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Buckeyes Buckeye Archive Preview: Ohio State at Michigan
Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar

- Saturday, November 30, 2013

- Michigan Stadium - Ann Arbor, Michigan

- Ohio State (11-0, 7-0) at Michigan (7-4, 3-4)

- 12:00 p.m. ET

- TV: ABC -

OSU Michigan5They call it “The Game”, because no other football contest packs more history, tradition and intense rivalry than Ohio State-Michigan. This Saturday at the Big House in Ann Arbor, the two schools will square off  for the 110th time, and it will be one of the rare meetings in recent decades in which the Rose Bowl berth and/or the Big Ten championship will not be on the line.

What will be on the line is an undefeated regular season for the Buckeyes, and Urban Meyer has no doubt reminded his players that Michigan has spoiled perfect regular seasons for Ohio State no fewer than five times before, beginning in 1969. The Wolverines have dropped four of their last six games after a 5-0 start, but their wounded pride could be salvaged with victory over the Buckeyes, and the murmuring about Brady Hoke’s status as head coach would be muted, at least for the moment.

Meyer is off to a 1-0 start as OSU head coach against their rival to the north, and like Jim Tressel before him, he came to the job with a clear understanding of the importance of The Game. There are penalties for so much as uttering the M-word around the Ohio State football program, a rule that Meyer applies to himself and his assistants as well as to his players. The Buckeyes are already assured of a spot in the Big Ten championship game next week in Indianapolis, but there will be no looking past the Wolverines...because Urban Meyer gets it.

Michigan leads the all-time series 58-45-6, but since the Wolverines went 13-0-2 the first 15 times the teams met, the series is tied 45-45-4. And over the last 50 years, it is deadlocked at 24-24-2.  The Buckeyes have won ten of the last twelve games in the series, including four of the last six  in Ann Arbor. Last season, OSU got back on the winning track with a 26-21 victory, after Michigan had broken a 7-game losing streak in the 2011 contest.

For a closer look at this one-of-a-kind rivalry, you could do no better than to take in this detailed history of The Game by editor Steve Helwagen. And while you’re trying to fill those empty hours before Saturday noon, you might also want to check out the latest from Ramzy Nasrallah, the estimable wordsmith at 11W, on just how hard it is to win in Ann Arbor.


State of the Bucks

2013 OSU Individual Statistics


OSU Michigan4Meyer’s Buckeyes will be back to full strength against Michigan, with starting middle linebacker Curtis Grant returning to action after missing two games. Cornerback Doran Grant, who left the Indiana game after taking a shot to the head, is expected to play as well. The only missing starter from the beginning of the season is senior safety Christian Bryant, who broke his ankle in midseason, and has been replaced by a combination of senior Corey “Pitt” Brown, and Tyvis Powell. Freshman Vonn Bell has been getting increased reps at safety in recent weeks as well.

The 23-game win streak merits at least a passing mention here, as not only the nation’s longest current streak, but as the new Ohio State team record.  Every touchdown scored by the Buckeyes from here on out will set a new record for touchdowns in a season, surpassing the current total of 73. The team mark of 504 points in a season (1998) went by the wayside last weekend against Indiana, and stands at 536, waiting to be broken many more times over the next three games. This is indeed the offense OSU fans have been dreaming of for years. Savor it.

The OSU passing attack has been hampered a bit for the last two weeks by cold, wind and rain, but the Buckeyes remain one of the most powerful rushing offenses in the country, with their 1-2 punch of Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller. Slowing the run game, though, is the strength of the Michigan defense, so if the weather permits, expect Meyer and coordinator Tom Herman to try to loosen things up by throwing the ball early.

Michigan: Key Personnel

2013 Michigan Individual Statistics


MichiganHelmetThe struggling Michigan offense revolves around the multi-talented Devin Gardner, and it might be said that the biggest problem they have is that he doesn’t have enough help. The offensive line has been a real problem, and that has led to an ineffective running game. That sets up long yardage plays on 2nd and 3rd downs, and there isn’t enough skill position talent on hand to make the necessary plays.

Only three backs have more than 15 rushing attempts, with Fitzgerald Toussaint leading the way with 178 (3.4 yard average) and Gardner next with 156 (3.0 avg). Freshman Derrick Green (70 att.) is getting more playing time lately, but with the same level (3.1 avg) of productivity. Contrast those averages with the numbers being posted by Carlos Hyde (7.7 avg) and Braxton Miller (6.4 avg), and you see the problem for the Wolverines on the ground.

Gardner1In recent games it seems that the most effective running plays for Michigan are designed runs for Gardner, but that has resulted in him taking a physical beating, and he comes into this week’s game with a sore shoulder. (There have been reports that freshman Shane Morris has been taking most of the first team reps in practice this week with Gardner less than 100%, and even rumors that Morris will start Saturday. I’ll believe that when I see it.) Gardner carries a 140.3 QB rating into The Game, but he tends to make mistakes when under pressure, and that is how opponents have been attacking this offense in the last few games.

Jeremy Gallon (71 rec, 1,109 yds, 8 TD) has been by far the best Wolverine receiver, with tight end Devin Funchess (43 rec, 686 yds, 5 TD) a reliable second option. Funchess is a tough matchup for any DB with his size-speed combination, but it is Gallon that Gardner looks for when he needs a big play.

The Wolverines have the nation’s 26th-ranked defensive unit, and Urban Meyer acknowledged this week that the Michigan defense has not been the source of the team’s problems. They are stout up the middle with Jibreel Black and redshirt freshman Willie Henry at the tackles, and with Frank Clark playing well of late at defensive end, the line is the strength of this defense.

The return of Cleveland product Jake Ryan at linebacker has helped a young position unit improve as the season winds down. James Ross is another young standout in that group. The return of another injured player, cornerback Blake Countess, solidifies the secondary, but they still have the nation’s 81st-ranked defense against the pass, another reason the Bucks could come out throwing.

Idle Speculation

OSU MIchigan2The conventional wisdom this week is that the fortunes of the Wolverines on offense depend on the ability of Gardner to get the ball to Gallon and Funchess through the air against the Ohio State pass defense. That assumes they will be continue to struggle running the ball against the nation’s 6-ranked rushing defense.

From what I’ve seen recently, I’d be more concerned about Gardner making plays with his feet, scrambling and calling his own number on option plays. The concern for Michigan rooters would then become his ability to hold up physically for four quarters against Ryan Shazier, Joey Bosa and the rest of a punishing OSU defense.

Because it’s The Game, and because it’s in Ann Arbor, I expect this one will basically conform to the traditional formula of being closer and lower-scoring than one might otherwise expect. I think the Michigan defense will work to keep the Buckeyes well below their season scoring average in the mid-40’s, but I also think the Wolverines will struggle to move the ball and score.

Brady Hoke has emphasized winning the Big Ten title as the goal of the Michigan season, and that target is now out of reach. That aside, there is still the prevailing feeling that The Game has come to be more meaningful to the team from Columbus than it is to the one from Ann Arbor. Even before Hoke arrived on the scene, Michigan people downplayed the notion that Ohio State was Michigan’s biggest rival. That is a conviction that has never so much as wavered in central Ohio.

The fact that practically no one is giving the Wolverines a puncher’s chance on Saturday is enough to scare the pants off of OSU fans. Because everyone knows that the better team doesn’t always win this game, and memories of 1969, 1973, 1993, 1995 and 1996 haunt those of us who remember those dark days against the Corn and Blue.

From the looks of things though, this is a Michigan team that has not only a deficit of playmakers, but also some internal discord, and perhaps a deficit of the emotion needed to prevail against a very good Ohio State team. I see a relatively close game, but one that will see the Buckeyes prevail unless they have an uncharacteristic spate of turnovers and mistakes. I’m going with the under...and calling it 27-16 for the Scarlet and Gray.


OSU Roster


Michigan Roster


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