ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When it comes to rivalry weeks, Jim Harbaugh is often a man of few words. Such was the case again on the Monday before Ohio State comes to town.
The Buckeyes appear to be peaking just before heading to Ann Arbor, unwelcome news to the maize and blue faithful after a rocky start to the season, which saw OSU struggle in Week 1 at Minnesota before losing to Oregon in Week 2.
Since then, the defense has turned things around while the offense comes in as the No. 1 unit in all of college football.
The Buckeyes are led by quarterback C.J. Stroud, a player that Michigan sought as a recruit in 2019 before a late Ohio State offer swung him to the school in the south. He’s having a Heisman-worthy campaign in his redshirt freshman season and first year as a starter, though he, as well, didn’t start off too hot. Now he has 3,468 yards passing, with a completion rate of 71.1%, while having thrown 36 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions.
As far as his play on the field is concerned, Jim Harbaugh is unsurprised.
“Yeah (he’s) phenomenal. C.J. is a fantastic player,” Harbaugh said. “He’s doing — we saw it in high school when he played. Knew he was gonna be really good and he’s bringing it all to life. Playing great.”
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But it isn’t Stroud alone that’s providing the exciting style of play in Columbus.
OSU has a cadre of NFL-caliber wide receivers, and while Chris Olave entered the season as the star, Garrett Wilson (who already had a stellar 2020) and Jaxon Smith-Njigba have been incredible, as well. Though Michigan enters the game with the nation’s eighth-best pass defense, it will be beyond a challenge to slow the trio that has given nearly every team the Buckeyes have faced fits.
But why have they stood out? Harbaugh notes their technical ability and speed have played a big factor.
“Just how good they are. How dynamic,” Harbaugh said. “Their route-running ability, their catching ability. Their speed to all parts of the field — horizontally, vertically. Really outstanding.”
While the offense is certainly the focal point, the defense has had a Herculean effort this season, going from surrendering 1,414 yards in the first three games of the season to only allowing 2,480 the rest of the way — an average of 310 yards allowed per game. If you remove Purdue’s 477 from the equation, OSU is allowing just 286.14 yards per game.
At times, Maryland and Michigan State have had high-flying offenses this year, and the Buckeyes only allowed 335 and 224 yards to each team, respectively.
So, what has been the catalyst for the resurgence? What makes the defense so good in Harbaugh’s eyes? There are multiple things, which makes it that much more important for the Wolverine offense to excel when it comes to blocking and physicality.
“Really athletic. The defensive front is long, athletic. Very physical,” Harbaugh said. “Really good at taking on blocks, defeating blocks, taking on blocks, condensing holes with their athleticism and length and their physicality. Blocking is gonna be at a paramount. Again, it will be channeling Bo and Woody — blocking and tackling. The game will in large part come down to it.”
Michigan and Ohio State will kick off at noon EST at The Big House. The Game will be nationally televised on Fox.