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Football: Michigan will challenge Ohio State’s pass protection

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OSU center Pat Elflein (65) looks across the line of scrimmage during the second half against Indiana on Oct. 8. The Buckeyes won 38-17. Credit: Mason Swires | Assistant Photo Editor

OSU center Pat Elflein (65) looks across the line of scrimmage during the second half against Indiana on Oct. 8. The Buckeyes won 38-17. Credit: Mason Swires | Assistant Photo Editor

Last Saturday, Ohio State struggled in pass protection with a team that averaged just a half sack a game in Michigan State. Buckeyes’ quarterback J.T. Barrett was hurried three times, and hurried seven of his passes.

Barrett, who threw for just 86 yards against the Spartans, has taken a high level of abuse in recent weeks, carrying the ball 35 times in the last two weeks, on top of being sacked. This year, OSU has allowed its quarterbacks to be dropped in the backfield 17 times through 11 games.

Although OSU has given up over a sack a game, Michigan’s defensive line is a different kind of beast with pass rushing. On defense, the Wolverines have 36 sacks, more than the team had all last season, including bowl games.

The tendency of quarterbacks to be injured by the Michigan defense this season has been noted by coaches from Jim Harbaugh’s staff. So far, five opposing starters have been knocked out of games with injuries when playing against the Maize and Blue.

When asked about the topic, Michigan junior defensive end Chase Winovich said it is never something that teams take pride in, but it’s just a matter of fact when playing a sport as physical as football. After Maryland starter Perry Hills hurt his shoulder against the Wolverines, Winovich was unapologetic in his answer to why so many quarterbacks have been injured against his team.

“It’s a violent game,” he said. “Nobody makes it out alive. Nobody’s safe in this game, especially if you’re playing quarterback against us. We’re coming.”

While Winovich did express his desire for a quick recovery by Hills, the message was clear. Michigan pulls no punches when hitting opposing signal callers.

OSU players were asked about the strange statistic on Monday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Adding to an already heated rivalry with serious playoff implications, many members of the team did not seem pleased with the comments made by the Michigan defensive end.

Among them was redshirt junior guard Billy Price. Cooler heads prevailed for Price, who said he understood the tall order of keeping Barrett off the long list of injured starter

“If you have a defensive line making a statement like that, that’s a challenge,” Price said. “We look forward to getting after it and protecting J.T.”

Historically, the battle up front between Michigan and OSU has determined the outcome. The last time the Wolverines topped the Buckeyes, then-OSU quarterback Braxton Miller was dropped four times.

Without time to pass, the Buckeyes could be in for a long game. Although OSU’s offensive attack depends mostly on running the ball and wearing down a defense, Michigan is allowing just 108 yards rushing per game to opponents.

Even more frightening, Michigan has given up just four rushing touchdowns this season, one of the lowest marks in the entire NCAA.

Redshirt senior center Pat Elflein has been pitted against the Wolverines before, and has witnessed firsthand the physicality of the trenches in The Game. OSU has faced more than one stout defensive front this season, but Saturday will be the ultimate test.

Even with a formidable defense wanting nothing more than to drag Barrett down in the backfield, Elflein remains confident in his unit’s ability to dictate the outcome and is unaffected by the comments made by Winovich.

“I know they’re a good defensive line,” he said. “We’ve faced good defensive lines this year and I don’t really care about any (talk) because we are going to do our job and we’re going to run the ball and protect our quarterback.”

Elflein and Price will get their chance to back their claims on Saturday in Ohio Stadium against Michigan. Kickoff is set for noon.

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