It was Cupcake Saturday for a lot of teams, mostly in the SEC, but, surprisingly, Ohio State as well.
Georgia and Ohio State both won 56-7. The difference was that Georgia played Charleston Southern and Ohio State played #7 Michigan State.
If you look just at the final score, it certainly seemed like Ohio State played a cupcake this week. Ohio State beat Akron 59-7 in week 4, and Michigan State only fared 3 points better.
Is it possible Ohio State beat Michigan State by a little too much? I mean, obviously there’s nothing bad about beating the #7 team in the nation 56-7, but I almost wonder if Ohio State embarrassed Sparty a little too much. They made Sparty look like an absolute joke.
Ohio State looked like a fucking NFL offense out there.
You almost wonder if Ohio State would’ve been better off winning a little bit closer, like 38-14 or something like that. At least in that case they wouldn’t fully discredit Michigan State.
Now people will justifiably ask the question, “Okay, but how good is Sparty actually though?”
On the one hand, you can say, “Ohio State is clearly elite because they won 56-7.” But then on the other hand, you can also say, “Michigan State is clearly bad because they lost 56-7.”
Ohio State beat Michigan State so badly it almost weakened the quality of the win. I mean, they just went thermonuclear on those poor dudes.
I thought the same thing when Georgia beat Arkansas 37-0 earlier in the season. It was almost as if Georgia embarrassed them a little too much.
Obviously I’m over-thinking it here. You always want to beat every team you play by as much as possible. What else was Ohio State supposed to do? They were up 49-0 at halftime! It was just so easy for them to score. They can’t help that. It’s not as if they ran up the score.
I think, ultimately, what the Committee will have to do with this game, is to just assume that it’s more a reflection of how good Ohio State is rather than how bad Michigan State is. Don’t get me wrong, Sparty has been begging to be exposed like this all season long (they came into the game with the worst pass defense in the FBS), but we shouldn’t just fully toss them in the trash after this game. They’re still a decent team. I mean, they did beat Michigan, after all.
Other than A&M’s win over Bama, I think this may be the single best win for any current playoff contender this season to date.
If I had to rank the best wins this season, it would go as follows:
- Texas A&M 41, Bama 38: Open and shut case here.
- Oregon 35, Ohio State 28: While obviously Ohio State is a much different team nowadays, Oregon still went into Columbus and beat the #3 team in the nation.
- Ohio State 56, Michigan State 7: just because of how dominant it was. Michigan State was ranked #7 going into the game, and they were made to look like an FCS team.
- Michigan State 37, Michigan 33: Both teams were undefeated at the time.
- Georgia 37, Arkansas 0 (week 5): Arkansas was ranked #8 in that game. Looks even more impressive now after Bama somewhat struggled with Arkansas.
- Utah 38, Oregon 7: This one just happened, and we’ll get into a bit more in another post, but it was a flat-out beatdown by the Utes.
- Cincinnati 24, Notre Dame 13: It really was a program-defining win for Cincinnati. They went on the road and took down Notre Dame by 2 possessions. Went a long way towards legitimizing the Bearcats, although they still get no respect from the committee.
- Baylor 27, Oklahoma 14: It really wasn’t even as close as the score indicated. At the time of the game, Oklahoma was undefeated.
- Bama 42, Ole Miss 21: Ole Miss is probably going to be ranked in the top-10 when the new rankings come out tomorrow. This is a win for Bama that has looked better and better with time.
- Georgia 10, Clemson 3: This was viewed as a very impressive win when it happened, and Clemson looks pretty good nowadays, but Clemson was clearly not a very good team early in the season. They wound up losing to NC State a few weeks later, and then also lost to Pitt. Clemson was clearly not deserving of the #3 rank they had going into the Georgia game.
Obviously games can move up or down the list based on future games, but I think these are the ten most impressive wins this season as of right now.
This was a high-quality win for Ohio State, who put together their first real complete win against a good opponent. This was Ohio State firing on all cylinders, offensively and defensively. This is what they’re capable of. We’ve known all season they have the potential to be National Championship-caliber, but this was the first game they truly showed it on both sides of the ball against a legitimate team.
As for the Michigan game coming up, the problem for Michigan is that they’re primarily a running team, and if they fall behind early to Ohio State, it’s over. Michigan State’s best player is Kenneth Walker, but he was largely taken out of the game because of how quickly Michigan State fell behind. He only had 6 rushes for 25 yards in the game. Michigan State had to abandon the run game in the first quarter.
Michigan ranks 13th in rushing this year, but only 77th in passing. That’s concerning. Because Ohio State can completely eliminate your run game and force you to pass.
Now, Michigan has a much better pass defense than Sparty does. Sparty was (and will remain) 130th in pass defense, Michigan’s is 8th. It was no surprise Ohio State did what they did against Sparty, but they will not be able to move the ball that easily against Michigan. In my power ratings, Michigan has consistently been the 4th best team in the country, and if my ratings are correct, they’re not very far behind Ohio State.
Still, Michigan might be in serious trouble. Not only did they lose to this same Sparty team that Ohio State just destroyed, but I think Ryan Day legitimately hates Jim Harbaugh.
Of course, everyone at Ohio State is brainwashed to despise Michigan. It’s ingrained in the culture. But this goes beyond that; it’s personal. If you recall, last year there was a little incident on a conference call with the coaches where I guess Harbaugh accused Ohio State of breaking the rules. Day told Harbaugh to mind his own business, but then, after the conference call, Day went into a meeting with his team and allegedly said, “I hope the Big Ten has a mercy rule, because we’re going to hang 100 on Michigan.”
He never got the chance to do so because the Ohio State-Michigan game last year ended up being canceled due to a Covid outbreak at Michigan. But I doubt Ryan Day has forgotten about the little dust-up with Harbaugh. I’m sure Day still wants to hang 100 on Michigan.
The point is, I don’t think there’s any chance Ohio State comes out flat. They want to straight-up embarrass Michigan. Ryan Day has been waiting two years for this. Most Ohio State fans–and probably everyone within the program–suspect that Michigan just didn’t want to play Ohio State last year because of how bad Michigan was and how good Ohio State was.
In plain terms, there’s a perception that Michigan was scared to play Ohio State last season, and used Covid as an excuse to avoid the inevitable embarrassment.
Even if it’s not true, the fact that probably a lot of people at Ohio State believe Michigan is afraid of them, that is not good for Michigan. Ohio State probably already smells blood in the water.
Inadvertently adding fuel to the fire on the idea that Ohio State is living rent-free in their heads, Michigan ran a trick play on a kick return up 31-10 against Maryland. Come on, man.
It got them on the SportsCenter top 10 plays, but how can you view that as anything other than a sign of weakness? You should not be running trick plays against Maryland. It gave off the impression that Michigan was trying to run up the score on Maryland in an effort to say, “Hey, look at us! We’re really good, too! We’re just as good as Ohio State!”
It just feels like Ohio State is in Michigan’s collective head. Bad.
Now, all that said, the game will definitely be closer than this Michigan State game was, at least I think it will be. Michigan has a better defense than Sparty does. I doubt Michigan will find themselves in a situation where they’re down 35-0 in the second quarter.
Ohio State is going to move the ball. They are the #1 offense in college football in terms of both total yards per game (550) and yards per play (8.1). The blueprint Michigan has to follow is the one established by both Penn State and Nebraska, the two Big Ten teams that have played Ohio State the closest thus far.
Against Nebraska, Ohio State racked up 495 yards of total offense, but only scored 26 points. That’s because Nebraska held them to field goals 4 times. It was a similar story against Penn State: Ohio State had 466 yards of total offense, but had to kick 4 field goals and only scored 33 points, which included a defensive touchdown.
You have to hold Ohio State to field goals in the red zone. Against Oregon, Ohio State had 612 yards of offense but only 28 points to show for it. It’s because their offense frequently stalled out in the red zone. When you rack up 600+ yards of offense, you’re supposed to score 50+. That’s what Ohio State did against Michigan State: 655 yards of offense, 56 points.
If there is an Achilles Heel for Ohio State, it’s the red zone. They rank just 82nd nationally in net red zone TD%. Their defense doesn’t do a good job of holding opponents to field goals, and their offense is prone to sputtering in the red zone and settling for field goals. Now, the past two weeks against Purdue and Sparty, Ohio State was perfect in the red zone. But they have had their issues this season.
You’re not going to prevent them from moving the ball. Just forget about it. They will move the ball up and down the field all game long. You just have to hold them to field goals when they get into the red zone. A lot of times, Ryan Day will go for it on 4th down if it’s a short yardage situation, and you have to be able to stop them. That’s what Oregon did.
You can maybe score 25-35 points on their defense max, but the question is, will Ohio State score in the low 30s, or will they be in the high 40s/low 50s?
If Michigan has a path to winning, it will be in a 34-30 kind of game.
But if Michigan allows Ohio State to start fast, they’re dead. If I’m Michigan, and I win the coin toss, I would actually think about taking the ball first. If you give them the ball first, and they get 7, then force you to punt, and then go down and score again to go up 14-0, the game is over. You are not catching them. Michigan cannot go down 14-0.
Ohio State’s gameplan in every game is to just bury you early. A complete offensive avalanche in the first quarter to put the game out of reach before you even know what hit you. In the Purdue game, Ohio State was up 28-7 by the early 2nd quarter. Game over. Same thing with Michigan State.
It’s really a genius strategy if you actually have the dudes to pull it off. Ohio State knows that most college football teams cannot really throw the ball at an elite level. I mean, think about it: in the 2021 draft, there were only 10 QBs whose names got called. There were 13 QBs drafted in 2020. In any given year, there’s really no more than a dozen or so QBs in college football that can truly sling it consistently.
Really there’s only a few teams in the P5 right now that are highly effective at throwing the ball: Ohio State, Alabama, Pitt, Mississippi State and Purdue. (Plus whoever Michigan State is playing.) That’s basically it. Ole Miss can go in that category as well.
Most college football teams are run-first. Even Georgia, the best team in the country, isn’t great at throwing the ball. So Ohio State’s game plan is to go up on you early and force you to abandon the run. They know that if they can do that, most of the teams they’ll play are completely fucked. Even Purdue, one of the few teams in the nation that can throw the ball well consistently, fell victim to this when they played Ohio State, although they did still manage to put up 31 points.
Michigan has a much better defense than Michigan State, so Michigan has the ability to not get buried in the first quarter. But even if they don’t get buried early, they still have to play a full game of strong defense because Ohio State is a team that can pop off a 28-point quarter on you.
Michigan does not have the firepower to get into a shootout with Ohio State. CJ Stroud and those boys are just too good. The only way Michigan can win is if they force Ohio State to kick field goals.
But even then, it might not be enough.
Ohio State just has so many more paths to victory. They can win big, they can win moderately-big, or they can win close. Even if Michigan follows the Penn State/Nebraska blueprint against Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska both lost those games by 9 points each.
I’m going to give Michigan a chance here for two reasons: 1. because my power ratings really like them, and see them as being about on Ohio State’s level, and 2. because other teams have shown that there is a way to beat this Ohio State team.
But it will require Michigan playing the best game they have ever played under Jim Harbaugh.