Michigan played its first game of the season without redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight last week, and if they proved one thing in their 20-10 victory over Indiana, it’s that its offense now relies almost solely on the shoulders of senior running back De’Veon Smith.
Even if the injured Speight does return against Ohio State, Smith will still likely be considered the most crucial part of the Michigan offense.
The senior running back set a career-high with 158 rushing yards in last Saturday’s victory over the Hoosiers and accounted for both of Michigan’s touchdowns.
This trend is not something that has been entirely alien to their offense, however. Of the 60 touchdowns scored this season by the Maize and Blue, 39 have come on the ground while only 17 have come through the air and two have come on defensive plays. Smith is responsible for 10 of those rushing touchdowns.
But this style of rushing offense is a bit different from one that the Buckeyes have faced in other games this year. The Wolverines run with a pro-style offense, meaning they rely heavily on the play of the offensive line and count on their quarterbacks being styled more to pass than to run.
The play of the running backs is different than that of most other college-style offenses, but junior linebacker Chris Worley knows exactly what to expect out of the running backs.
“It’s not going to be guys trying to run around you,” Worley said. “It’s going to be guys trying to run through your face.”
OSU redshirt junior cornerback Gareon Conley said in this game, the defense will have to focus more on stopping Smith and the rushing offense than their air attack.
“They don’t throw the ball as much because they run the ball a lot,” Conley said. “But we’ll be forced to stop the run and play the pass whenever it comes.”
Facing a run-heavy offense, the Buckeyes should feel confident about their chances in slowing down Smith given how their defense has played against the run this year. OSU ranks 18th in fewest rush yards allowed per game and has only allowed four touchdowns to be scored on the ground, tied for second among FBS teams. They have also only allowed opponents to average 3.39 yards per carry, good for 18th fewest among FBS schools.
For redshirt junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis, that ability to plug up the run comes down to more than just preparation, it rests on the defensive line’s mentality.
“It doesn’t really matter to me, because every team has their scheme with what they’re going to do,” Lewis said. “At the end of the day, it’s about who’s going to put their hand in the dirt and just going. You can play whatever formation you want to play, we’re going to play whatever defense we have to to dominate.”
In Michigan’s 14-13 loss two weeks ago to Iowa, Speight suffered a broken collarbone on his left side. Filling in for the redshirt sophomore was redshirt junior quarterback John O’Korn, a transfer from the University of Houston. O’Korn failed to deliver much as he finished the game with only seven completed passes in 16 attempts for a total of 59 yards. He was also only capable of running for 19 yards on six rush attempts.
For a time, it appeared O’Korn was headed towards his second career start in a Wolverine uniform as many early reports indicated Speight was unable to play for the remainder of the regular season. However, Speight has not officially been ruled out and now rumors emerge that he could still be Saturday’s starting quarterback.
The signal caller at the beginning of the season, Speight had given the Wolverines a starting quarterback with the ability to provide the team with a strong air attack. He had completed 160 of his 257 attempted passes for a 62.3 percent completion rate, thrown for 2,156 yards and had 15 touchdown passes to only four interceptions.
Lewis acknowledges that while it isn’t easy to prepare when such an important position remains a question mark, the team will be prepared by Saturday to face whomever is behind center.
“It could be rough depending on if one’s a runner or not,” Lewis said. “They have a really solid foundation with what they’re going to do: run the ball, throw when necessary.”