The Wolverine

December 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE DECEMBER 2022 J im Harbaugh's football team entered the final two weeks of the regular sea- son in a power position. It just doesn't get better than 10-0. The Wolverines haven't been there since 2006. They're also No. 3 in the na- tion in the national polls and, more im- portantly, No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings. But all their biggest hopes, dreams and goals run right down High Street in Co- lumbus. Unless they bring the Buckeyes low for the second straight year, they'll fall short of their highest aspirations. "There's been a lot of groundwork that's already been laid, and our time's now," Harbaugh said. "Our time's not last year. It's not next year. Our time is now. And we're on a ride. It's a happy ride. It could be even a magical ride." The zenith of last year's magical ride occurred among snow flurries in Ann Ar- bor. The Buckeyes went down, and the Wolverines soared sky high. They went on to nail down their first Big Ten champion- ship in 17 years, and first-ever College Football Playoff appearance. This one will be tougher. There won't be any thunderous, ador- ing home crowd backing Michigan's every move. Instead, they'll be met by a wall of scarlet hatred, vengeance-spurred and leather-lunged loudmouths, backed by grandmothers sporting double-barrel bird flips. Those in winged helmets won't be the only ones potentially affected by Mordor's cacophony. We've often said, to win by one in Columbus, the Wolverines must win by 10. J.T. was short, and odds against win- ning are long. That said, it's not impossible. Har- baugh's crew last year found the formula. They just need to take it on the road. Here are the three biggest items on the check- list for nut crushing in the land of the Buckeyes. 1. Gain The Upper Hand On The Lines Of Scrimmage: Michigan domi- nated the Buckeyes up front last year, and fashioning an edge remains crucial. Junior tailback Blake Corum has no worries on the offensive side of that lineup. "I have the best offensive line in the country," Corum said, repeating an oft- stressed refrain. "They dominate up front. My tight ends dominate, the receivers dominate. When everyone is dominating, it allows me to have success, find those match-ups and really run hard." That's why he entered the season's final two weeks No. 3 in the nation in rushing yards, with 1,349. It's why he stood tied for second nationally in rushing touch- downs, with 17. It's also why the Wolver- ines as a team ranked No. 4 in the nation on the ground, averaging 251.4 yards per game. Michigan's defensive line may rep- resent an even greater revelation, after many looked at the departure of 2021 edge rushers Aidan Hutchinson and Da- vid Ojabo as crippling. If the 2022 crowd ever carried a crutch, they've been re- peatedly beating opponents over the head with it. They stood No. 1 in the nation against the run, giving up 72.7 yards per game. If they can come close to that mark against a banged-up Buckeye brigade of runners, quarterback C.J. Stroud might be in for a long day. The Wolverines disrupted Stroud of- ten last year, and carry the potential to do so again. They're the best in the Big Ten and No. 14 nationally in sacks, averaging 3.1 a game. Just getting Stroud out of his rhythm means everything, and Michigan defenders will be coming in waves. "The interior defensive line is having a great season," Harbaugh said. "[Senior defensive tackle] Mazi [Smith], [junior defensive tackle] Kris Jenkins, [freshman defensive tackle] Mason Graham … just doing so good. The edge guys, they just keep coming. So many good players doing a great job. They're really well coached." 2. Slow Down OSU's Passing At- tack: The Buckeyes entered their final two regular-season games No. 17 in the nation in passing, averaging 294 yards per game. Stroud stood tied for first in the country with 34 touchdown passes. The Wolverines certainly didn't put handcuffs on him last year. He completed 34 of 49 passes with 2 touchdown passes in the game, thanks in part to some unbe- lievable plays by his receivers. But U-M harassed him, notched 4 timely sacks, and limited OSU to 27 points. Even a repeat gives the Wolverines a fighting chance. 3. Make Some Big Plays In The Passing Game: Michigan can and will run the ball against OSU, despite its new defensive coordinator. The question be- comes, can the Wolverines pull off pass- ing plays downfield, when that aspect of the game hasn't been their strong suit? Remember, senior quarterback Cade McNamara connected on only 13 of 19 throws for 159 yards with no touchdowns and 1 interception in last year's win. So sophomore QB J.J. McCarthy doesn't need to be Tom Brady. Just good enough. The same goes for the Wolverines. Making the happy ride a magical one stands there for the taking. ❏ WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON Big Finish Centers On Three Musts Sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy doesn't need to be Tom Brady for the Wolverines to knock off the Buckeyes, he just needs to con- tribute a few big plays in the passing game. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB_Wolverine.

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