This season I’ll be breaking down a few of college football’s biggest games each week and giving out at least one bet I like from each matchup.
Let’s take a look at The Game between Ohio State and Michigan.
Michigan vs Ohio State Spread, current line:
Michigan vs Ohio State Best Bet Prediction:
Due to the injuries limiting Michigan on both sides of the ball, it’s tough to trust the Wolverines 一 lay the points and take Ohio State against the spread.
When Michigan is on Offense
Michigan wants to play slow and bleed the clock with its run game 一 a solid strategy against an explosive Ohio State offense.
According to Campus2Canton, Michigan runs the ball 59% of the time in neutral game situations. The Wolverines also play at the ninth-slowest pace in FBS (29.7 seconds per play).
Due to Michigan’s conservative offensive attack, its ball carriers run into a stacked box on 61% of carries, the 20th-highest rate in the FBS, per Sports Info Solutions.
Michigan’s run game continues to excel despite this approach due to a dominant offensive line, which ranks second in the nation in opponent-adjusted yards before contact generated.
Ohio State’s defense ranks 13th in opponent-adjusted yards before contact allowed, and will be just the third team Michigan has faced ranked in the top 30 by that metric. The others:
- Illinois 一 Michigan needed a last-second field goal to win
- Rutgers 一 Led Michigan 17-14 at the half. Michigan cruised to an easy win in the second half, primarily due to three third-quarter interceptions thrown by Rutgers.
Michigan’s ability to move the ball against Ohio State may depend on the health of running backs Corum and Donovan Edwards 一 especially if Ohio State is able to create early contact.
Take a look at the production of Michigan ball carriers when contacted within one yard of the line scrimmage, based on data from Sports Info Solutions:
- Corum: 3.0 yards per attempt
- Edwards: 1.5 yards per attempt
- C.J. Stokes: 1.4 yards per attempt
Corum’s mark ranks 14th in the nation, but Edwards and Stokes fall well below the FBS average of 2.1 yards per attempt.
It’s also worth noting, with a stacked box, Ohio State’s defense has contacted the ball carrier at or behind the line of scrimmage on 52% of carries, the eighth highest rate in the nation. That includes a season-best 67% rate against Penn State, the Buckeyes’ most formidable opponent to date.
Ohio State’s choice of coverage could play a significant role in determining Michigan’s ability to move the ball through the air.
Likely due to Michigan’s lack of dynamic weapons on the outside, J.J. McCarthy has struggled against man coverage.
Take a look at McCarthy’s numbers outside the red zone, broken down by coverage type, via Sports Info Solutions:
Coverage Comp% Yds/Att Pressure Rate Positive EPA Rate Man 56.7% 8.3 35.8% 44% Zone 71.1% 8.8 20.5% 59%
Jim Knowles’s defense does not typically use man coverage at a high rate, but there have been four games in which the Buckeyes have played man at least 40% of the time, including two at 50% or higher (Notre Dame, Wisconsin).
Ronnie Bell is Michigan’s most dynamic receiver, but Bell has just 10 receptions on 21 targets versus man coverage, per Sports Info Solutions, and just three receptions on nine targets at 10 or more yards downfield.
When Ohio State is on Offense
Ohio State runs a balanced offense, with a 52% pass rate in neutral situations, per Campus2Canton.
For the Buckeyes, the key to avoiding last year’s outcome may rest on their ability to protect C.J. Stroud.
Here’s a look at what Michigan’s pass rush did to Ohio State last year, based on data from Sports Info Solutions:
- 43.4% pressure rate (highest rate of Stroud’s career)
- 42.1% pressure rate on non-blitzes
- Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo (both now in NFL) accounted for 13 of 27 pressures
For Michigan to replicate those numbers, it must get Mike Morris back on the field. Morris leads the team with 25 quarterback pressures, and a 13.6% pressure rate, but missed last week’s game against Illinois.
Without Morris, Michigan generated pressure on just 12.9% of Illinois’s dropbacks 一 the second lowest rate generated by Michigan against a Power 5 opponent dating back to 2016, according to Sports Info Solutions.
When Stroud is not pressured, his numbers are ridiculous:
- 71.0% completion rate overall
- 58.3% completion rate on throws 15 or more yards downfield
- 10.1 yards per attempt
- 33% rate of earning +1 EPA or higher
In the run game, Ohio State has health issues as well, with both TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams potentially out or less than 100% for this game.
Here’s a look at some key opponent-adjusted numbers in the run game matchup, via Sports Info Solutions:
- Ohio State ranks 11th in yards before contact
- Michigan ranks 38th in yards before contact allowed
- Ohio State ranks second in rate of gaining three or more yards before contact
- Michigan ranks 21st in rate of allowing three or more yards before contact
Creating early contact in the run game will be critical to Michigan’s ability to stop the Ohio State run game. Ohio State has struggled to fight through early contact at times, but does serious damage when allowed to cross the line of scrimmage freely:
RB Yds/Att When Contacted at or Behind LOS Yds/Att when Crossing LOS w/out Contact Miyan Williams 3.6 8.4 TreVeyon Henderson 0.4 7.2 Dallan Hayden 4.2 5.3
Final Thoughts on Michigan vs Ohio State Best Bets
Dating back to 1995, this will be the 14th game between Ohio State and Michigan with a spread over a touchdown. The underdog is 7-6 against the spread in those matchups, with two outright wins (2001 Ohio State, 1995 Michigan).
So while it’s certainly a big number for a rivalry game, we shouldn’t be scared away from Ohio State based on that logic alone.
Based on Michigan’s injuries, this looks like a good spot to side with the Buckeyes. Corum, Edwards, and Morris simply mean too much to Michigan and their absence would create issues on both sides of the ball.
If all three can suit up and are close to 100%, we’ll probably lose this bet 一 but that’s a lot to ask of three injured players late in the season. We have to assume all three will be limited, if they’re even on the field.