The Michigan Wolverines travel to Ohio Stadium to play the Ohio State Buckeyes and quarterback J.T. Barrett this Saturday in a game that has major College Football Playoff implications. Photo by Molly Riley/UPI | License Photo
The College Football Playoff elimination game arrives on Saturday and No. 3 Michigan is facing a few problems when it visits No. 2 Ohio State in the long-awaited Big Ten showdown.
There is the matter of the Wolverines having dropped four straight games and 11 of the past 12 against the Buckeyes -- including last season's 42-13 whipping.
There also is the fact that sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight (collarbone) appears destined to sit out his second consecutive game.
The probability that Speight will be a spectator for the huge contest is probably the biggest detriment for Michigan (10-1, 7-1), a club that has to win to legitimately keep its playoff hopes alive.
"He's been better every day," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said in Monday's press conference. "That's from my eye he's gotten better every day. Now, to clarify, I'm not a doctor. No medical degree. I didn't take any medical classes. But to my eye he's looked better every day."
There's no telling what level of gamesmanship Harbaugh may be engaging in as the Wolverines prepare for the Buckeyes (10-1, 7-1), who are tied with Michigan and Penn State for the Big Ten East lead.
What is known is the caliber of the Wolverines' play will need to be several octaves better than the poor showing last season when Ohio State outclassed Michigan in every facet of the game.
Sophomore outside linebacker Jabrill Peppers needed no reminder and understands Saturday's contest will be an epic clash.
"They're a great team but I don't think there's things they do over the top that's going to be things we can't handle," Peppers said. "They always have great athletes, if I had to pick one thing, matching up. But we have great athletes also."
A lot of greatness is being tossed around this week but one team will pick up its second loss and can wave good-bye to its national title hopes.
"This will be a big challenge, and we look forward to it," Harbaugh said. "It's the big game -- the championship game."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB John O'Korn was underwhelming as a passer in his first start with the Wolverines as he was 7-of-16 passing for 59 yards. The junior will have to pack more of a downfield presence if Michigan is to compete with the Buckeyes though coach Jim Harbaugh wanted to point out one key thing. "Winning performance. That's the No. 1 job of the quarterback, to contribute to the success and the winning," Harbaugh said of O'Korn. "The next thing is to take care of the football. That ball, he is touching it every single play offensively and that's his second-most important job."
--RB De'Veon Smith rushed for a career-best 158 yards in Saturday's victory over Indiana, including third-quarter touchdown runs of 34 and 39 yards. The big effort was timely with Michigan offering nothing in the way of the passing game and it raised Smith's season output to 750 yards and 10 rushing scores. The senior has eight career 100-yard rushing games and has rushed for seven touchdowns in the past four games.
--OLB Jabrill Peppers has a team-best 16 tackles for losses while making contributions in all three phases of the game. The sophomore is a finalist for some of the most prestigious awards, including the Maxwell (top player), and Bednarik and Nagurski awards (top defensive player). Peppers is averaging 24.0 yards on kickoff returns, 15.2 (with one score) on punt returns and has rushed for 163 yards and three touchdowns on 23 rushing attempts.
--CB Jourdan Lewis has overcome an injury-riddled start to be named one of three finalists for the Thorpe Award, which goes to the nation's top defensive back. The senior has just 19 tackles and two interceptions but Michigan presents some facts that displays Lewis' prowess as a defender. According to the school, Lewis has allowed just eight receptions for 78 yards all season while being targeted 31 times.