At this point, the 110th edition of The Game needs no introduction.
No one is denying that Ohio State has the better football team. Even Michigan isn’t denying it.
But both teams have reiterated that records and stats mean nothing during this rivalry week. And the Wolverines won’t stop talking about how, if all 11 men on the field show up on Saturday and play consistently, it could still be anybody’s game.
Michigan pass offense vs. Ohio State pass defense
Redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner was sacked only once against Iowa last weekend.
One seems like a vast improvement over seven, but a sack is still a sack, and no real passing game emerged for Michigan. Gardner finished with 98 passing yards, and sophomore tight end Devin Funchess, usually a very reliable target, dropped three passes.
And though Michigan coach Brady Hoke constantly reiterates that Gardner is healthy, the fact that he hooked his right-hand fingers in his belt loop after the Iowa game to create a makeshift sling suggests that he’s more beat up than he or the coaches are letting on. If that’s the case, it’s unreasonable to expect him to be able to make any big passing plays.
Edge: Ohio State
Michigan rush offense vs. Ohio State rush defense
Derrick Green, the 240-pound freshman running back, has been a welcome sight for the Wolverines, showing that he can effectively handle the carries in place of fifth-year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint. On Wednesday, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said that Green would be the No. 1 running back Saturday.
But as easy as it is for Green to barrel through bodies, that doesn’t mean a thing when considering Michigan’s offensive line — don’t forget that the interior line underwent its sixth personnel change last weekend. Whether it’s Green or Toussaint carrying the ball, it’s questionable if they’ll even have holes to run through.
The Buckeyes have given up just five rushing touchdowns all season and limit their opponents to 95.3 yards per game, while Michigan has rushed for a combined 130 yards in its past four outings.
Edge: Ohio State
Ohio State pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense
You can’t bring up any aspect of Ohio State’s offense without mentioning Braxton Miller, who Ohio State coach Urban Meyer considers an NFL-caliber player and who Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison calls “the most complete quarterback (Michigan) is going to face this year.”
Miller’s pass-completion percentage ranks 13th nationally, and he’s thrown just four picks this season.
But Michigan’s secondary has shown it can step up when needed. The Wolverines tallied three interceptions against the Hawkeyes, and redshirt sophomore cornerback Blake Countess leads the Big Ten with five.
The secondary has proved itself consistently throughout November, and Michigan has enough depth there to keep legs fresh throughout the game.
Ohio State rush offense vs. Michigan rush defense
Even though the knee injury Miller sustained early in the season required Ohio State to call fewer running plays, his 144 yards and two touchdowns last week were good enough to lead Ohio State’s ground game.
But Miller isn’t the Buckeyes’ only threat on the ground — there’s also Carlos Hyde, who defensive coordinator Greg Mattison called the best running back in the Big Ten.
That’s a deserving title, considering Hyde’s impressive stats: he averages 7.7 yards a carry, has rushed for over 100 yards in six-straight games and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark this season.
The Michigan linebacker corps stepped up admirably last week, but it’s hard to say if that will be enough against a playmaker as dynamic as Hyde.
Edge: Ohio State
Michigan’s last two games became a special-teams battle more than anything, and since the Wolverines’ offense has stalled so frequently, junior kicker Matt Wile has fine-tuned his punts in recent weeks.
Brendan Gibbons, the fifth-year senior kicker, has also converted a program-record 141-consecutive PATs.
The Buckeyes have the undefeated record. They have a championship-caliber team. They have everything going for them on Saturday.
But it’s still The Game, and history has shown that sometimes, just sometimes, the win doesn’t always go to the most deserving team.
So maybe, even in a game in which Ohio State dominates everything else on paper, give this category to the Wolverines. Give them — and their seniors — the chance to win back a little bit of pride and redeem the season the only way they can.
Prediction: Ohio State 31, Michigan 17