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7 stats to know, matchups to watch for Ohio State Buckeyes vs Michigan Wolverines in ‘The Game’

Rivalry matchups between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines have high stakes. However, the 2023 version of “The Game” carries playoff implications and bragging rights that could make it one of the most important matchups of the 2023 college football season.

Michigan went into Columbus last year and devastated Buckeyes fans with a 45-23 victory, turning a 20-17 halftime deficit into a dominant second half. The magnitude of this year’s matchup is just as significant, with the No. 2 seed in the CFP Semifinal on the line.

Related: College Football Playoff picture

Ohio State vs Michigan history

  • First Meeting: Michigan Wolverines 34, Ohio State Buckeyes 0 — Oct. 16, 1897
  • Last Meeting: Michigan Wolverines 45, Ohio State Buckeyes 23 — Nov. 26, 2022
  • All-Time Record: Michigan Wolverines lead 60-51-6
  • Current: Michigan Wolverines – 2-game win streak

Related: Heisman Trophy winners history

Here are some stats to know and matchups to watch that will likely determine the Ohio State vs Michigan matchup on Saturday.

J.J. McCarthy vs pressure

NCAA Football: Michigan at Maryland
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The last time these two teams met, McCarthy was extremely inefficient with a 50 percent completion rate but he turned 12 completions into 263 passing yards and three scores. The Buckeyes’ defense is better than it was a year ago and McCarthy is coming into Week 13 in a slump.

  • J.J. McCarthy stats: 201 passing yards, 61.3% completion rate, 6.5 yards per attempt, 3.2% INT rate, 109.1 college QB rating in last two games

Coming into this matchup without a single touchdown pass in the last three games, McCarthy has also finished with a sub-75 QBR in two of his last three contests. It’s a level of shakiness that could compel Ohio State to dial up the pressure.

While blitzing a lot isn’t advised against a quarterback with a 68.1 percent completion rate, 986 passing yards and a 10.8 ypa average when blitzed, a four-man rush can do some damage. McCarthy’s NFL QB rating falls (128.2 to 101.8) considerably under pressure, as does his completion rate (78.5 percent to 57.9 percent).

Michigan Wolverines’ stellar red-zone defense

NCAA Football: Indiana at Michigan
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

There are a variety of reasons why Michigan has the best defense in the nation and one of the biggest is this unit’s shutdown nature around the red zone. Entering college football games today, the Wolverines have allowed the second-lowest scoring rate inside the red zone (66.7 percent). There are even more impressive numbers than that, too.

Related: College Football offense rankings

Michigan has allowed the fewest red-zone trips (18) this season in 11 games. Not only are the Wolverines the only team in college football to allow fewer than 20 red-zone trips this year, but there are only 11 NCAA teams that have allowed fewer than 30 this season. In those 18 opportunities, Michigan has allowed just one passing touchdown. Something to keep in mind for the Buckeyes’ passing attack

Ohio State Buckeyes’ shutdown nature on third downs

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Sustainable offenses either rely upon third-down conversion and long drives to score or they make a lot of explosive plays. Michigan is the latter, entering Week 13 averaging the seventh-fewest third-down conversion per game (11.4). However, they boast the fourth-highest conversion rate on third downs (52 percent) in the nation. That’s what makes this a strength versus strength matchup.

Ohio State’s third-down defense is phenomenal. Buckeyes’ opponents have faced a third-down attempt 161 times this season, the sixth-most in the country. It’s a testament to this group’s ability to make critical plays early, forcing teams into a high third-down frequency. When those opportunities arise, Ohio State has allowed just a 27.03 percent conversion rate (second-best in FBS). For context, of the 23 teams with 150-plus third-down attempts allowed, only five have allowed a sub-30 percent conversion rate.

Marvin Harrison Jr vs Wolverines’ secondary

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan also boasts the best pass defense in college football. Through 11 contests, the Wolverines allowed the lowest passing yards per game (144.8), the sixth-lowest completion rate (53.96 percent), the seventh-lowest yards per attempt (5.7) and the second-lowest average QB rating (98.0). The Wolverines’ front seven (8.85 percent sack rate, 13th in FBS) deserves credit, but Michigan’s secondary is just as good.

Related: 2023 college football rankings

However, Marvin Harrison Jr. is a force of nature. NFL teams already view him as an eventual All-Pro talent at the next level. Unsurprisingly, that talent level has been on full display with Ohio State. Now he draws a matchup against Josh Wallace (108 receiving yards allowed on 26 targets) and Will Johnson (174 yards allowed on 26 targets).

Heading into Week 13, Harrison Jr. has the second-most receiving touchdowns (seven) against man coverage and he ranks 19th among qualified receivers in yards per route vs man coverage (2.83). Meanwhile, he has the eighth-most receiving yards (622) with the fourth-highest yards per route run (3.94) vs zone coverage.

Blake Corum, Donovan Edwards vs Buckeyes’ run defense

Syndication: Online Athens

Blake Corum was a non-factor in the last Ohio State vs Michigan game because of an injury. In his absence, Donovan Edwards gashed the Buckeyes’ run defense for 216 yards, with 75- and 85-yard touchdown runs to ice the game in the fourth quarter. Considering Michigan has the 11th-highest rushing rate (60.26 percent) in the nation, it’s easy to predict Corum and Edwards being relied upon heavily this Saturday. It’s made even more obvious behind an offensive line with PFF’s third-highest run-blocking grade (77.5).

Related: College Football Coaches Hot Seat

As they stay, styles make fights. Ohio State is rated as the eighth-best run defense in the country. Across 11 contests this fall, the Buckeyes have allowed the 18th-fewest rushing first downs per game (6.3), the 21st-lowest yards per carry average (3.3) and allowed just three red-zone rushing touchdowns on 22 trips. This is one of the matchups we’re most excited to watch.

Kyle McCord vs Michigan’s pass rush

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

While Ohio State boasts the advantage out wide, the Wolverines can feel confident about their chances of containing the passing game for another reason. Not only does Michigan boast an elite pass defense, it’s also got a tool in its arsenal that could pose big problems for quarterback Kyle McCord.

  • Kyle McCord stats vs pressure: 48.2 NFL QB rating, 38% completion rate, 2-2 TD-INT, 4.0 ypa, 28.0 PFF grade on 84 dropbacks
  • Kyle McCord in clean pocket: 128.8 NFL QB rating, 72.7% completion rate, 20-2 TD-INT, 10.3 ypa, 92.0 PFF grade on 258 dropbacks

McCord is one of the worst quarterbacks in college football when pressured, ranking outside the top 100 in passer rating and completion rate under duress. When the pocket breaks down and bodies are on his face, McCord’s yards per attempt average plummets and the Buckeyes’ offense stalls. The crowd will already make this a difficult matchup for McCord and a strong performance from the Wolverines’ pass rush should lead to a win on Saturday.

Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus, ESPN and College Football Reference.