Yet again, a year”s worth of hard work, comes down to one game between Michigan and Ohio State. For Michigan (6-1 Big Ten, 8-2 overall), the Big Ten title will likely be on the line though if Illinois (6-1, 9-1) loses to Northwestern (2-5, 4-6) Thursday afternoon, Michigan would clinch a share of the title and the BCS bowl bid. Ohio State lost its chance for the title last week when it lost to Illinois without starting quarterback Steve Bellisari. He was suspended for drunk driving, blowing a .22 the Friday before the game.
But the Buckeyes can still get a better bowl bid, and possibly receive a Jan. 1st bowl bid with a win. More importantly, they have the chance to beat Michigan the Buckeyes” top priority every season.
Ohio State rushing offense vs. Michigan rushing defense: Michigan”s rushing defense has, for most of the season, looked as good as anyone”s. Senior linebacker Larry Foote looked like a Butkus award candidate for the first seven games, recording 21 tackles for a loss.
In the last three games, he”s recorded just three.
Foote, Victor Hobson and Eric Brackins will need to play their “A” game, because Ohio State”s offense is oriented around running back Jonathan Wells, who has run for over 1,100 yards already on the season, and because Bellisari is not expected to play, Wells needs to play that much better.
The good news for Ohio State is that Wells has already shown that he can carry the Ohio State offense. Against Northwestern, Wells ran for 179 yards and three touchdowns, while running behind an offensive line that consistently opened big holes.
What”s more, this rivalry has a history of making good players stars Tshimanga Biakabutuka”s 313 rushing yards performance in 1995 is one example.
Michigan will be gunning for Wells and should keep him to around 100 yards. If so, the Wolverines should be happy.
Ohio State passing offense versus Michigan passing defense: Ohio State”s passing attack is a question mark.
Just as Steve Bellisari, the Buckeyes” starting quarterback, was starting to get comfortable as their quarterback, he was benched because of the drunk driving charges.
If Tressell stays true to his word, Michigan will have an advantage here.
Last week, both Krenzell and McMullen played and neither was effective in the Buckeyes” 34-22 loss.
Michigan”s secondary played well last week in Madison, containing Wisconsin”s Lee Evans to three catches and 31 yards. The secondary limited Minnesota”s Ron Johnson to four catches and 73 yards, but 35 of those yards came on a touchdown pass where there was a miscommunication in the secondary.
Health is one concern for the Wolverines. Freshman cornerback Marlin Jackson suffered a knee injury last week, but is expected to play.
Then again, nothing Michigan coach Lloyd Carr says this week should be taken too seriously, in regards to players” health.
Junior safety Julius Curry still is recovering from a shoulder injury but might be healthy enough to play, though it”s more likely that he will not suit up again until the bowl game.
The Wolverines need Jackson to play, as he”s their best cornerback. Throughout the year, Todd Howard, the Wolverines” second-cornerback, has struggled when he”s had to defend a No. 1 receiver.
Howard, however, has been very successful as the No. 2 cornerback.
Without Jackson and Curry, Ohio State”s biggest offensive flaw will not be as exposed as Michigan would like.
If Bellisari plays for Ohio State, and Jackson and Curry do not play, Ohio State will win this battle.
But expect Jackson to play and Bellisari not to or if he plays, don”t expect him in for very long.
Michigan passing offense versus Ohio State passing defense: This is the biggest mismatch on the field. Ten games into the season, Michigan”s John Navarre still looks rattled when placed in a close game.
Last week against Wisconsin, he was 11-for-24 for 58 yards. What”s even more alarming is that Michigan could only muster 28 total yards in the second half.
To spark the offense, Carr has given playing time to backup Jermaine Gonzales. While at times, Gonzales” athleticism has impressed, he”s yet to establish himself as a legitimate passing threat. Consequently, defenses are expecting one of three plays from the Michigan offense when he”s in the game: the quarterback draw, the naked-bootleg to the tight end and the option.
Last week, while running the option an offensive scheme Michigan is not used to the Wolverines” fumbled the ball, but recovered it.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes” secondary is the best in the Big Ten.
Michigan needs to establish some sort of passing threat to prevent the Buckeyes from putting eight-men on the line to defend the run.
Ultimately, Carr will be happy with Navarre if he does not turn the ball over.
Advantage: Ohio State
Michigan rushing offense versus Ohio State rushing defense: Michigan running back B.J. Askew might be the most complete back in the Big Ten. The junior can block, catch the ball and run.
If the Buckeyes can get away with stacking eight-men on the defensive line to defend the run, Michigan will struggle.
Advantage: Ohio State
Michigan special teams versus Ohio State special teams: It”s hard to imagine a special teams unit playing better than the Wolverines” did last week: Two blocked punts one returned for a touchdown two made field goals including the game-winner with 10 seconds left and a fumble recovery with 14 seconds to play.
To date, Brandon Williams” fumble recovery is the play of the year for the Wolverines, as they had punted the ball and were awaiting overtime when he pushed Wisconsin freshman Brett Bell into the ball.
The Buckeyes have struggled all year to make important field goals.
In a game like this, do not under estimate the importance of special teams.
Intangibles: Tressell guaranteed that Ohio State fans would be proud of his team 310 days ago.
Plus, at some point, one has to think the Buckeyes are due to win (they haven”t won in Ann Arbor since 1987, the second longest streak in the rivalry”s history).
On the other hand, Carr is as good a coach as there is in the country, and considering the Buckeyes used to get too excited about this game when John Cooper was the coach.
Expect more of the same.
The Buckeyes will likely make an early mistake that they normally would not make as a result of the pressure.
As long as the Michigan offense doesn”t lose the turnover battle, Carr will find a way to get the Wolverines some cheap points.
Prediction: Without their starting quarterback, the Buckeyes will have difficulty scoring. So long as the Michigan offense doesn”t turnover the ball.
Carr knows this and will call a conservative game to ensure Michigan doesn”t give the ball away.
Michigan 24, Ohio State 14