Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards said last Saturday he
doesn’t think any secondary in the country could stop the
Michigan receiving corps when it’s playing well. Considering
the Wolverines will face one of the best defenses in the country
this week, that was a pretty gutsy statement.
The Buckeyes have relied on their defense to win games all
season, but much of the attention has been on their run defense,
which gives up just 50.5 yards per game. Ohio State has been more
yielding through the air, although many opponents have had to
abandon the running game and get pass happy. The Buckeyes have
given up just one touchdown pass longer than 30 yards (Michigan has
thrown six touchdowns longer than 30 yards).
The hype surrounding Ohio State’s run defense prompted
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr to joke that the Wolverines
wouldn’t even bother to test the front line.
“I think we’re probably going to have to throw every
down,” Carr said. “You’ll probably see us with no
backs in the backfield and just throwing.”
Not likely. And if Michigan does turn to its passing game, Ohio
State’s secondary won’t make it easy. Juniors Dustin
Fox and Chris Gamble line up at cornerback, and senior Will Allen
and sophomore Nate Salley are the starting safeties. They’ve
combined for seven interceptions this season.
“The secondary is, I think, faster than they were a year
ago,” Carr said. “There’s not much space. When
you catch the football, you’d better get ready to get hit,
because they’re going to be around the football because
they’re very athletic.”
That could set up well for Jason Avant, Michigan’s
physical receiver who likes to throw his body around. He may need
to play a bigger role than usual this weekend. Despite
Avant’s one-handed touchdown catch against Northwestern that
was all over the highlight reels, Edwards is still likely to be the
wideout that attracts most of Ohio State’s attention.
“Braylon Edwards is the go-to guy and (Steve) Breaston is
the number-2 guy,” said Fox, who leads the Buckeyes with
three interceptions. “Number 15 (Breaston) is a great guy
with high-caliber talent.”
The three starting receivers are all serious threats and all
have different strengths, which makes them difficult to defend.
Double-covering Edwards means giving room to the speedy Breaston or
the bruising Avant.
So far, no team has been able to shut down the Wolverines’
passing game. Oregon, Iowa and Minnesota all quieted
Michigan’s offense for parts of the game, but against all
three, the Wolverines went to the air at the end and had little
trouble moving the ball. And since its comeback win over Minnesota,
Michigan’s offense has rolled, avoiding the dry spells it had
earlier in the season.
Extra Special: Breaston has excelled as a return man, but
otherwise, Michigan’s special teams have been inconsistent.
Special-teams miscues haven’t really cost the Wolverines
since the Iowa loss, but there have been shaky moments. Michigan
has missed as many extra points (three) as Ohio State has missed
Ohio State tends to play close, low-scoring games, and if the
Buckeyes can dictate the style of play Saturday, special teams
could be crucial. That worries former Michigan coach Bo
“I would say that going into this game, the one area of
their football team that I would be concerned about would be the
kicking game,” Schembechler said of the Wolverines.
“Ohio State has a great kicking game, and they are smart
enough to play defense and to have that kicking game and play field
position, kind of like the old days.
“The kicking game will be very, very