NCAA Football

Ohio State vs. Michigan could be a low-scoring matchup

Ohio State vs. Michigan could be a low-scoring matchup

Michigan’s Blake Corum is dealing with an injury before this year’s game at Ohio State. (Washington Post illustration; Carlos Osorio/AP)

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This column’s late-season slide continued last weekend with a 1-2 finish (the Buffalo-Akron game was called by snow), so we have the final week of the regular season, a championship week and a bowl game to finish off well. At 23-23-1 in this election, there is still a chance to finish above water.

No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Michigan, under 57 points, noon Saturday, Fox

​​For all the talk about Michigan’s weak schedule, it’s not like Ohio State has been much of a challenge, especially from teams with strong defenses. The Wolverines’ opponents have an average defensive SP+ rating of 63.3, while the Buckeyes’ opponents have an average defensive SP+ rating of 57.5. (SP+ is an opponent-adjusted measure of efficiency.) Michigan’s defense ranks fourth in SP+and Ohio State is 10th.

Yes, Ohio State scored 54 points on Oct. 22 against Iowa, the nation’s second-ranked SP+ defense. But let’s see how this game played out. The Buckeyes had a ridiculous six drives that started in Hokies territory — a byproduct of three Iowa turnovers, two fumbles and a punt from their own 2-yard line — and scored on all six. That kind of starting position, fueled by Iowa’s terrible offense, is unlikely to repeat itself Saturday against a Michigan defense that ranks 15th in red zone touchdowns.

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Michigan, which runs the ball 61.5 percent of the time (11th in the nation), held Iowa to just 27 points and outrebounded a horrendous Hawkeye offense in yards per game (5.1 to 5). In last weekend’s 19-17 win over Illinois (No. 3 SP+ defense), Michigan was again well below its season average in yards per play, allowing just 5.1 in the low-scoring win. Something might break with his offense.

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With potential injuries to Michigan running back Blake Corum (nation-leading 19 touchdowns, 3rd in total yards) and Ohio State running backs Treveon Henderson and Myan Williams, it doesn’t look like a battle between the rivals. accustomed to facing a strong defense.

Illinois (-14.5) at Northwestern, 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Big Ten Network

The 1-10 Wildcats have scored nine, three and seven points in their last three games. They rank 116th in passing offense. How are they going to score against an Illini defense that is allowing 1.33 points per drive (seventh in the nation) and just held College Football Playoff contender Michigan to a season-low 19 points?

Northwestern isn’t much better on defense, ranking 106th against the rank, and Illinois running back Chase Brown ranks No. 3 in the nation with 143.8 rushing yards per game.

It’s really as simple as “Wildcats bad.” On Oct. 29, Northwestern managed 13 points thanks to Iowa’s stout defense, but one touchdown came after the Wildcats started a drive at the Hawkeyes’ 34 and the other with time running out tied the game. We’re at risk for a fall after Illinois let Michigan slip away last weekend (thanks in part to a late-game overturn it left coach Brett Bielema salty), but I think the Illini will finish strong in their bowl game (and they can still win the Big Ten West with a win plus losses to Iowa and Purdue).

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No. 15 Notre Dame (+5.5) at No. 6 USC, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, ABC

The Trojans’ defense used smoke, mirrors and obstacles. USC has a nation-best 18 interceptions and has made six of nine attempts by opponents. On offense, he rebounded seven times out of eight. Add it all up and the Trojans have come out on top with 13 of 17 errors, which is highly unlikely.

Notre Dame has fumbled the ball just nine times (tied for 14th) and runs it 42 times per game, and while its rushing attack isn’t all that explosive (4.57 yards per carry), it’s effective at moving the chains, ranking 30- I by success.

USC’s rushing defense ranks 126th in passing success and 128th in expected points per rush, and the Trojans can’t get an interception when the Fighting Irish keep it on the ground. Add to that a turnover that will eventually end — USC has four one-score wins, games in which it combined for 10 takeaways — and I like Notre Dame to keep it close.

No. 16 Florida State vs. Florida Florida State Team Over 33.5 Points Friday, 7:30 p.m., ABC

The Seminoles’ offense is starting to pick up steam, scoring 41, 45, 38 and 49 points in the last four games, all wins, and averaging at least 6.7 yards per play in three of them.

The Gators’ defense will be limited, especially in the first half. Sixth-year linebacker Ventrell Miller, the team’s leading defensive tackle, will miss the first half after being ruled out for a tackle against Vanderbilt, while tight end Rashad Torrence II is likely to miss the game after suffering an injury against the Commodores .

Vanderbilt put up 31 at Florida last week, and it could easily have been worse, with the Commodores ending up on the Gators’ 24- and 21-yard lines due to an interception and a fumble. The Seminoles should score just as easily on Saturday.



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