|Michigan takes down Ohio State for the third year in a row; Penn State mauls Michigan State; N.C. State dominates UNC.
Michigan 30, Ohio State 24
Well, my prediction was one point off.
Michigan scrapped its way to a narrow victory over its arch-rival, sending the Buckeyes left wondering yet again what went wrong. In truth, it was a hard-fought game between closely matched opponents, and the game could have gone either way. A few turning points:
So that was it. It was a nerve-wracking and closely matched game between two teams with really good defenses. But Michigan scored on five of its last six drives, and OSU turned the ball over twice. Michigan never felt safe because of the ever-present threat of Marvin Harrison Jr., but in the end, I think Michigan's offense proved it could move the ball on OSU in multiple ways, while OSU's one-dimensional attack made it vulnerable. To quote old OSU coach Woody Hayes: "There are three things that can happen when you throw a pass, and two of them are bad."
- Kyle McCord threw a terrible interception early in the game, and it also could be argued that star WR Marvin Harrison Jr. ran a pretty lazy route on the play. Michigan's best cornerback, Will Johnson, was assigned to Harrison in coverage despite an apparent injury he picked up during the week in practice. It paid off with the interception as Johnson read McCord and jumped the slant route. Michigan converted the turnover into a touchdown.
- J.J. McCarthy threaded a pass to Roman Wilson for a 22-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The pass zipped by the cornerback and just over the head of the safety, and Wilson somehow reeled it in. On replay, it seemed questionable whether Wilson had full control of the catch before the defender ripped it out of his hands, but there wasn't enough evidence to overturn the call on the field, and the touchdown stood. Did OSU have a legitimate gripe about the call? Maybe. But there were plenty of questionable refereeing calls both ways in the game; most notably, the egregious amount of holding going on by the OSU offensive line. For example, on the next drive, Mason Graham was inexplicably called for defensive holding while he was being hauled down; that play helped OSU score a touchdown two plays later.
- OSU's last drive of the first half started on their own 2 yard line thanks to a brilliant punt by Tommy Doman. OSU managed to move the ball to Michigan territory with a 44-yard pass to Harrison. With seconds ticking down, Ryan Day faced 4th and 2 and the Michigan 34. Rather than calling timeout and trying to convert the first down, he let the clock wind down and called on his kicker Jayden Fielding to attempt a 52-yarder. It would have been Fielding's longest of the year and he missed it. Were it not for Doman's punt, OSU might have scored.
- On Michigan's first drive of the second half, Alex Orji came on the field for two plays as part of a QB run package. He gained 20 yards on his first run and two more on his second. This surprise move gained enough yardage to enable Michigan to kick a field goal on the drive.
- A play after Michigan guard Zack Zinter suffered a gruesome broken leg injury, Blake Corum blasted past the OSU defense for a 22-yard touchdown run. In the end zone, he flashed "65" with his fingers, Zinter's number.
- Michigan's next possession featured a halfback pass by Donovan Edwards to Colston Loveland, a play that Michigan unleashed during the Big Ten Championship game last year. It worked again, resulting in 34 yards and leading Michigan to a a field goal.
- With the score 27-24, Michigan marched down the field on a seven-minute drive, resulting in a field goal. Time of possession isn't a highly coveted statistic in the days of up-tempo offenses, but I'll tell ya, bleeding the clock all the way down to a minute and using up all of OSU's timeouts factored heavily into the final outcome of the game.
- On OSU's final drive, with time running out, OSU had no choice but to throw the ball downfield. They were fortunate to get a long completion to the Michigan 37 after WR Julian Fleming dropped the ball; it was ruled a catch and fumble instead of an interception, and OSU's Emeka Egbuka recovered it to keep the drive alive. But on the next play, Michigan's pass rush got home and disrupted McCord's throw, resulting in an interception to seal the game.
I do feel bad for some of the OSU players, who are feeling the anguish that many Michigan players have felt over the years. Some of them will graduate having never beaten Michigan. But I don't feel bad for Ryan Day, whose arrogance the season after his only win against Jim Harbaugh will never be forgotten by Michigan fans. "Michigan better hope for a mercy rule this year because we are going to hang 100 on them," he said during a team meeting with his players. He has yet to meet that mark after three games combined.
Michigan vs. Iowa, Big Ten Championship, 8:00 PM Fox
Michigan opened as a 22-point favorite over Iowa.
Somehow Iowa is 10-2. True, Iowa has the best defense in the country according to SP+, but having watched some of their games, I'd argue that Penn State's defense is far better. Iowa played a very weak Big Ten West slate (and even then, lost to a terrible Minnesota team 12-10). In their games against Big Ten East teams, they were stomped 31-0 by Penn State, beat mediocre Rutgers 22-0, and scraped by an awful MSU team 26-16. They have never faced a high-powered offense anywhere near the caliber of Michigan.
Meanwhile, the offense is atrocious. Even before former Michigan QB Cade McNamara went down with an injury, the offense wasn't doing much. Since then, things have gotten much worse. Iowa is 124th in the country in offense, and they've been fortunate that the defense has been able to keep them competitive. If this isn't a massacre by Michigan, I will be truly shocked.
Prediction: Michigan 38, Iowa 0.
Penn State 42, Michigan State 0
This was a low-drama beatdown of an MSU team who has entirely given up. MSU had 53 yards total, including negative 35 yards rushing (thanks mostly to seven sacks). After a Drew Allar TD pass made it 35-0 early in the fourth quarter, the subs came in and Penn State didn't even attempt another pass.
Penn State finishes the regular season and 10-2 and what might be a top-ten ranking when the final polls shake out. They're looking good for a top-tier bowl opponent against whatever team doesn't make the playoffs; that could be someone like Texas, Washington, or Oregon.
N.C. State 39, UNC 20
As predicted, the UNC defense was awful, making the N.C. State offense look positively dynamic. Brennan Armstrong had a stellar day, throwing for 334 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, the N.C. State defense was stout, coming up with three turnovers and keeping UNC QB Drake Maye largely in check. It's a good end to the season for N.C. State, with five straight wins and a top-25 ranking. State is probably looking at something like the Pop-Tarts Bowl against a Big-12 opponent. (That bowl game has gone through 11 different names in 33 years; you may remember it from the past as the Blockbuster Bowl, the Tangerine Bowl, or the Champs Sports Bowl. Last year it was the Cheez-It Bowl.)
Last Week's Notable Results
Championships and Playoff Picture
- #1 Georgia 31, Georgia Tech 23. It was a bit of a slog for Georgia, but they got it done. They'll have a showdown against Alabama for the SEC title.
- #6 Alabama 27, Auburn 24. In a play that will long be remembered in Iron Bowl lore, Alabama scored a touchdown on fourth-and-31 in the final minute of the game. Auburn fans can't believe the defense only chose to rush three against Jalen Milroe on the play.
- #4 Washington 24, Washington State 21. UW needed a last-second field goal to pull out the win.
- #6 Oregon 31, #16 Oregon State 7. Oregon's playoff hopes remain alive.
- #5 Florida State 24, Florida 15. FSU, playing without its star quarterback Jordan Travis, struggled to generate much offense, but managed to get by a mediocre Florida squad. Florida might still be looking at a playoff berth if they win the ACC, but they'll be limping their way in.
- Kentucky 38, #10 Louisville 31. Kentucky isn't an awful team, but for a Louisville squad hoping to capture the ACC crown next week, this was a disappointing turn of events.
- #17 Iowa 13, Nebraska 10. Iowa hand 3.4 YPA passing in this game, but the defense got three turnovers from Nebraska.
- #23 Tulane 29, UTSA 16. Tulane is 11-1 and could get a New Year's Six bowl if they win the AAC title against SMU. They will likely get demolished in their bowl game, though.
The chaos scenario: Georgia loses while Michigan, Washington, FSU, and Texas all win. Michigan and Washington are a lock to get in, but then you've got 13-0 FSU, 12-1 Georgia, 12-1 Alabama, and 12-1 Texas vying for two more spots, and all would have valid arguments for getting in. Whee!
- Michigan vs. Iowa, Big Ten Championship, Saturday 8:00 PM Fox
Michigan's path is clear; win and they're in the CFP. Lose and they still have a slight chance, but only if some other top teams lose also.
- Georgia vs. Alabama, SEC Championship, Saturday 4:00 PM CBS
If Georgia wins, Georgia is in and Alabama is out. If Georgia loses, the picture muddies. The committee would be hard-pressed to put Georgia in the playoff if Alabama isn't in, but they'd also find it hard to justify putting Alabama in ahead of Texas, since Texas beat Alabama head-to-head. I think most scenarios would have Georgia out of the playoff if they lose.
- Oregon vs. Washington, Pac-12 Championship, Friday 8:00 PM ABC
For Washington, win and they're in, lose and they're out. For Oregon, a win is possibly enough to vault them past Florida State in the standings, even if Oregon is 12-1 and FSU is 13-0. There'll be a lot of grumbling either way.
- Texas vs. Oklahoma State, Big-12 Championship, Saturday 12:00 PM ABC
Texas could find itself on the outside of the CFP without some help. Their best hope is for a Georgia loss, since that brings their win over Alabama into greater focus. A Washington win over Oregon would probably help too, as they also have a chance to pass FSU in the standings.
- FSU vs. Louisville, ACC Championship, Saturday 8:00 PM ABC
FSU must win to get into the CFP. Even with a win, they could find themselves passed by an 12-1 Oregon or 12-1 Texas, so they probably have to win in convincing fashion. Louisville will not make the CFP even with a win.