Chase Young beat his blocker easily, grabbed the back of Sean Clifford’s jersey and sacked the Penn State quarterback deep in the Nittany Lions’ own territory.
But it wasn’t just any sack. That one put Young at 14.5 on the season, an Ohio State single-season record. By the end of the game, he’d totaled two more. And that was after missing the past two games due to suspension.
Fox commentator Joel Klatt was incredulous, saying: “You cannot one-on-one block Chase Young on third-and-long! That’s a total mismatch!”
Young’s three sacks and four tackles for loss against a talented Penn State offense played a big role in the Buckeyes’ win last week, and the Michigan football team knows that if it’s not careful, the same thing could happen to it.
“He’s a game changer,” senior quarterback Shea Patterson told reporters Tuesday. “You’ve got to pay attention to him every single snap. Sometimes he’s capable of doing whatever he wants. A lot of respect for him and what he’s done. We’ll have some stuff.”
Of course, Patterson wasn’t going to reveal any of those schematics. But even with a good game plan, even with double teams and avoiding his area of the field, Young is the kind of guy who can just beat you. He isn’t gaining buzz as potentially the first defensive Heisman finalist since Jabrill Peppers for nothing.
Patterson has taken 20 sacks this year — not terrible, but also not great. And against a team with an offense as good as Ohio State’s, it’s especially important for Patterson to evade pressure as much as possible.
“It’ll be very important,” said senior tight end Nick Eubanks on Monday. “That’s one thing we’ll probably emphasize on this week in terms of preparing for this ball game. We’ll try — as a matter of fact, we’ll do instead of trying — try to prevent him from getting into the backfield.”
There is one potential advantage for Patterson: He’s spent the past two years going up against Michigan’s pass rush, one of the best in the Big Ten, every day in practice. But while the Wolverines are good at getting to the quarterback, they don’t have a transcendent player like Young. Michigan’s defense has 38 sacks on the year, which sounds good until you consider that the Buckeyes have 47.
And blocking Young isn’t easy. He’s a problem no offensive line has managed to consistently solve. So while the Wolverines’ offensive line is among the best in the conference, Patterson can’t rely entirely on it. He’ll also have to help himself by using his legs, getting rid of the ball quickly and staying alert. Patterson has done that well in recent games as Michigan’s offense has found its groove, but Young — and the rest of Ohio State’s defensive line — is a big step up from the likes of Michigan State and Indiana.
“He’s a special player, he’s got a lot of talent,” said senior guard Ben Bredeson. “ … There’s different ways to attack him, attack the defensive front. I know we’re going to have a good scheme for him and for that defensive front in general.”
Speaking to the media this week, the Wolverines seemed confident they’d be ready for Young. They certainly aren’t overlooking his transcendent talent.
But they also wouldn’t be the first to come in with a good scheme designed just for Young, only to have him blow by them anyway.
At this point, all Michigan can do is prepare the best it can, stay confident and brace itself. But if there’s one thing in the Wolverines’ favor, it’s this: They’ve taken the challenge that is Young, and the top-ranked Buckeyes in general, and embraced it.
“It’s gonna be an incredible challenge,” Patterson said. “And it’s one we’re looking forward to.”