Buckeyes’ progress set to be measured at Michigan


COLUMBUS — As Ryan Day’s press conference after Ohio State’s 37-3 win over Minnesota last Saturday wound down to a final few questions he was asked if he’d watched any of Michigan’s 31-24 win over Maryland earlier in the day.

“I might have,” Day said, with a smile.

While their coach gave a non-specific answer, Ohio State’s players – especially on the defensive side of the ball – made it clear they have immersed themselves in studying film of Michigan and other opponents for the last year to try to eliminate the explosive plays which were the centerpiece of the Wolverines’ 45-23 win over the Buckeyes last season.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy threw touchdown passes of 69 yards and 75 yards in the first half last year and connected with Colston Loveland for a 45-yard TD pass in the third quarter. Then, when it was still a one-score game with seven minutes to play, Donovan Edwards ran through OSU’s defense almost untouched for touchdown runs of 75 yards and 85 yards.

“They had a lot of explosive plays last year. The secondary, we’re all going to be watching films. That’s going to be our lives for the next week,” cornerback Jordan Hancock said.

“We’ve watched a lot of the game tape from last year. We have to make those adjustments and bring it on to this season and make us a better defense,” he said.

The longest plays Ohio State’s defense has allowed this season were 45 yards on a trick running play by Rutgers and a 36-yard pass play by Youngstown State.

Michigan leads FBS teams in scoring defense at 9.0 points a game and OSU is second at 9.27.

Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles described the process of building a defense which has so far limited explosive plays, as “long, arduous and grinding but extremely rewarding” on Tuesday.

He said there can’t be any letdown, though. “I never feel like we have it down. It’s a constant pursuit to defend explosive plays. You never know where they’re going to come from so you have to be on high alert. It had better be a priority.”

No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan both will go into their game at Michigan Stadium on Saturday with 11-0 records for the second year in a row.

The Wolverines have won the last two games in the rivalry after Ohio State won 17 of 19 from 2001 to 2019. They ended an 8-game losing streak to the Buckeyes with a 42-27 win in 2021. No game was played in 2020 when Michigan cancelled its final three games because of Covid.

Michigan will be playing for its third consecutive trip to the Big Ten championship game as the East Division champion and possibly its third straight appearance in the College Football Playoff. TCU beat Michigan 51-45 in a playoff semifinal last season.

Ohio State has not played in a Big Ten championship game since its shortened 2020 season. The Buckeyes lost 42-41 to Georgia in last season’s other playoff semifinal.

Ohio State’s desire for redemption, accusations of prohibited methods of sign stealing by Michigan and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s second suspension of the season have made an always boiling hot rivalry game even hotter.

“You have to play with emotion but you can’t let emotions play with you,” Day said on Tuesday. “You have to keep your emotions in check. We have to go in and execute at a high level and handle the environment.

“Letting emotion and everything get in the way, we can’t do that. We’re not going to let any of that stuff get in the way in terms of distractions. We’re just going to focus on this team and this season. Like I told the guys on Sunday, we’ve been preparing for this moment all season.”

Quarterback Kyle McCord said preparation for Michigan is a year-around task at Ohio State.

“We say we prepare for it 365 days a year and I truly believe it,” McCord said. “The guys on the team, we think about it every day, especially the way the last two year have gone. So to be back in kind of the same position we were last year with a chance to right the ship, I think everybody is excited for it.”

Linebacker Cody Simon said, “There are always story lines and you try to stay focused. I think our team has done a really good job of keeping our minds on what’s here and now and we’re on to this weekend. It’s huge, the biggest weekend of all the games we’ve played. Everyone knows the gravity of the situation.”

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