The countdown clock to “The Game” in the middle of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center is ticking year-round, even if Michigan might not be Ohio State’s biggest competitor this season.
Michigan (2-1, 0-1 Big Ten) has proved it is not the team most people thought it would be this season, with many networks predicting it would win the Big Ten Conference or make it to the College Football Playoff. Now the question is whether the rivalry game against Ohio State will be as competitive as in years past because of Michigan’s performance so far this season.
With a 35-14 loss to then-No. 11 Wisconsin and a questionable close game under their belt, the Wolverines have challenges to overcome before they can begin to think about Ohio State or the postseason.
Michigan surprised its fans after a loss to then-No. 13 Wisconsin and a narrow win that took double-overtime to achieve against a non-Power Five Army team in its second game of the season.
Against Army, Michigan senior quarterback Shea Patterson fumbled on the first play of the game and again two series later, along with a fumble by sophomore running back Ben VanSumeren in the second quarter. Michigan has fumbled 11 times — with seven lost — in its three games.
The Wolverines lost three fumbles the entire 2018 season.
After its close win against Army, Michigan had a bye week that was supposed to help alleviate its issues, but after facing Wisconsin, it seems that the situation is not something that can be solved in one bye week.
The offense is struggling with throwing accuracy, completing 53 percent of its passes. Picking up just 127 yards per game on the ground is something that will affect the Wolverines heading into future Big Ten play.
Under new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, the Wolverines installed a spread offense for the 2019 season, moving away from the classic, powerful under center looks it gave in previous seasons under Harbaugh. Even under Gattis, the offense continues to struggle.
Michigan allowed Wisconsin to score 28 points in the first quarter with Wisconsin junior running back Jonathan Taylor rushing for 143 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the opening 15 minutes.
With Ohio State rushing for 260 yards per game, top 15 in the nation, Michigan’s rush defense will need to improve if it expects to compete in November.
The inconsistent play by Michigan will only be harder to overcome as it looks at the teams coming up in its schedule: No. 14 Iowa, No. 10 Notre Dame, No. 12 Penn State, No. 25 Michigan State and No. 6 Ohio State.
After just three games, Michigan has gone from No. 7 to No. 20 in the AP Top 25 rankings, and every game performance will be a testament to how it compares to the rest of the Big Ten. This year will be Ohio State head coach Ryan Day’s first game at the helm against Michigan, and while the anticipation is there, there’s also the question of whether Michigan will provide the level of competition expected from “The Game.”