Final Score: 26-0, Michigan by 26 over Iowa SP+ Projection: Michigan by 22.7 (+3.3) CD Projection: Michigan by 24 (+2)
GAME 13 B1G TEN CHAMPIONSHIP RECAP vs. Iowa
Michigan needed just 213 total yards on offensive to put the Iowa Hawkeyes away in he B1G Ten Championship game. JJ McCarthy completed 22 of his 30 passes for 147 yards, but no touchdowns. Cornelius Johnson takes the crown as king of the passing attack. CJ hauled in a career high 9 receptions, showing tremendous athleticism and soft hands throughout the game. Blake Corum handled the scoring load, finding pay dirt twice. Corum’s two touchdowns tie him for the career rushing touchdown record (55) with legend Anthony Thomas.
The Michigan defense handled their business against an overwhelmed Iowa offense. Mike Sainristil received the championship game MVP after he forced two fumbles in key moments of the game. The linebacker room also showed out. Michigan’s three leading tacklers all come from the LB room. Ernest Hausmann and Junior Colson collected 8 stops each, and senior Michael Barrett added 7 more tackles.
Nine minutes into the game, James Turner sealed the final result by kicking the first Michigan field goal from 35 yards out. Turner would finish with 14 total points by going 4-for-4 on field goals, and 2-for-2 on PATs. Tommy Doman also managed to out-perform Iowa’s Tory Taylor with a net punting edge 39.8 to 35.1. The field position advantage set the Wolverines up with an estimated 1.42 point advantage each time the field flipped.
No doubt, the Wolverines have spoiled Michigan fans with three consecutive titles to go with a three game win streak over the Buckeyes. However, team 144 is a little different than the past two. They immediately shift focus to the next objective. Blake Corum likes to quote Kobe Bryant by saying, “…job’s not finished.” OK, Blake. Bet!
Final Score: 30-24, Michigan by 6 over Ohio State SP+ Projection: Michigan by 6.1 (-0.1) CD Projection: Michigan by 6 (!)
GAME 12 RECAP vs. Ohio State
Michigan’s offense vs. Ohio State’s defense shifted more than any other matchup when compared to the past two seasons. The Wolverines finished with a 46% success rate for the game, and averaged 5.8 yards/play. The Buckeyes succeeded in reducing their explosive play exposure. But, in the 2nd half when the game was decided, Michigan rushed for 122 yards and 5.8 yards per rush. The Wolverines posted a 64% success rate in the 3rd quarter, and 50% in the 4th. JJ McCarthy chipped in a 16-20 passing performance for another 148 yards and a touchdown to Roman Wilson.
Defensively, the Wolverines battled back-and-forth with a star-studded offense from Ohio State. All-world wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. caught five balls for 118 yards and a touchdown, while Emeka Egbuka also found the end zone. However, even though the Buckeyes established a much clearer commitment to rushing the football, they could not top Michigan. Tradition dictates the winner of the rushing battle wins The Game when Ohio State and Michigan clash. The Wolverines triumphed 156-107 on the ground.
The final slice of Michigan’s complementary football masterpiece came from the kicking game. Tommy Doman averaged 52.0 yards per punt, and James Turner looked rock solid on three field goals from 50, 38, and 37 yards. Jake Thaw also deserves a shout out for catching Ohio State’s punts in the air, often in heavy traffic. Michigan gained nearly a point of EPA per possession with their field position advantage.
Sherrone Moore continues his career ascension in Ann Arbor. He flourished as the offensive line coach and led his unit to back-to-back Joe Moore awards as the best in the nation. He added play calling duty in 2022 and improved the offensive output by 4.1 points per game. Now he lives forever as THE guardian of victory for stepping in during Jim Harbaugh’s November suspension. Enjoy the rivalry win boys, back to work on a B1G Championship tomorrow. Onward!
Michigan was able to survive and advance in the annual pre-OSU trap game. The Wolverines held on to beat the Maryland Terrapins 31-24 after shifting into cruise control far too early.
NEXT UP: vs. Ohio State: SP+ 3rd, 27.8
PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 6.1, Michigan Win Probability 64%
Michigan stayed firm atop the SP+ rankings where they’ve been going back to Week 5. But, the Wolverines regressed back to the pack during the Jim Harbaugh suspension. Ohio State remains 3rd overall as well. Surprisingly, the 1st ranked defense leads the Buckeyes SP+ rating strength, not the 19th ranked offense.
Michigan Offense (6th) vs. Ohio State Defense (1st)
This matchup embodies the strength-on-strength clash in this rivalry game. Ohio State clamped down on big plays in 2023 after explosives proved to be the achilles heel for coordinator Jim Knowles in 2022. I expect the Buckeyes to deploy a more structurally sound defensive approach in The Game this year. Keeping the Michigan ground attack under wraps will still be top priority, but I don’t think Ohio State believes they need to commit 9 or 10 players to the line of scrimmage to accomplish that. Michigan fans can expect a rushing attack that looks much more like 2021 (5-6 yards a pop) than the 2022 explosion.
In my eyes, Saturday’s two most critical performances take place up front where Ladarius Henderson expects to return at left tackle, and Karsen Barnhart looks to bounce back in pass protection at right tackle. Henderson & Barnhart will be the point of attack blockers on Michigan runs. Most importantly, they must keep JJ McCarthy clean against JT Tuimoloau and the Buckeyes’ pass rush. Ideally, JJ’s health is no longer a concern and we’ll see him escape the pocket to create down field opportunities. At the minimum, the Michigan running backs should serve as quick outlet valves if Ohio State is bringing pressure.
Michigan Defense (2nd) vs. Ohio State Offense (19th)
For the third consecutive year, the Wolverines’ defense will attempt to execute a game plan meant to minimize explosive pass plays. In 2021 & 2022, impacting quarterback CJ Stroud posed the primary challenge. Now the Buckeyes are led by Kyle McCord. McCord is a good passer, but not on the same level as Stroud. I expect Michigan to utilize extra safeties over the top of Heisman Trophy candidate Marvin Harrison Jr., while relying on the front four plus LB Mike Barrett to generate pressure. If the Wolverines successfully contain Harrison with extra defenders, the wild card will be Mike Sainristil and Josh Wallace against #2 receiver Emeka Egbuka.
Verbally, this season represents a new commitment to running the ball for Ohio State. TreVeyon Henderson and Chip Trayanum combine into a formidable challenge. However, the Buckeyes’ offensive line still falters when trying to get to their second level blocks. And, when Ohio State faces a high leverage situation, Ryan Day remains highly likely to turn away from his running backs and favor his wide receivers. Jesse Minter will keep his coverage guys back, daring Ryan Day to run the ball consistently and repeatedly. The most critical plays in the game will be 3rd down plays with 2-4 yards to go for Ohio State. The Buckeye coaching staff will tell you that they want to run the ball in those spots, but Minter and the rest of the Wolverine faithful all know these are the times to tighten up outside in coverage.
PREDICTION: The SP+ model would favor Michigan over Ohio State by 3.6 points on a neutral field, and Bill Connely’s system adds 2.5 points for home field advantage, resulting in a 6.1 point tilt toward the Wolverines. My preseason pick was Michigan by 6, and I am going to keep that same margin. The teams will trade blows back-and-forth for the first 50-75% of the game. Marvin Harrison Jr. and Blake Corum will each score early touchdowns. But, this game boils down to which players step up in the fourth quarter once each team adjusts to the opponent’s game plan. I think the Michigan defense will seal it late by pressuring McCord into a key mistake. Michigan 34 Ohio State 28 (PRESEASON Michigan 39 Ohio State 33)
Final Score: 31-24, Michigan by 7 over Maryland SP+ Projection: Michigan by 20.9 (-13.9) CD Projection: Michigan by 26 (-19)
GAME 11 RECAP @ Maryland
A common assumption coming into this trap game was that big chunks of Michigan’s play book were likely off limits. JJ McCarthy kept for a short loss on just one surprising read option. Also, I don’t recall a single target for Donovan Edwards in the air. For the 2nd consecutive week, the Wolverines succeeded in winning on the road using predominantly their base run & pass plays. JJ was a bit off target, going 12-23 for 141 yards, 0 TD & 1 INT. Also of note, starting tackle Ladarius Henderson was not available, and back up Myles Hinton also limped off in the second half.
The Michigan defense provided much more firepower against the Terrapins, but also caused concern. Mike Sainristil stepped forward as a clutch play maker once again with two interceptions. Linebacker depth caused fear when senior Mike Barrett stayed down with an upper body injury, although he returned in the second half. Earlier in the game Barrett’s strip-sack led to Derrick Moore’s defensive touchdown.
Kenneth Grant and Mason Graham both created havoc from their tackle positions. However, we saw multiple DBs, including Sainristil & Will Johnson, give up explosive plays on vertical routes. Playing a bend but don’t break defensive game plan allows some run game success and underneath passes. But, the Wolverines also struggled versus double moves. This test will resurface very soon, from much more talented receivers.
The special teams units were the true stars of the 1,000th win for Michigan. Christian Boivin blocked a punt in the 1st quarter, leading to a 2-point safety. Punter Tommy Doman punted 5 times, averaging 47.2 yards per kick (average net 41 yards). His best came last: a golf shot downed at the Maryland 1 yard line. The Wolverines would get another safety on the ensuing defensive series.
Michigan fans understand being anxious during Game #11. The Wolverines tend to simplify their game plan, and also focus on reducing injury risk with the Buckeyes looming. This particular example weighed extra heavy given the ongoing NCAA investigation and Jim Harbaugh’s 3-game suspension. However, the Wolverines are 11-0 and still have every goal to compete for when Ohio State comes to Ann Arbor in just over six days. Onward!
Final Score: 41-13, Michigan by 28 over Purdue SP+ Projection: Michigan by 36.1 (-8.1) CD Projection: Michigan by 30 (-2)
GAME 9 RECAP vs. Purdue
The Wolverines didn’t have their best night on offense. Actually, it could have been their worst of the season by some metrics. It was the lowest success rate of 2023 (44%), and their lowest yards/play (6.4). However, they still managed to put 41 points on the board, scored on 7 of their 13 drives, and converted 5.4 points per scoring opportunity. While JJ was admittedly a bit off target (2nd worst performance of the year by my eye), he still completed 65% of his passes for 335 yards. If this is the floor in terms of execution for this offense, that is absolutely good enough to win the remainder of their B1G Ten games.
For most of the second half, Purdue had 6 points on the board that came off two turnovers in Michigan’s end. While the Wolverines weren’t playing in the Purdue backfield the way I expected, they still held the Boilermakers to 24% success rate and just 3.0 points per scoring opportunity. However, the last touchdown leaves a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth. The game situation (4th & 3 with :20 on the clock) told me Purdue would go for the end zone on that play if the offense took the field. Sure enough, the corner got beat on a double move and gave up a touchdown. It was just one bad snap during garbage time, but it’s not the first time that lack of focus hurt this defense. On the positive side, big hat tip to tonight’s leading tackler: Makari Paige. He is becoming a player whose presence you can feel from snap-to-snap.
On special teams, I feel a bit let down as I started to get comfortable with Tyler Morris back on punt return. His error was not easy to spot on the muffed punt. It looks somewhat random that a blocker gets hit with the ball. The key is, though, Morris has to be more aggressive getting to that spot, and also communicating to the rest of his guys to clear the way. Jake Thaw took over from that point forward and did a fine job, including a big return of 32 yards. James Turner looked great on his FG attempts and extra points.
In the context of purely football and season objectives, this is another dominant performance for a 9-0 team that has a great chance to compete for a national title. Looking at the schedule, I wasn’t surprised to see a little discontinuity the week before playing Penn State. And, given the media firestorm around Signgate, I think this team did a fine job keeping the main thing the main thing. Hopefully they can keep their heads down and keep grinding, while conference and school leaders can hash out the rest of this drama without undercutting this team. Onward!