‘The Game’ to have ma­jor im­pact on play­off race

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Ralph D. Russo

COLUMBUS, OHIO >> The num­bers strongly sug­gest they are two of the four — maybe five — best teams in the coun­try, but af­ter Satur­day ei­ther No. 3 Michi­gan or No. 2 Ohio State will be on the out­side look­ing in at the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off race.

The Wolver­ines and Buck­eyes play for the 113th time, at Ohio Sta­dium, and the stakes have rarely been higher, and rarely have both teams been quite so good. This will be the 11th time both teams meet ranked in the top five and only the sec­ond time they have both been in the top three of the AP poll.

Michi­gan (10-1) and Ohio State (10-1) are both outscor­ing op­po­nents by 31 points per game. The Wolver­ines has out­gained their op­po­nents by 205.4 yards per game. The Buck­eyes have out­gained their op­po­nents by 214.1 yards per game.

Con­ven­tional wis­dom is that de­fense will have the up­per-hand at the Horse­shoe.

Some of the matchups that could de­cide The Game: PRO­TECT­ING BAR­RETT >> The Wolver­ines pres­sure quar­ter­backs as well as any team in the coun­try (36 sacks). Mostly on the strength of a tal­ented de­fen­sive line that has solid depth. DE Taco Charl­ton has been es­pe­cially ef­fec­tive off the edge and DT Ryan Glas­gow gets good push in­side. De­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Don Brown will mix in blitzes, of­ten us­ing ver­sa­tile LB Jabrill Pep­pers.

Ohio State’s of­fen­sive line, led by cen­ter Pat Elflein, has had a good sea­son pro­tect­ing quar­ter­back J.T. Bar­rett, ex­cept for one par­tic­u­larly poor per­for­mance in the Buck­eyes’ loss at Penn State. Ohio State al­lowed six sacks in that game and 11 in its other 10.

What hap­pened in Happy Val­ley? Too many ob­vi­ous pass­ing downs left OTs Isa­iah Prince and Ja­marco Jones ex­posed. Avoid those and Ohio State can negate or at least mit­i­gate what looks like an ad­van­tage for Michi­gan. PEP­PERS’ IM­PACT >> What makes Pep­pers so valu­able is his abil­ity to be used in so many ways. At 205-pounds and with ex­cel­lent speed, he is built more like a de­fen­sive back than a line­backer.

He could be the per­fect spy on Bar­rett, who is one of the smartest and most ef­fec­tive run­ning quar­ter­backs in the coun­try (722 yards rush­ing and eight touch­downs). Bar­rett is not par­tic­u­larly fast or elu­sive, but he is adept at find­ing space and pick­ing his way through de­fenses, es­pe­cially on de­signed run­ning plays.

Pep­pers, who is third in the Big Ten with 15 tack­les for loss, is one of the most ex­plo­sive ath­letes in the coun­try. Let­ting him lock onto Bar­rett could help shut down a key part of Ohio State’s of­fense.

Then again, maybe it is best to have Pep­pers fol­low Sa­muel? The Buck­eyes’ ju­nior is in some ways the of­fen­sive equiv­a­lent to Pep­pers. He lines up all over the field and Ohio State gets the ball into his hands in lots of dif­fer­ent ways. Sa­muel is the only player in the coun­try with at least 600 yards rush­ing (650) and re­ceiv­ing (790).

The best way to at­tack Michi­gan’s de­fense has been on the edges and both Bar­rett and Sa­muel present good op­tions to do just that.

Most likely Pep­pers will spend his game as he usu­ally does, be­ing asked to han­dle nu­mer­ous as­sign­ments from se­ries to se­ries and down to down.

PAUL SAN­CYA — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Michi­gan line­backer Jabrill Pep­pers could be used in sev­eral ways as the No. 3 Wolver­ines look to up­set No. 2 Ohio State to­day.

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