ANN ARBOR – Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh doesn’t need to watch much film to know what stands out about Ohio State’s receiving corps.
The Buckeyes are the only FBS team this season with three 800-yard receivers, and all three – Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba – are averaging at least 14 yards per catch.
“They’re really good getting separation, maintaining separation, creating more separation, catching the football,” Harbaugh said on Monday night’s “Inside Michigan Football” radio show. “Really good and really fantastic.”
Michigan’s defensive backs will face its toughest challenge yet when the sixth-ranked Wolverines (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) host the second-ranked Buckeyes (10-1, 8-0) on Saturday (noon, FOX).
OSU’s talented wideouts have feasted on opposing secondaries all season, especially recently. In the Buckeyes’ past two games – a 59-31 win over Purdue and 56-7 victory against Michigan State – the dynamic trio has combined for 10 touchdown receptions. Eight have been strikes of over 10 yards and six have gone for at least 20 yards.
“They can make a big play at any time,” Michigan cornerback DJ Turner said Tuesday.
Smith-Njigba, a five-star recruit in the 2020 class, leads the team with 69 receptions and 1,132 receiving yards, while Wilson and Olave – both top-25 draft prospects in the latest Big Boards from ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay – have 939 and 848 receiving yards, respectively.
The Buckeyes have a chance to become just the sixth team in FBS history to have three 1,000-yard receivers.
“Just how good they are,” Harbaugh told reporters Monday when asked about OSU’s receivers. “How dynamic. Their route-running ability, their catching ability, their speed to all parts of the field — horizontally, vertically. Really outstanding.”
The two teams didn’t play last season, but the Buckeyes’ receivers exploited the Wolverines’ pass defense in the previous two meetings in 2018 and 2019. OSU quarterbacks threw for over 300 yards in both games as the team eclipsed the 50-point mark in each.
But that was against former defensive coordinator Don Brown’s heavy man scheme. The Wolverines’ pass defense has turned a corner this season playing more zone coverage under first-year coordinator Mike Macdonald. Michigan ranked 13th in pass defense in 2020 but is up second this season, allowing 178.4 yards through the air per game.
“They have great playmakers on the outside that can do great things and have a lot of speed,” senior linebacker Josh Ross said of the Buckeyes’ receivers. “They present some stuff we have to deal with for sure. But at the end of the day, it’s about us executing. It’s about us winning our one-on-ones and it’s about us attacking it the right way every single play.”
Turner is keenly aware OSU boasts the top-ranked offense in the country because of its quick strike ability. The Buckeyes are fifth nationally with 34 plays of 30 yards or more.
But the Wolverines also haven’t been as susceptible to the big play in 2021. Last season, they allowed 15 plays of 30-plus yards. This year, they have yielded just 12, which ranks sixth in the country.
Turner said the defense’s vast improvement is a product of more than just a new scheme.
“I guess now we’re just way more confident and comfortable out there,” Turner said. “As a DB, that is a major part of it, and we are just real confident out there now.”
Source : https://www.mlive.com/wolverines/2021/11/michigans-biggest-challenge-vs-ohio-state-slowing-down-its-dynamic-receivers.html776