan since Urban Meyer became coach and hasn’t lost to the Wolverines at Ohio Stadium since 2000.
The teams have identical 10-1 records this season, but it doesn’t feel that way because of the continual breakdowns by the Ohio State defense. Few are surprised that Michigan is a 4-point favorite.
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But Meyer said he doesn’t intend to use his psychology degree to whip up his players for their showdown Saturday against their archrival.
“We don’t talk about those things,” Meyer said during his Monday news conference. “We have a saying around here that the most prepared team will win the game. It’s not who’s favored or who’s not.
“I didn’t know that and I don’t imagine our team really does, I guess. If they are, they’re looking at the wrong stuff. They ought to be working on how they win their individual battles against a good team.”
After all, motivation is seldom the issue in this game. No matter the records, this game matters. And there is plenty at stake in this one. The winner will represent the Big Ten East against Northwestern in the conference title game next week. The loser Saturday will be eliminated from contention for the College Football Playoff.
Michigan is brimming with confidence. On Monday, running back Karan Higdon guaranteed a victory, echoing a prediction by then-Michigan quarterback and current coach Jim Harbaugh that he backed up in the 1986 game.
The Wolverines have reason for optimism. After a season-opening loss to Notre Dame, they have improved throughout the year, even if Saturday’s 31-20 victory over Indiana was a bit of a hiccup.
Michigan has the nation’s top-ranked defense. Its offense features a strong running game. For the first time in a few years, quarterback is not a liability, thanks to the impact of transfer Shea Patterson.
As for the Buckeyes, their season-long defensive problems were on display in a 52-51 overtime victory over Maryland. Meyer was blunt about the deficiencies while saying that the attention has to be on preparing for Michigan.
“Uncomfortable and direct,” Meyer said when asked to characterize his discussions with defensive coaches. “We have a saying around here: Win the moment. The moment is to get ready for this next one and not to worry about what happened against Oregon State or even last week. That’s hard to do.
“Your question is legit and very uncomfortable to discuss. But our players deserve our best, and that’s to focus on today and that’s what’s coming next.”
What gives Ohio State hope is that its offense is again clicking. Dwayne Haskins Jr. was named the Big Ten offensive player of the week for the fifth time this season, tying the record set by Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith during his 2006 Heisman Trophy season. Haskins had his coming-out party last year in rallying the Buckeyes over Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Ohio State’s running game, stagnant for much of the year, gained 283 yards against Maryland, including 203 by J.K. Dobbins.
But Meyer is worried about the toll that the 105 snaps the offense took on his offensive players.
“Right now that's my biggest concern,” he said. “How do I get through Tuesday and Wednesday practices (to get ready for) this very good defense, but yet be ready to swing, because they'll have to swing on Saturday?”
Meyer said that several players who missed the Maryland game or were injured in it are expected to play. That includes running back Mike Weber (quadriceps contusion), left tackle Thayer Munford (leg) and linebacker Baron Browning (undisclosed).