Honestly, what would a Michigan-Ohio State game be without the Big Ten title on the line? That drama is what has made this rivalry great, and this season’s matchup will be no different.
No. 7 Michigan (7-0 Big Ten, 9-1 overall) has already clinched a share of the Big Ten championship, but a win over the Buckeyes on Saturday would wrap up the outright title and send the Wolverines on their way to Pasadena for a second straight year. For Ohio State (3-4, 6-4), upsetting its biggest rival tomorrow would make up for the Buckeyes’ mediocre conference season.
One thing’s for sure: The Horseshoe will be rocking as Ohio State tries to pull off the victory.
Michigan passing offense vs. Ohio State passing defense: Earlier in the week, this category looked like it would easily go to Michigan. Ohio State’s passing defense has been somewhat average at times this year, and the secondary had been decimated by injuries recently. But, according to the Toledo Blade, starting cornerback Dustin Fox will return and it’s likely the Buckeyes will welcome back safeties Nate Salley and Donte Whitner as well. That means a much tougher task for Michigan freshman quarterback Chad Henne — whose job will be difficult enough dealing with the rabid fans in Ohio Stadium. Last week against Northwestern, Henne spread the ball around as well as he has all year. Michigan’s wide receiving corps remains one of the nation’s best, so the Wolverines could have success in this area.
Michigan rushing offense vs. Ohio State rushing defense: With the Buckeyes no doubt gunning to put the pressure on Henne, Michigan freshman running back Mike Hart will need to pile up some yards to open up the Wolverines’ offense downfield. Problem is, the Buckeyes’ linebackers — led by spectacular junior A.J. Hawk — might be the best in the Big Ten. But few teams have stopped Hart this season, as he has rushed for 975 yards in the last five games. Michigan will do its best to establish the run game early, and fullback Kevin Dudley will be responsible for occupying Hawk up the middle. Lucky for Michigan, Dudley’s one of the best blocking backs in the country, and Hart should find some room.
Ohio State passing offense vs. Michigan passing defense: Despite the fact that the Buckeyes have two game-breaking wide receivers in sophomore Santonio Holmes and faster-than-lightning freshman Ted Ginn, they have been unable to really do much in this area. Ohio State is 98th in the nation in passing offense, and have not eclipsed 200 yards through the air since an overtime loss at Northwestern on Oct. 2. Junior Troy Smith is expected to start after a 14-of-29 passing performance for 192 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in a loss to Purdue last week. Michigan’s goal will be not allowing Holmes or (especially) Ginn to hit a home run and give the Buckeyes and their crowd reason to get excited.
Ohio State rushing offense vs. Michigan rushing defense: Smith is probably Ohio State’s most dangerous threat running the ball, especially in light of the fact that Michigan struggled immensely with Michigan State’s scrambling quarterback Drew Stanton. Other than Smith, the Buckeyes will turn to the trio of Maurice Hall, Antonio Pittman and Lydell Ross to move the chains. Pittman might be the biggest concern, as the freshman has blazing speed. And Michigan’s rushing defense has been picked apart by Michigan State and Northwestern, meaning that Ohio State has reason to be confident. Still, Ohio State is averaging just 132 yards a game on the ground — 80th-best in the nation.
Special teams: If there is one area that could absolutely turn the game for the Buckeyes, this is it. Yes, Michigan kicker Garrett Rivas has been solid and clutch all year and Steve Breaston finally broke out last week returning kicks. But Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent is 17-for-20 on field-goal attempts this year and the two-man return team of Holmes and Ginn has returned four kicks for touchdowns. A close game favors Ohio State because of special teams.
Edge: Ohio State
Intangibles: Michigan has everything to play for in this game — an outright Big Ten title, a Rose Bowl berth an outside chance at a national title game appearance. But the fact that Ohio State has nothing but pride to play for might be the most dangerous aspect of this game for the Wolverines.
Edge: Ohio State
Prediction: The Game has a habit of going down to the wire. And playing in front of home fans will have Ohio State raring to go. The Wolverines’ offense is talented enough to put points up, and the Buckeyes will definitely struggle to score.
Michigan 24, Ohio State 13