Michigan’s top priority: Stopping J.T. Barrett and crew
Ann Arbor – Michigan’s defense is ranked No. 3 nationally, and despite returning only one starter this season, it has been the strength of the team.
Ohio State is a large favorite entering the annual rivalry game against Michigan on Saturday at Michigan Stadium, for several reasons, chief among them the uncertainty of the Wolverines’ quarterback situation.
It is unclear who will start when the Wolverines (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten) face No. 8 Ohio State (9-2, 7-1). The Buckeyes have already secured a berth in the Big Ten championship against Wisconsin and need a win against Michigan to extend their five-game winning streak and remain in the College Football Playoff mix.
Fifth-year senior John O’Korn is expected to start if Brandon Peters, a redshirt freshman, is not medically cleared after suffering a concussion in last week’s game at Wisconsin.
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The Wolverines’ defense will have to contend with Ohio State’s veteran quarterback J.T. Barrett, who is 35-6 as the starter and one win from tying Art Schlichter as the program’s all-time winningest quarterback. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Barrett can hurt defenses as a runner and thrower.
“One thing that I feel like not a lot of people realize is how big he is,” Michigan senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst said. “He’s like tackling a running back when he has the ball in his hands, and he’s pretty good at throwing it, too. He’s a hard person to play against and the option for them running makes it a challenge for any defense. That’s what makes the such an explosive offense.”
Barrett is second in Big Ten history with 12,149 total offensive yards and is just 543 from Drew Brees’ record. He is 19th in NCAA history in rush yards by a QB (3,070).
Against Michigan’s veteran defense last season, Barrett was sacked eight times and was 15-of-32 for 124 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. He did gain 125 rushing yards on 30 carries and scored a touchdown.
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“He’s a good quarterback,” safety Tyree Kinnel said. “He can do a lot. He has a great arm, he can run, he reads coverages really well. His O-line gives him good protection. He knows when to get rid of the ball. He’s been there a while, so he knows what he’s doing. I’m pretty sure the game has slowed down for him. We definitely want to show him different looks and attack him really hard and play great football against them.”
Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown this week ran down the Ohio State offense and made it clear that there’s obviously more than Barrett on which to focus attention. But he is the key to the operation.
“They’ve got good players,” Brown said. “Two really good running backs, quarterback’s a veteran guy who knows how to play this game, some explosive guys at the receiver position, I think they’re improved in the offensive line, tight ends solid, so yeah, we’ve got a good offensive outfit to get ready for.”
Freshman running back J.K. Dobbins has started every game this season and has rushed for 1,089 yards, making him the fourth Ohio State to gain more than 1,000 yards. He averages 7.3 yards per carry, which ranks seventh nationally and first among freshmen. And then there’s Detroit-native Mike Weber, who makes them a powerful running back duo.
Weber was slowed early this season by a hamstring issue and now has 555 yards rushing and a team-best nine touchdowns. In the last two weeks, Weber, a redshirt sophomore, has rushed 20 times for 270 yards and four touchdowns.
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“They’re good,” Brown said. “The bottom line is, you’ve got to pick your poison and you’ve got to stand for something. Some guys try to sit there and spread out and cover everything, and that’s one approach. Some people try to read and react and that’s another approach. Obviously, we try to do it all and make it tough on them, so that’s our goal.
“But you got to stand for something. I can’t tell you what that is, but you’ve got to stand for something. You can’t let them pick you apart and move you down the field. That’s not going to happen anyway, so our approach is always, try to be on the aggressive side of things, but at the same time, you’ve got to be intelligent.”
Michigan will have its best cornerback, Lavert Hill, back after missing last week’s start at Wisconsin because of a concussion.
“Ohio State is going to air it out as well as run the ball, and he’s a big difference in our secondary. It’s going to be great to have Lavert Hill back. They’re (Hill and David Long) playing really good. They’re taking a lot of pressure off the D-line and the safeties, the outside linebackers. They’re covering a lot of ground whether it’s in man or it’s in zone they’re a big part of our secondary success. They’ve been doing really good and we’re going to need them.”
Brown said he did not have to say much to the defensive players about the importance of this game and the preparation and focus needed.
“This is big,” Brown said. “The guys know it’s big. I don’t know if they really need to hear that from me. We certainly look at some of those things in terms of schematically and so forth, what they did, what we did, those kinds of things when you’re trying to analyze and move forward.
“But this game will stand for itself, and there’s a bunch of guys they can’t related to this game because they didn’t play in it. But the next thing is, we’ve got a nucleus of guys that did play some in it, so you feel good about that part.”
Ohio State at Michigan
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Records: Ohio State 9-2, 7-1 Big Ten; Michigan 8-3, 5-3
Line: Ohio State by 10