Ohio State and Michigan will take the field at Ohio Stadium on Saturday in the 113th edition of their storied rivalry. And as if a big game against a hated rival wasn’t enough, a College Football Playoff berth potentially is at stake.
Which is why ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit has a simple key for both teams: Don’t get too comfy.
Herbstreit believes that neither Ohio State nor Michigan can afford to get too predictable on Saturday. For Ohio State, that may be as simple as checking the weather on Saturday morning.
“I think for Ohio State, the big thing that they need to do is go back to being aggressive,” Herbstreit told Newsday on Monday during a call to promote Allstate’s #StreitCred campaign. “I don’t know what the weather is like now, I don’t know what the forecast is, probably cloudy, but one thing I’ve noticed with Urban Meyer is, with J.T. Barrett at quarterback he has a tendency, when the weather is a concern, of really becoming very, very conservative and getting very predictable with the play calling.
“Against Michigan’s defense, that will be very, very tough to move the ball. So if they open it up, try to attack Michigan and use their speed, they have a chance to have some success offensively.”
One of those speedy Buckeyes who could benefit from a more aggressive offensive gameplan: Curtis Samuel, who attended Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn.
“He has a chance, I think, to get out in space and to be able to make some plays this week,” Herbstreit said of Samuel, who has 650 rushing yards, 790 receiving yards and 14 total touchdowns (seven rushing, seven receiving) this season. “He would be a guy that really jumps out to me.”
Michigan, on the other hand, will need to expand the playbook with backup quarterback John O’Korn. The senior threw for just 59 yards on 7 of 16 passing in Saturday’s win over Indiana in place of starter Wilton Speight, who reportedly broke his collarbone in the Wolverines’ loss to Iowa two weeks ago.
“I noticed last week that they were trying to be very, kind of ease him in in his first start,” Herbstreit said of O’Korn’s debut. “Even though it was Week 11, they were trying to just be as easy as they could and give him simple reads. But it made them very predictable themselves . . . I think John O’Korn is going to have to play well to be able to have balance, because if they think they’re just going to run the ball against Ohio State in that atmosphere, I think that could be tough sledding.”
The other thing that may be working against Michigan: the hostile crowd at the Horseshoe. Michigan has only played three games on the road so far: at Michigan State in a rivalry game, at Rutgers and at Iowa.
“I called their last game when they were on the road two weeks ago at Iowa, and they really struggled dealing with Kinnick Stadium and the crowd,” Herbstreit said. “Their offensive line, they weren’t getting off the ball, they were losing at the line of scrimmage quite often that night, and that put a lot of pressure on [Speight].”