Michigan Week Mic Check: Ohio State's Red Zone Offense Versus Michigan's Red Zone Defense a Key Matchup to Watch

By Chris Lauderback on November 22, 2023 at 3:05 pm
Marvin Harrison Jr.
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No. 2 Ohio State heads to Ann Arbor to take on No. 3 Michigan in just three more days and the build up feels every bit as palpable as 2006, if not more so, due to the two and a half year sign stealing scheme deployed by Jim Harbaugh's program. 

With all the facts and accusations within that juicy storyline the fact remains there's a game to be played Saturday between two very talented rosters - a "matchup game" as Ryan Day likes to call contests such as this - meaning the outcome can hinge on just a play or two, a matchup within the matchup or a situational scenario. 

Who wins the line of scrimmage and is able to run the ball more effectively is certainly one of those factors that goes a long way in deciding victory. 

Maybe not a headlining factor but still likely crucial to the outcome will be how Ohio State's offense fares against Michigan inside the red zone. 

Day offered his thoughts on the subject during yesterday's presser. 

"YOU'VE GOT TO DO A GREAT JOB WITH EXECUTION DOWN THERE. THE FIELD GETS SMALLER. WE CALL IT THAT 12TH DEFENDER IS THE END LINE AND SO YOU've GOT TO OPERATE IN A SMALLER AREA. AND SO YOU'VE GOT TO BE EFFICIENT BUT THAT'LL BE ANOTHER SITUATION THAT'LL BE HUGE IN THE GAME. YOU KNOW, THOSE FOUR-POINT PLAYS WHERE YOU'RE EITHER KICKING FIELD GOALS OR SCORING A TOUCHDOWNS, ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BALL." – Ryan Day

Truth is, Ohio State's offense has been very average in the red zone across the first 11 games. The Buckeyes rank No. 61 in red zone scoring rate with a mark of 85.1% and their red zone touchdown rate slots just 64th, reaching the end zone 61.7% of the time. 

Across November's three games thus far however, the Buckeyes scored red zone points and red zone touchdowns at a much better clip. 

OSU RED ZONE OFFENSE - THREE NOVEMBER GAMES VS. FIRST EIGHT GAMES
     OPPONENT      RZ TRIPS TZ TIMES SCORED RZ TD RZ FG RZ TD RATE RZ SCORING RATE
11/18 MINNESOTA   5 5 3 2 60% 100%
11/11 MICHIGAN STATE    6 5 4 1 67% 83%
11/4 RUTGERS   4 4 4 0 100% 100%
NOVEMBER (3 GAMES)  15 14 11 3 73% 93%
FIRST 8 GAMES   32 26 18 8 56% 82%
season to date (11 games) 47 40 29 11 62% 85%

It's not the largest sample size but in those three November matchups Ohio State scored touchdowns on 73% of its red zone trips after doing so just 56% of the time across the first eight games and came away with points 93% of the time compared to 82% prior to November.

It should be noted Minnesota's defense ranks No. 114 in red zone touchdown rate allowed (69%) and Michigan State's is No. 73 at 60%. Rutgers' defense is a bit more respectable allowing red zone touchdowns on 57% of trips, good for 54th nationally. 

Still, the red zone offense momentum is a good thing for an Ohio State team going on the road against what statistically is the nation's best red zone defense. It also can't hurt having the best player on the field in Marvin Harrison Jr. 

MICHIGAN RED ZONE DEFENSE - THREE NOVEMBER GAMES VS. FIRST EIGHT GAMES
     OPPONENT      RZ TRIPS TZ TIMES SCORED RZ TD RZ FG RZ TD RATE RZ SCORING RATE
11/18 MARYLAND    4 4 3 1 75% 100%
11/11 PENN STATE    3 3 2 1 67% 100%
11/4 PURDUE    2 2 0 2 0% 100%
NOVEMBER (3 GAMES)   9 9 5 4 56% 100%
FIRST 8 GAMES 9 3 1 2 11% 33%
season to date (11 games) 18 12 6 6 33% 67%

Across the line of scrimmage, Michigan's red zone defense ranks No. 1 in the country in red zone touchdown rate allowed and No. 2 in red zone scoring rate allowed through 11 games.

But a funny thing happened shortly after Connor Stalions resigned. Over the last three games, Michigan has allowed its opponent to reach the red zone nine times - that's as many as it allowed across the first eight games - and those offenses came away with points on all nine trips. 

Across the first eight games, offenses scored just one touchdown and two field goals in nine visits inside the Michigan 20.  

To be clear, there's absolutely reason to believe Michigan's defense is still very, very good and while offenses had more success in the red zone in November, they still only came away with touchdowns 56% of the time. 

That said, if you're an Ohio State fan, you at least have to like the recent trends seen from Day's red zone offense and Michigan's red zone defense. 

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