I get it.
You look at the recent history against Ohio State — losing 13 of that last 14 matchups — and you think a loss is inevitable. Then, you see the Michigan football team has to rewrite that history in Columbus, where it hasn’t won since 2000. And it’ll try to do it against one of the country’s best coaches, with one of the country’s best quarterbacks beside him.
A lackluster 31-20 win over Indiana surely inspires more concern than confidence about beating the Buckeyes.
I ask you to do one thing: forget all of it.
“It's a different game, and we're going to make sure we'll handle our business,” said senior running back Karan Higdon. “They still have to play us on Saturday. Nothing that happened in the past matters at this point.”
The rivalry game will be different in more ways than one. The Wolverines will beat Ohio State. Michigan will claim sole ownership of the Big Ten East title.
What’s at stake is very apparent. And the Wolverines are approaching it with measured responses.
“Everybody in the whole entire country knows what this week is,” said junior defensive end Rashan Gary. “We know what this week is, so we’re gonna attack it. It’s been a whole year of having a bad taste in our mouths. We just gotta go out, prepare the right way and go out there Saturday and see what happens.”
The first, and most obvious reason the tables will turn this year is quarterback Shea Patterson. John O’Korn was abysmal in “The Game” last season, sailing balls left and right and throwing a game-sealing interception facing marginal pressure.
This season, the Buckeyes rank 77th in passing yards allowed per game (237.4), and have struggled to contain quarterbacks that the Wolverines’ defense outright punished like Nebraska's Adrian Martinez, Penn State's Trace McSorley and Indiana's Peyton Ramsey. Those three quarterbacks all threw for at least 260 yards and a touchdown against them. Patterson is the most accurate and mobile quarterback Michigan has had since Denard Robinson, the last quarterback to beat Ohio State back in 2011.
Patterson is also playing behind an offensive line that is significantly better than last season’s, which allowed five sacks on O’Korn. Saturday’s game serves as a homecoming for offensive line coach Ed Warinner, who coached for the Buckeyes from 2012-16, and he will get to showcase his latest work to his former team. The loss of Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, the likely No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, further opens the door for an impactful O-line performance.
The second reason, conversely, is Buckeyes quarterback Dwayne Haskins and his offensive line. The numbers don’t lie — Haskins is third in the country in passing yards per game, and 36 touchdowns. Haskins has also been sacked just 13 times. But the offensive line has been far below average for the Buckeyes in the run game — 54th in the country in yards per game — even with J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber in the backfield. In other words, facing Michigan’s top-ranked defense, Haskins will have to throw.
Few quarterbacks have found success this season against the Wolverines. Immobile quarterbacks like Haskins haven’t fared any better.
And the only aspect of the team worse than its offensive line is its run defense.
Maryland’s Anthony McFarland ran rampant on the Buckeyes in a 52-51 shootout (Yes, the same Maryland that only dropped 10 points against Michigan), registering 298 yards and two touchdowns on just 21 carries.
Senior running back Karan Higdon, who averages nearly 111 rushing yards per game, will have a field day in Columbus.
So fire away with your takes:
“Jim Harbaugh can’t win the big one.”
“Michigan will just choke.”
“They can’t win in Columbus.”
And they would all be wrong. This isn’t about cliches or empty narratives. The Wolverines are unequivocally better than the Buckeyes, who have rarely looked impressive against the same competition.
Michigan’s sole loss is a one touchdown heartbreaker at No. 3 Notre Dame in the season opener. Purdue romped Ohio State by four possessions, and the Boilermakers hope to become bowl eligible with a win next week.
For Ohio State fans and Michigan skeptics, harping on the past is easy, but this time the past will not matter.
“Just another game,” Patterson said. “We understand the tradition and the meaning behind it, but we're going to attack it the same way we have the past 10, 11 weeks. We know they're a good ball club at their place, but we're just going to prepare and come out firing.”
And with coming out firing, a win will follow.
Editor’s note: This is one of two dueling columns published today, arguing the case for each possible result for Saturday's Michigan/Ohio State showdown. The views above are meant to present one rationale, not necessarily express the opinion of the writer.