One of the biggest measures of confidence in a team’s secondary is using man coverage. With one defender responsible for one receiver, the room for error is extremely low, but that doesn’t stop Michigan and coach Jim Harbaugh from going to one-on-one coverage.
With 11 team picks, and just 137 yards allowed in the passing game on average for Michigan, the Wolverines secondary has been a force against opposing quarterbacks, not to mention the incredible ability of the team’s pass rushers.
“It’s going to be man coverage,” said OSU coach Urban Meyer on Monday. “There’s no secret. It’s what they play, and they’re very good players.”
Having a good understanding of the defensive approach of the opponent might seem to give the Buckeyes an upper hand, but that’s not the case this time around. With the dynamic play of junior linebacker/defensive back Jabrill Peppers, and the ball-hawking ability of senior cornerback Channing Stribling, OSU might be in for a long day trying to move the ball through the air.
OSU will be hoping for contributions from redshirt sophomore Noah Brown, who is arguably the best wide receiver on the team. In the past few weeks, the New Jersey native has essentially disappeared in the passing game, failing to register a reception against Michigan State. He will most likely draw Michigan’s toughest cornerback in senior Jourdan Lewis.
Lewis, hailing from the same high school as OSU redshirt freshman Mike Weber, has been the definition of a shutdown corner this season. Known for making one of the best plays this season with a one-handed, highlight reel interception against Wisconsin to seal the Wolverines 14-7 victory, Lewis has two interceptions this season and is a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.
On the other side of the field, OSU will trot out redshirt sophomore Terry McLaurin to face Michigan’s second corner in Stribling. McLaurin, known mostly for his gunner ability on punt returns, knows exactly what to expect from the Maize and Blue.
“Press man (coverage),” McLaurin said. “They’re going to load a lot in the box. As a group we have to beat man coverage. That’s why you come here to Ohio State, that’s why they recruit you. To come beat man coverage. And what better way than the stage we have this Saturday to prove that we’re one of the top wide receiver groups in the country.”
While Michigan is a tough draw on defense for OSU, the Buckeyes have their own group of defensive backs that can succeed in man-to-man coverage. Among them are redshirt junior Gareon Conley, who grabbed the game-winning interception against Michigan State last Saturday.
Conley is the No. 1 corner for the Buckeyes, but it’s been redshirt sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore and redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker who have stolen the show with turnovers. So far, the duo has picked off a total of nine passes and returned three of them for touchdowns.
How each side succeeds against and with man coverage is still a mystery, but each side is more than capable of dominating the opposing passing game. For OSU coach Urban Meyer, this game means far more than just making a playoff case.
“I think this rivalry is bigger than 2016,” Meyer said. “We’re trying to enhance it and be a big part of it and be a part of history.”