This edition of The Game wasn’t supposed to have the hype.
But even with lackluster performances from both Michigan and Ohio State last weekend, there’s still quite a buzz around Saturday.
Well, actually, it’s more about Michigan coach Lloyd Carr than either of the two teams. Will he retire after the game, let it drag out a few weeks or not retire at all?
There’s still a game, though, and here is how the two teams pan out on paper.
Michigan rush offense vs. Ohio State rush defense:
After last year’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 game, Mike Hart gave Ohio State’s defense a not-so-flattering endorsement after his 142-yard, three-touchdown performance. Now, the so-called “nothing special” Buckeye defense has a chance to prove its worth to Hart and the rest of the Michigan offense.
This is nothing new to Hart, though, who was held from all media events this week. While resting his mouth, the Doak Walker candidate also rested his body, which is suffering from a high-ankle sprain.
But after sitting out his third game in four weeks against Wisconsin, it appears Hart should be ready for tomorrow’s game. Even facing an angry Buckeye defense, a rested Hart running behind behemoth offensive lineman Jake Long is nearly impossible to stop – Hart has topped 100 yards every game he has played this season.
Michigan pass offense vs. Ohio State pass defense:
All signs point to Chad Henne starting tomorrow’s game. Even with Henne having a slightly separated shoulder, this should be a huge boost to a Wolverine offense desperately needing one. Freshman Ryan Mallett was, to put it nicely, inefficient last week in Madison. With Henne under center, receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington should get more catchable balls thrown their way tomorrow.
Good news for Buckeye fans is that starting cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, who threw punches following his team’s loss to Illinois last weekend, will not be suspended for the game.
But the boost Michigan’s offense gets with Henne’s return exceeds what the Buckeyes get with Jenkins in the lineup.
Don’t underestimate the power of a happy Super Mario.
Ohio State rush offense vs. Michigan rush defense:
If a tandem of Spartan runners and a trio of Badger backs can exploit the Wolverine rush defense, why can’t Ohio State’s Chris “Beanie” Wells? Members of Michigan’s defense are probably feeling pretty foolish these days after openly wishing to play more straightforward offenses. Since they’ve gotten their wish, the Wolverines have been beaten down in the trenches. Both Michigan State and Wisconsin out-Michiganed Michigan on the ground, and Wells is among the Big Ten’s best backs.
If the Wolverines want to flip the trend, defensive tackles Will Johnson and Terrance Taylor have to win the battle in the trenches against the Buckeye offensive line. Will it happen? More than likely not.
Edge: Ohio State
Michigan pass defense vs. Ohio State pass defense:
Until last week, the Michigan pass defense had played well, largely because of the effectiveness of the front seven. The Wolverines consistently pressured the quarterback, taking a big burden off of the secondary.
Last week, the pressure didn’t change, but the result of it did. Michigan couldn’t contain Wisconsin quarterback Tyler Donovan, and he often eluded tackles and either scrambled for key yards or hit wide receiver Paul Hubbard or tight end Travis Beckum for the big first down.
This could pose problems since the Wolverines face an Ohio State team led by quarterback Todd Boeckman. Behind a solid line, Boeckman had eight carries for 83 yards last week in the Buckeyes’ loss to Illinois, making him a threat to do the same against the Wolverines. Although his passing stats weren’t that impressive against the Illini (13-for-23, 3 INTs), he’s one of the country’s most efficient passers this season. And with the Brians (Robiskie and Hartline) lining up wide to catch his passes, it could be a long day for the Wolverines.
Edge: Ohio State
Just a few weeks ago, we were ready to give a bunch of credit to the Wolverines. Kicker K.C. Lopata was perfect, it looked like the returners would break a big one soon, and, if he had the proper coverage, punter Zoltan Mesko would have been burying opponents deep in their own territory on every fourth down.
Um, well, let’s just say we all make mistakes.
The coverage team is just as bad as before, and now, Mesko isn’t punting nearly as well. Michigan returners have yet to make any impact, and, about the only thing the Wolverines have going is their kicking game, ironically, their biggest question mark at the beginning of the year.
We could talk about Buckeye Ryan Pretorius’s kicking or the rest of the special teams. But does it matter?
Few teams would fare poorly against the Wolverines.
Edge: Ohio State
Do we really need to go through all the details?
0-3. Big Ten Championship. Rose Bowl.
Both teams have plenty of reasons to win this one.
The talk builds every year that Ohio State coach Jim Tressel simply has Michigan’s number. Some might even say Lloyd Carr is a John Cooper in Wolverine clothing.
But Michigan has something going for it. With some of the finest players to wear maize and blue graduating this year, you can bet they’ll do everything in their power to win at least one game against the Buckeyes before graduating. And, if you believe the rumors about Carr’s retirement are true, you can bet his players would like to send him out a high note.
And there’s only one way to do it.