SPECIAL PREVIEW: Matt Leinart discusses Michigan football’s game aga……

EXCLUSIVE: Matt Leinart previews Michigan football vs. Ohio State

Michigan’s Ann Arbor Matt Leinart has a pretty good handle on the game of football. The former Heisman Trophy winner and national champion with USC has played in some big, big games, including rivalry games against Notre Dame and UCLA.

He’s played against the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl and he’s played in multiple national championship games under Pete Carroll.

On Friday, as Fox Sports readies its coverage of Michigan football vs. Ohio State on Saturday, we met up with Leinart to discuss what he’s seen from the Wolverines of late, J.J. McCarthy’s play this year, the run game for both teams, the Michigan offensive line, and more.

Here’s everything he had to say.

Michigan fans always seem to love when we connect

It’s always fun. We played Michigan in the, gosh, 2004 Rose Bowl actually. I almost went to Michigan, too, so I got nothing but love for Michigan.

Yeah, the fans are great. And this game in particular makes it why college football is the best, in my opinion. You have two heated and really two fan bases who hate each other. But this game means so much more. Teams are undefeated, playoff is on the line.

But yeah, USC, Michigan, we had a little bit, the old-school Rose Bowl, Big Ten, Pac-12 rivalry back in the day, which was awesome to be a part of.

What are the biggest keys for Michigan football vs. Ohio State?

Yeah, I think for Michigan, two things when you look at their offense, they’ve been so run-dominant, really, the last couple of weeks. And I know J.J. McCarthy’s kind of nursing an injury, I’m sure he’ll be amped up and ready to go in this game.

You know, I wonder if the pass game has kind of taken a little bit of a step back. So they do have to find balance, I think in this game, because Ohio State’s defense is just — it’s just much better equipped than it’s been in the past, I think. And obviously, in this game, Michigan has been able to run the ball, especially in the fourth quarter and kind of wear them down. So just kind of still staying true to that and making some big plays down the field in the pass game.

And then defensively, two things: one, TreVeyvon Henderson is really picked up in the last month and he’s a home run hitter every time he touches the ball. But most importantly, it’s Marvin Harrison Jr. You got to have a plan for him.

You just don’t want him to change the game because he’s arguably the best player in college football.

And if he kind of gets going and makes some of those big plays, I mean, that can create a lot of momentum for that offense.

So from their defensive standpoint, just having an answer for him not letting him take over, limiting the home run plays for TreVeyon Henderson and the other side, just finding some balance on their offense.

Pass protection hasn’t been great for either team

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Ohio State’s actually gotten a lot better as the season’s progressed — they’re running the football better. They’re protecting Kyle McCord pretty well. So they’re actually probably trending in the right direction.

Obviously, this game is — Michigan, we saw what they were able to do against Maryland last week. Michigan’s defensive line’s very good.

So they’re gonna have their hands full. I’m a little more concerned with Michigan’s offensive line. They had trouble last week against Maryland.

They had trouble against Penn State, and that’s the type of players they’re gonna play. They’re gonna play some big-time guys tomorrow, especially on the outside.

So as good as Michigan’s offensive line has been in the last couple of years, that is something that they need to be better in this game, or else they could get exposed and it could be a long day for McCarthy.

Michigan’s run game has picked up lately…

Photo: Isaiah Hole

That’s huge. I mean, you got Blake Corum didn’t play really in this game last year, he was injured. Donovan Edwards kind of his coming out party,had a massive game.

Having two backs like that is such an advantage for Michigan because you can spell them. Blake Corum has 52 carries in the last two games.

Donovan Edwards kind of taking a step back this year, as far as just his workload, but both guys anytime they’re in there touching the ball, I mean — they’re capable of carrying 25 times they’re also capable of breaking the 80-yard run. And I think that’s just where Ohio State’s fallen short in the last two years is really that fourth quarter.

Because Michigan just — three yards, three yards, three yards, they’ll grind you. Then boom, they pop a 50-yarder and that’s kind of what their offense is.

And that’s why they’re tough to beat because they make you play for four quarters.

So that’s the advantage they have in this game, until — they’re gonna go out there and they’re gonna try to run the football and that’s up to Ohio State.

If Ohio State can kind of slow them down, consistently force them into those passing situations and Ohio State’s going to have a great chance of winning the game.

Why has J.J. McCarthy taken a leap forward in year two?

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Confidence is everything. As a quarterback, experience and confidence. And,  last year really, it was this game.

We said, hey, he’s been really good last year, he’s managed this game and this season. But this is the game where he’s going to be asked to make a play.

And I think he threw for four touchdowns or three, whatever. He had 280 (yards), he had a big game against Ohio State last year. And last year, he was a quarterback you could win with. He was the guy that was going to not turn the ball over.

This year, you’re winning because of him. I think he’s just taking that next step. The numbers are down in the last couple of weeks, but they haven’t really asked him to throw the football.

But you can just tell the way he plays and as a quarterback, confidence is the is the biggest thing. When you have experience, you’ve been in these games you’ve been in, you’ve had those reps. That’s everything. So he’s gonna be ready to play.

I mean, he’s a gamer. He’s 23-1 as a starter — the dude just wins games. He’s a future first-round pick. I mean, he’s a stud, man, he’s gonna be ready to go.

What do you think is going to happen?

It’s gone back and forth. It’s hard. You know, part of me feels like Ohio State’s better record this year, just because of what we’ve seen from them, but really both.

It’s interesting, really, because both teams, the offenses haven’t been strong in the Big Ten. You’d look at both these schedules, they really haven’t played a potent offense.

So they really — you can almost say they really haven’t been super tested up until this point. So there’s still a lot of question marks I think, for both teams in that regard.

This is a rivalry game. Anything can happen. There’s gonna be big plays. There’s going to be turnover — that happens. I mean, this is this is as big as it gets. I’ll tell you what, it’s gonna be fun to watch. I don’t know how it’s gonna play out, man. I’m going back and forth, but it’s gonna be a great game.

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