Five questions with The Blade’s Ohio State beat writer Nick Piotrowicz.
Ohio State's offensive line is much improved this season, especially since the early part of the year. What's been the difference and how do you see them matching up against a defensive line that includes Maurice Hurst, Rashan Gary, and Chase Winovich?
I think a lot of it is maturity. Ohio State was in bad shape at the beginning of 2016 on the line. The Buckeyes never wanted guard Michael Jordan to play as a true freshman and Isaiah Prince had his fair of struggles at right tackle, but they just had no depth. This year, both Jordan and Prince are significantly improved, Jamarco Jones has been outstanding at left tackle, Billy Price is still a stalwart, and even Demetrius Knox came in because of injury and performed capably at right guard.
Michigan will be a big challenge because its front seven is really good. But two weeks ago, OSU dominated Michigan State's running defense, which was the best in the Big Ten. I'd give OSU a slight edge here.
The Buckeyes have several playmakers in the backfield — J.T. Barrett, J.K. Dobbins, and Mike Weber. What about the tight ends or wide receivers? Michigan has the nation's top-ranked pass defense. Do you think the Buckeyes have the skill at wide receiver to exploit Michigan's secondary?
For the most part, the pass-catchers have done enough to keep defenses off OSU's running game. Bin Victor is real weapon in the red zone, Johnnie Dixon has had the best year of his career, and Parris Campbell is playing his best football. Are these guys going to dominate a game? No – but they can be effective if they're used as a compliment to the running game.
Michigan's offensive line is pedestrian. The right side has struggled all season and been a revolving door. Do you think Ohio State will so dominate the line of scrimmage on defense that Michigan won't be able to overcome the disadvantage?
Michigan has to get creative, for sure. If they want to play bully ball with OSU's defensive line – probably the best in the country – they're in for a long day. If UM can stay out of third-and-long, it's in decent shape. How they go about doing that will take some innovation considering they've built their identity on power football.
If Ohio State loses this game, how do you think it changes the direction of the program?
It probably doesn't, but it definitely changes the rivalry. It sounds crazy to say for anyone who lived through the 1990s, but nobody on OSU's roster knows what it's like to lose to Michigan. Ohio State knows nothing other than winning, and it certainly changes future games if Michigan pulls off the upset.
How do you envision this game playing out?
I don't expect Ohio State to win easily, even if Michigan starts John O'Korn at quarterback, but I think there is a sense of inevitability here. Ohio State has the better offensive and defensive lines by a wide margin, their running backs are better, their quarterback is better, and they're deeper. Unless they have a turnover meltdown, the Buckeyes' advantages should win out.
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