Five Things to Know About Michigan Before The Rivalry Resumes in Ann Arbor This Weekend

By Griffin Strom on November 22, 2021 at 10:10 am
Jim Harbaugh
Matthew O’Haren – USA TODAY Sports

It has all built up to this.

10-1 (7-1 B1G)



After an extra year of anticipation due to last year’s COVID-19 cancellation, The Game returns in all its glory this weekend, and the stakes couldn’t be much higher. On the line is a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game and potentially a spot in the College Football Playoff, as Ohio State and Michigan both put their 10-1 records on the table in the final game of the regular season.

Jim Harbaugh and company had a lot of questions to answer this offseason after last year’s disastrous 2-4 run against Big Ten competition, suffering defeats to the likes of Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin and Penn State, but the Wolverines have proven to be a resilient bunch with a bounceback campaign in 2021.

Despite notching single-digit wins in close calls against Rutgers, Nebraska and Penn State, Michigan’s only real slip-up came against Michigan State, which edged the Wolverines, 37-33, in a back-and-forth affair on Oct. 30.

Ohio State and Michigan are both coming off arguably the most dominant performances of each of their seasons so far, with the Buckeyes handing the Spartans a 56-7 defeat on Saturday and the Wolverines breezing past Maryland with a 59-18 result in their own right.

Attention on both sides now turn solely to each other, and if you’ve only been keeping one eye on the Buckeyes’ archrival so far this season, here’s five things to know about Michigan before Saturday.

Top-10 total, scoring and passing defense

On paper, the Wolverines are nationally elite in a number of significant defensive categories. Under first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, Michigan ranks ninth in the country in total defense (306.6 yards allowed per game), seventh in scoring defense (16.27 points allowed per game) and eighth in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (178.4).

Mike Macdonald
Mike Macdonald has had plenty of success in his first year at the helm of the Wolverine defense. (Photo: Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC)

The Buckeyes have actually played one total defense that currently ranks higher than Michigan, having racked up 495 yards of offense on Minnesota’s fourth-ranked total defense in the season opener. Ohio State also scored 33 points on its only opponent with a better scoring defense than the Wolverines, notching a nine-point win over Penn State and the nation’s No. 4 scoring defense on Oct. 30.

No opponent Ohio State has faced thus far has allowed as few passing yards as the Wolverines, who have held eight of the 11 teams they’ve played thus far under 200 yards through the air. No team has tallied more than 293 passing yards against Michigan in any game this season.

Ohio State will enter with the sixth-best passing offense in the country, averaging 362.3 yards per game through the air through 11 games.

Dangerous edge rusher duo

Instrumental in the Wolverines’ success against opposing pass attacks has been the play of two elite edge rushers that have put up stellar stats to this point in the season.

Aidan Hutchinson, a 6-foot-6, 265-pound defensive end, has been touted as one of the top players in college football this season, and his numbers back that up. The senior leads Michigan with 11.5 tackles for loss, is tied for first on the roster with 10 sacks and has the fourth-most tackles overall with 47. Hutchinson also has three pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Hutchinson has registered at least a half-sack against seven different opponents this season and is just two games removed from a career-best effort against Penn State in which he finished with three sacks in a win over the Nittany Lions.

Junior outside linebacker David Ojabo is the only Wolverine to rival Hutchinson’s sack production this season, with 10 of his own to match his teammate’s total. Like Hutchinson, Ojabo also has three pass breakups and a fumble recovery, while he has also forced five fumbles this season, tied for second-most in the nation.

Only eight players in the country have more sacks than Hutchinson or Ojabo, and together they’ve wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks and offensive linemen all season long.

Top-15 rushing offense

The strength of the Michigan offense has undoubtedly come on the ground for the majority of the season. The Wolverines possess the 15th-best rushing offense in the country with an average of 218.4 yards per game, over 20 yards more than the Buckeyes’ own average in 2021.

The damage has been done by the two-headed running back pairing of Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, who have combined to rack up 1,841 yards and 23 touchdowns thus far. Corum will be a name to keep an eye on throughout this week, as the second-year rusher has not played in either of the past two games due to an ankle injury but could very well return for The Game.

Corum had the hot hand of the two backs early in the season, rushing for at least 100 yards in each of the first three games while accruing seven scores on the ground, but the Wolverines have ridden Haskins more in the back half of the year. Since Oct. 9, Haskins has rushed for 100 yards in four different games and has punched in seven touchdowns in that six-game stretch.

Ohio State’s run defense ranks 11th-best in the country, and the Buckeyes did not struggle to shut down Doak Walker Award frontrunner Kenneth Walker this past weekend. But Michigan managed to rush for 112 yards and a score against Wisconsin, which has the top run defense in the country.

Passing game unspectacular

Due to the Wolverines’ run-heavy approach on offense, the passing game has not often yielded earth-shattering numbers.

Michigan has the No. 15 scoring offense (36.9 point per game) and No. 23 total offense (447.9 yards per game) in the country, but through the air, the Wolverines’ average of 229.5 passing yards per game ranks all the way down at No. 71 in the nation.

Cade McNamara
Cade McNamara has just one 300-yard passing game this season. (Photo: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

The only time starting quarterback Cade McNamara has topped the 300-yard mark was against Michigan State and the nation’s worst pass defense, and the third-year Wolverine has failed to throw for 200 yards on seven occasions this season. McNamara didn’t attempt more than 16 passes until the fifth game of the season, and he didn’t tally more than 197 yards until Week 6.

McNamara has been relatively efficient nonetheless, having thrown just two interceptions to 14 touchdowns this season, with at least two passing scores thrown in each of his past four performances down the stretch of the regular season.

Harbaugh still looking for first win in The Game

Surely no Buckeye fan needs reminding that Harbaugh’s record against Ohio State as head coach stands at 0-5, but it’s a fact that simply can’t be glossed over when discussing the rivalry in any regard.

The Buckeyes still hold their series-best eight-game win streak over the maize and blue, and with another win, they’d tie Michigan’s all-time best run of nine straight wins in The Game from 1901-09. Ohio State is still seven wins shy of tying Michigan’s mark of 58 wins in the rivalry, with six ties in the mix.

The last time the Wolverines got a win in The Game was 2011, when Brady Hoke ended a seven-year drought of Michigan victories against Ohio State with a 40-34 win in Ann Arbor. With the 2021 matchup taking place at the Big House, this year will mark the first time since 1903 that back-to-back editions of the rivalry game have taken place in Michigan.

If you count 2010’s vacated win, the Buckeyes have 15 of the last 16 rivalry games against the Wolverines, and they’ll be favored to improve that mark even further come Saturday.

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