Focused Michigan defense prepares for Justin Fields, Ohio State

Henry Palattella The Columbus Dispatch
Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey fumbles as he’s hit by Michigan linebacker Josh Uche during the second half of the Wolverines’ 39-14 victory on Saturday. [Darron Cummings/The Associated Press]

When Michigan played last year at Ohio State, the Wolverines did so with a College Football Playoff spot within their grasp.

The plan was laid out. Take care of the Buckeyes and the only thing standing between the No. 4 Wolverines and the playoff was the Big Ten championship game against Northwestern.

Things didn’t go according to plan, as the Wolverines were manhandled in a 62-39 loss.

Michigan came into the game with the top-ranked defense in the country, but the Buckeyes totaled 567 yards of offense. Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. passed for 396 yards and six touchdowns.

The loss stung on many levels. Not only did it rip the Wolverines out of the playoff picture, it dropped Jim Harbaugh to 0-4 against Ohio State, while the Buckeyes’ Urban Meyer improved to 7-0 against Michigan.

A lot has changed. Although Harbaugh and quarterback Shea Patterson are still with the Wolverines, defensive assistants Al Washington and Greg Mattison left for Ohio State in the offseason. For the Buckeyes, gone are Meyer and Haskins, replaced by Ryan Day and Justin Fields.

For the past year, the Buckeyes’ dismantling has hung like a black cloud over Ann Arbor. On Saturday at Michigan Stadium, the Wolverines will get their chance to atone.

“We’re all just going to do our job and play the game we play,” defensive linemen Aidan Hutchinson said. “Obviously this game is the biggest one on our schedule. We don’t see (Ohio State) as unbeatable; every team can be beat.”

Against Indiana on Saturday, the Michigan defense stepped up when it needed to. After allowing the Hoosiers to score twice in the first half, the Wolverines limited them to 180 yards on their final nine possessions.

“We didn’t really make a ton of adjustments,” Harbaugh said. “We just cut out some of the things they were getting us on. It was a theme throughout the game where they’d get us to jump offsides and then they’d take a free shot downfield. I think the three-and-outs in the second half were huge to widen the lead and put more pressure on them.”

Fields is coming off his worst game as a Buckeye — hitting 16 of 22 passes for 188 yards and losing two fumbles against Penn State — but stopping him will be a point of emphasis for Michigan.

The Wolverines got a tuneup for Fields against Indiana’s Peyton Ramsey, who completed 17 of 29 passes for 217 yards and ran for a touchdown.

“They’re very focused,” Harbaugh said of his defense. “They’ve aggressively improved every week.”