Michigan Week Mic Check: Putting It All On The Line

By Chris Lauderback on November 22, 2017 at 4:15 pm
Ohio State's offensive line must contain Michigan's Rashan Gary

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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Posting back-to-back blowout victories following the debacle in Iowa City, Urban Meyer's squad has righted the ship and is now searching for its sixth-straight win over Michigan before facing Wisconsin in the B1G championship. 

Despite Jim Harbaugh's struggles to win a rivalry game it's still Ohio State versus Michigan, in Ann Arbor. As such, Meyer is well-aware the Buckeyes must show up ready to play on Saturday. 

In recent weeks Meyer has gone out of his way to note Ohio State is an offensive line driven program and that this year's group is hitting its stride down the stretch. 

Speaking with reporters Monday, Meyer spoke about his Slobs: 

Q. You mentioned after the game that your offensive line is maybe the most improved or one of the most improved units on the team. What's different? I know last year you guys were young there. What's the growth you've seen from that through the season?

Urban Meyer: Maturity, Jamarco Jones and Billy Price have stabilized that, and Isaiah is a year older. And there's mistakes made in recruiting; guys are forced into playing time before their time. Michael Jordan shouldn't have played as a true freshman. That wasn't recruit a guy to come start as a true freshman. It's because some other guys were not performing well enough and he got forced into it.

So that happens at other positions, and sometimes you deal with early entry in the NFL draft. Other times you deal with guys that are not developed and aren't what we thought they would be by this time. So that's what happens.

Q. Mike Jordan, player of the game. You remarked how Demetrius Knox is playing well. For this offense in particular, when the guards are rolling, how important is that, what does that do for your offense?

Urban Meyer: Base play is a zone scheme. And we want the big wide-ass, probably shouldn't say that, but to move defensive line you need to have the big guards in this offense. And zone schemes, that's a prerequisite -- be powerful coming off the board and those two are good at it.

With center Billy Price and left tackle Jamarco Jones leading Ohio State's offensive line, the 2017 offense is on pace, as discussed in last week's Mic Check, to be the most prolific of the Meyer era in terms of total yards per game while yielding the fewest sacks per game. 

OHIO STATE OFFENSIVE STATS DURING URBAN MEYER ERA
YEAR TOT OFF NATL RANK YDS/PLAY NATL RANK RUSH YPG NATL RANK RUSH YPC NATL RANK SACKS ALLOWED SACKS/G NATL RANK
2017 546.2 4 7.13 7 252.6 12 6.03 7 15.0 1.46 29
2016 459.2 31 6.02 47 245.2 11 5.47 17 28.0 2.15 68
2015 434.1 41 6.33 29 245.2 11 5.62 9 19.0 1.46 33
2014 511.6 9 6.98 6 264.5 9 5.75 11 28.0 1.87 50
2013 511.9 7 7.15 5 308.6 5 6.80 1 22.0 1.57 40
2012 423.8 46 6.08 33 242.3 10 5.20 20 29.0 2.42 90

While the success of the Slobs' season-to-date is noted, the stiffest test of the year comes Saturday as the Wolverines boast a stout defensive line (and blitzing linebackers) led by Maurice Hurst, Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich, all of which will be playing with huge chips on their shoulders. This is not lost on Meyer: 

Q. Rashan Gary and Maurice Hurst, their defensive linemen, are a couple guys who get a lot of attention. From starting your film study for the week and just watching over the course of the season, are they guys that stand out?

Urban Meyer: We haven't just been starting our film study for the week. It's been going on for a long time. They're very good players. Both very highly draftable NFL players, too.
 

The numbers back up Meyer's concern as the Michigan defense ranks among the nation's best in multiple categories though it must be called out both Wisconsin and Maryland put up 180 rushing yards and Penn State blew up for 224. 

2017 MICHIGAN DEFENSE STATISTICS
TOT DEF NATL RANK RUSH DEF NATL RANK RUSH YPC NATL RANK YDS/PLAY NATL RANK SACKS SACKS/G NATL RANK
261.2 3 116.8 15 3.41 17 4.37 4 36 3.27 8

The Wolverines rank No. 3 in the land in total defense giving up just 261 yards per game thanks in large part to a typical ability of the defensive line to control the line of scrimmage. 

With Maurice Hurst and Aubrey Solomon manning interior, Michigan is yielding just 3.41 yards per carry. 

Teaming with defensive ends Chase Winovich (7.0 sacks, 15.5 TFL) and Rashan Gary, linebackers Devin Bush and Mike McCray and viper Khaleke Hudson (7.0 sacks, 16.0 TFL) in particular, Michigan is also getting after the quarterback posting 3.27 sacks per game, good for sixth in the country

The matchup of Winovich and Gary coming off the edge against Jamarco Jones and Isaiah Prince will be of huge importance, as will the battle of Michael Jordan and Demetrius Knox versus Hurst (13.5 TFL) as the Slobs effort in giving J.T. Barrett time to throw.

You can also bet elite defensive coordinator Don Brown has some wrinkles in store for the Buckeye offensive line and running backs to handle as part of his blitz packages. 

How effectively the Buckeyes can stay out of obvious passing situations along with the offensive line's ability to handle the pressure Brown will most certainly bring in an effort to disrupt Ohio State's high-powered attack will go a long way in determining who marches to the winner's circle. 

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