Ohio State will pause its pursuit of the Big Ten and national championships this week to play in the greatest rivalry in all of sports.
Here are seven things to know about Michigan as the 10th-ranked Wolverines get set to host the second-ranked Buckeyes:
1. Michigan is playing its best football of the season.
The Wolverines have won four in a row by an average margin of more than 30 points, including a 39-14 win at Indiana last week.
After a slow start including an overtime win over Army and a 35-14 thumping at Wisconsin, this looks more like the Michigan team that was the popular preseason pick to win the Big Ten.
Quarterback Shea Patterson is coming off back-to-back games with 300 yards passing and five touchdown passes while the Wolverines have only allowed 52 points in the nine halves since the Wolverines fell behind Penn State 21-0 in a 28-21 loss to Penn State on Oct. 19.
2. The Wolverines have found their offense.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh’s decision to relinquish control of the offense to up-and-coming coordinator Josh Gattis was widely praised over the summer, panned in the September and October but seems to be working out in November with the Wolverines having scored at least 38 points in four consecutive games.
Patterson utilizes a deep receiving corps unlike anything Ohio State has seen so far this season, but the running game still has left something to be desired more often than not with a rotation of backs working behind an offensive line that ranks 51st in the country in Football Outsiders adjusted line yards.
Traditional stats have the Wolverines 34th in points per game (33.5), 69th in total offense (402.6 yards per game), 50th in passing yards (247.5) and tied for 76th in rushing yards (155.1), but advanced numbers are more positive.
Michigan’s offense ranks No. 26 in offensive SP+, a measure similar to OPS in baseball that weighs both play-by-play success and big-play ability and adjusts for strength of opponent.
3. The Michigan defense is good on paper again.
Despite losing several big-name defenders to the NFL in the offseason, Michigan ranks fifth in defensive SP+ and 10th in scoring defense (16.2 points per game). The Wolverines are 13th against the run (105.9 ypg.), fourth against the pass (161.1 ypg.) and fourth overall (267.0 ypg.).
Safety/linebacker Khaleke Hudson is back and leads the team with 89 tackles while defensive linemen Kwity Paye and Josh Uche have combined for 22.5 tackles for loss and 15 sacks.
The Wolverines rank 21st in defensive adjusted line yards and have an elite pass rush on standard and passing downs according to Football Outsiders.
Much like Ohio State, however, Michigan has not faced a team with a good passing game this season so the numbers for both teams could be deceiving.
4. Michigan leads the series 58-51-6.
The Wolverines count Ohio State’s 37-7 win in 2010 while Ohio State does not because of NCAA sanctions (in case you see different numbers floating around out there this week).
Michigan won 13 of the first 15 with two ties, so the last time the series was separated by only seven games was prior to 1906.
Ohio State has won 16 of 18 games since Jim Tressel was hired in January 2001 and promised the crowd at a basketball game they would be proud of the Buckeyes “in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Mich.”
Ohio State’s current seven-game winning streak matches its longest in series history (the Buckeyes also won seven in a row from 2004-10).
5. Ohio State’s first win in the series was 100 years ago.
All-American halfback Chic Harley intercepted four passes and put the game away with a long touchdown run as Ohio State stunned the coach Fielding Yost’s Wolverines 13-3 in Ann Arbor on Oct. 25, 1919.
Yost reportedly went to the visitors locker room to congratulate “one of the finest little machines I have ever seen,” and the rivalry has never been the same.
Ohio State leads 51-45-4 since then and has 36 Big Ten championships to Michigan’s 35 (Iowa is next with 11).
6. Ohio State’s most disappointing loss was 50 years ago.
Coming off a 42-14 drubbing of No. 10 Purdue that clinched a share of the Big Ten title, No. 1 Ohio State went to Ann Arbor on Nov. 22, 1969 looking to finish off a second consecutive undefeated season.
Woody Hayes’ defending national champions had laid waste to everyone on the schedule, the closest game a 34-7 win over Minnesota in October as the hurry-up offense Hayes installed the previous season put up 46.4 points per game and a defense headlined by College Football Hall of Famers Jack Tatum and Jim Stillwagon was allowing 8.6.
Sport Illustrated considered The Game a formality as the legendary Dan Jenkins penciled in the Buckeyes as national champions not only for ’69 but also ’70 with the majority of the team’s frontline players set to return.
Jenkins’ speculation of where that Ohio State team would rank among the great dynasties of all time turned out to be idle, however, as Bo Schembechler’s 12th-ranked Wolverines intercepted six passes and scored a 24-12 upset for the ages.
7. This has been a game where undefeated records go to die, but upsets are rare lately.
From 1993-2004, the lower-ranked team won The Game eight times, but Ohio State’s 62-39 victory over Michigan last season was the first upset in the series since the Buckeyes’ 37-21 win in 2004.
The 2018 game marked the 22nd time a perfect conference season was ruined in the rivalry, a fate that has befallen each team 11 times.
Ten times a perfect overall record has been ruined, including the 1973 tie when both teams entered undefeated.
The most recent overall unbeaten to fall was Michigan in 2006 (when Ohio State was also undefeated) while it happened to Ohio State in 1995 and ’96 (plus ’69).
This season Ohio State opened as a 10-point favorite according to BetOnline.ag.
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