Ohio State-Michigan could be a low scoring game

Michigan running back Blake Corum is battling an injury en route to this year’s Ohio State Game. (Washington Post illustration; Carlos Osorio/AP)


This late season column’s downward trend continued last weekend with a 2-1 result (the Buffalo-Akron game was snowed in), so we need to end the final week of the regular season, league week and bowl games strong. At 23-23-1 on these picks, there’s still a chance of ending afloat.

No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Michigan, under 57 points, Saturday noon, Fox

For all the talk of Michigan’s weak schedule, it’s not as if Ohio State has been overly challenged, particularly by teams with strong defenses. On average, Wolverines’ opponents have a defensive SP+ rank of 63.3, while Buckeyes’ enemies have an average defensive SP+ rank of 57.5. (SP+ is an opponent-adjusted measure of efficiency.) Michigan’s defense ranks fourth in SP+ and Ohio State’s tenth.

Yes, on Oct. 22, Ohio State put 54 points ahead of Iowa, which has the nation’s second-highest defense in terms of SP+. But let’s take a look at how this game turned out. The Buckeyes had an absurd six drives in Hawkeyes territory — the byproduct of three turnovers in Iowa, two turnovers on downs, and a punt from their own 2-yard line — and scored on all six. That kind of starting field position, favored by a terrible offense in Iowa, is unlikely to be repeated Saturday against a Michigan defense ranked 15th in allowable touchdown rate in the red zone.

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Michigan, which lets the ball run 61.5 percent of the time (11th statewide), trailed just 27 points over Iowa and was surpassed by the Hawkeyes’ terrible offense in yards per game (5.1-5). Last weekend’s 19-17 win over Illinois (No. 3 on SP+ defense) kept Michigan well below their season average in yards-per-game again, winning just 5.1 in the narrow win. Something could be broken with his offense.

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Throw in possible injuries to Michigan running back Blake Corum (national-best 19 touchdowns, No. 3 in total yards) and Ohio State running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, and this seems like a dead rock battle between rivals, not all used to it to face a strong defense.

Illinois (-14.5) Northwest, Saturday 3:30 p.m. Big Ten Network

The 1-10 Wildcats have scored nine, three and seven points in their last three games. They rank 116th in offensive success rate. How will they score against an Illini defense that allows 1.33 points per drive (seventh national) and is currently holding Michigan, a college football playoff hopeful, at a season-low 19 points?

Northwestern isn’t much better defensively and ranks 106th in success rate against the run, and Illinois running back Chase Brown is No. 3 in the country at 143.8 rushing yards per game.

It really is as simple as Wildcats bad. Northwestern was able to add 13 points to Iowa’s strong defense on October 29, but one touchdown came after the Wildcats started a drive at the Hawkeyes 34 and the other came without time and the game was over. We’re risking disappointment after Illinois evaded Michigan last weekend (thanks in part to a late-game no-call that left Coach Bret Bielema salty), but I think the Illini are finishing their bowl game strong (and they might). still win the Big Ten West with one win plus losses to Iowa and Purdue).

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No. 15 Notre Dame (+5.5) at No. 6 USC, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC

The Trojans defense has prevailed with smoke, mirrors and turnovers. USC has the nation’s best 18 interceptions and recovered six of their opponents’ nine fumbles. On offense, it has recovered the fumbles of its ball carriers seven out of eight times. When you add it all up, the Trojans are on the good side with 13 out of 17 fumbles, a highly unlikely rate.

Notre Dame has fumbled the ball just nine times (ranked 14th) and runs it 42 times per game, and while his rushing attack isn’t as explosive (4.57 yards per carry), he was effective at moving the chains, ranking 30th .in the success rate.

USC’s rushing defense ranks 126th in success rate and 128th in expected extra points per rush, and the Trojans fail to intercept the ball when the Fighting Irish ground it. Add in the turnover luck that eventually runs out — USC has four one-score wins, games in which it’s combined for 10 takeaways — and I like it when Notre Dame keeps it close.

No. 16 Florida State vs. Florida, Florida State team 33.5 points overall, Friday, 7:30 p.m. ABC

The Seminoles offense is starting to hum, averaging at least 6.7 yards per game in their last four games for 41, 45, 38 and 49 points, all wins, and averaging at least 6.7 yards per game.

The Gators’ defense will be undermanned, especially in the first half. Linebacker Ventrell Miller, a sixth-year senior and team leader on defense, will miss the first half after being kicked out for a tackle on Vanderbilt, while safety Rashad Torrence II is likely to miss the game after suffering an injury against the Commodores has moved.

Vanderbilt hung up 31 in Florida last week, and it could have easily been worse — the Commodores had stopped drives at the Gators’ 24- and 21-yard lines due to an interception and a fumble. The Seminoles should score just as easily on Saturday.