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

Dan Wismar




Mich_OSU8Saturday November 27, 2010 -

Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH -

Michigan at Ohio State -

12:00 p.m. (ET) -


Ohio State and Michigan will kick off for the 107th time at noon Saturday, and as it so often does, the outcome will impact the Big Ten title race. But there's also a sense of finality to The Game this year, with the conference realigning after this season, and the traditional rivals competing in separate divisions beginning in 2011.

The 8th-ranked Buckeyes (10-1, 6-1) will need to win their seventh straight over Michigan to assure them a share of their sixth consecutive conference title. Michigan (7-4, 3-4) arguably needs a win even more than that. OSU's current streak in The Game is a growing irritant in Ann Arbor, and it's unlikely that Wolverines head coach Rich Rodriguez can survive another loss to the Buckeyes.

OSU is an 18-point favorite, playing at home, and motivated by a potential BCS Bowl bid. On top of that, it's Senior Day at the Horseshoe, the emotional final home game for 12 Buckeye starters. The Michigan defense is woefully bad, and their offense is as erratic as it is dynamic. There are all kinds of reasons why this year's version of The Game shouldn't be close, not least the fact that Jim Tressel "gets" Ohio State-Michigan, while Rich Rodriguez is still looking for a clue.

The State of The Game

But The Game has never been about six-game winning streaks and 18-point lines. This contest is usually closer, lower-scoring, and less reflective of the rest of the season's results than the on-paper matchup might foretell. The Jim Tressel era, and now the 3-year decline of Wolverine football have conspired to steer The Game into uncharted waters. For all the gnashing of teeth over how the new divisional setup in the Big Ten would irreparably harm The Game, nothing harms that brand more than the same team winning it every year. (see also: Browns v. Steelers)

No player on the Ohio State roster knows what it feels like to lose to Michigan, and no one is more aware of that than every player on the Michigan roster. The Big Ten Conference did their part to save The Game by figuring out a way to have their two divisions and still keep the Ohio State-Michigan game in its traditional place on the calendar. It remains to be seen however, if the Michigan program can return some competitive balance to the annual 60 minutes of football anytime soon.

In the all-time series, the Wolverines still hold a significant edge over Ohio State, leading 57-43-6. Michigan also leads in games played in Columbus 27-23-2. Jim Tressel is 8-1 against Michigan in his OSU career. Rich Rodriguez is 0-2 against the Buckeyes.

Rich Rod on the Block

Mich_OSU4It's unclear whether a victory over Ohio State could save Rodriguez' job at this point, but it's fair to say a loss would make his return a long shot. What he has achieved in three seasons at Michigan is a 15-19 overall record, with a brutal 6-17 mark in Big Ten play. What he has also brought with him to a proud Big Ten institution is the negative attention of the NCAA, which has dogged the Wolverine program ever since the backlash from Rodriguez' messy departure from West Virginia followed him to Ann Arbor.

The NCAA issues have been less serious than they have been constant, like an open sore that is then rubbed raw by the losing. A 5-0 start to 2010, along with the emergence of the best rushing quarterback the league has ever seen, have given the Wolverine faithful some hope that the Rodriguez program is working. If they gave a Heisman for the first half of the season, it would be sitting on Denard Robinson's mantle already.

But the combined embarrassments of the last three football seasons have not gone down well with administrators and alumni in Ann Arbor, and new UM Athletic Director David Brandon has no ownership of the Rodriguez hire. Rodriguez is in the third year of a six-year contract, but a third consecutive losing record in conference play might seal his fate.

And we were just getting over losing Lloyd Carr. (dabs eye with hankie)

The 10-1 Blues

I can't recall a year when a 10-1 record, a Top 8 national ranking, and the prospect of another Big Ten title generated so much discontent and apathy among Buckeye fans. Yes, this was to be the year...the perfect, championship season, and all of that went down the tubes when they got outplayed one October evening in Madison. Still the persistent "meh" attitude evident in the fan base ever since is a bit disconcerting, though it's not a mystery.

The usually stingy OSU defense proved human in the Wisconsin game, and later against Penn State and Iowa as well, but they're still the nation's #3-ranked defense overall, despite the injury-riddled secondary. The Buckeyes haven't looked great on the road this year, although Jim Tressel has won 21 of his last 23 Big Ten road games. Special teams have looked less than special at times, including the worst possible start of a game that night in Wisconsin. But OSU's critics aren't talking down the defense or the special teams.

Terrelle Pryor is the main source of their disappointment...and it's understandable, if slightly unfair. OSU is 9th nationally in scoring offense at just under 40 points per game, and 18th (out of 120 FBS schools) in total offense, averaging 446 yards per contest. Pryor is second in the Big Ten and 14th nationally in passing efficiency, and is tied for the conference lead in touchdown passes.

On the negative side...three years into his college career he still has all too frequent lapses in judgment and decision-making. At times he lacks touch on short throws, and too often he throws into coverage when any other option would be advisable. Though he has come a long way in terms of his throwing mechanics and footwork from his debut as a freshman, he still hasn't shown the consistency that fans expected to see by the time their wunderkind got to his junior year.

He hasn't won any Heisman Trophies or national championships other words, he hasn't lived up to their expectations of him...and he is both the most visible, and the most scrutinized player on the he becomes the object of their discontent. People forget the games (like a week ago in Iowa) that the Buckeyes would have lost with a lesser athlete playing quarterback.

The same lack of perspective can apply to the way some fans look at the team which the perfect is made the enemy of the good. The Buckeyes lost a game...(and they had the bad form to trail at halftime two weeks in a row before winning both games) they can't be all that good. Six consecutive seasons of 10 or more victories - but zero national championships -  is a cold streak for the glass half-empty crowd. They will always be with us. Deal with it.

The Buckeyes may well have been overrated at No. 2 to begin the season, but I think they're fairly ranked at No. 8 today. They have a defense that is capable of keeping them in the game with any team in the country, and even without big time playmakers at running back or wide receiver on offense, they have managed to put up 40 points a game.

Ask Texas, Florida and USC how 10-1 sounds right about now. 

Even Denard Can't Keep Up

Mich_OSU2In Denard Robinson, the Wolverines have a record-breaking performer at the controls of their offense. Robinson already holds the all-time NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a season, and last week he became the first player ever to pass for over 2000 yards and rush for over 1500 yards in the same season. Even at that though, he hasn't been able to gain yards as fast as the Michigan defense has been giving them up.

On Saturday Michigan will be looking for their first win of the season over a Big Ten team in the top half of the league standings. After their 5-0 start, which included a win over Indiana, the Wolves are 2-4, and they have lost to four of the top five teams in the conference (Iowa, Penn State, Michigan State, Wisconsin), giving up an average of 40 points in those games.

Beating only Purdue, Illinois and Indiana in-conference on the way to a 7-5 record is the kind of stuff Motor City Bowl invitations are made of. As ever though, a disappointing season can be effectively salvaged by winning The Game. For that to happen though, the team with the worst defense in the conference will have to beat the team with the best one. I'm not sure if there's any precedent for that, but these Wolverines gave up 65 points to Illinois earlier this season...and won the game (in overtime). So anything's possible.

Little People

One of the OSU beat reporters is fond of saying that most every school can recruit players who are big, and players who are fast, but only a few elite programs can recruit players who are both big and fast. That's because there are not nearly enough of those special guys to go around.

Rich Rodriguez has a track record of going for the speed, and saying to heck with the size. West Virginia succeeded with smallish players at the skill positions, and Rodriguez is following the same formula at Michigan, starting with Denard Robinson, who is 6' 0", 193 lbs. (soaking wet with bricks in his pockets) at quarterback.

The top UM running back this season has been Vincent Smith, who is a speed merchant, but goes just 5' 6", 180 lbs. Smith is questionable for Saturday with a possible concussion, and the second back in the Michigan pecking order is Michael Shaw, taller than Smith at 6' 1", but still light for a Big Ten back at 187 pounds. Smith has 571 yards and five TD's this season, and Shaw has 331 yards and eight touchdowns.

The top Wolverine receiver this year is Ray Roundtree, who is very quick, but also somewhat light at 6' 0", 176 lbs. He has 839 yards on 58 catches this season, with six TD's. The other wideouts are closer to standard Big Ten issue: Darryl Stonum (6' 2", 196) and Junior Hemingway (6' 1", 225) have contributed 35 and 28 receptions respectively in 2010.

With 1,538 yards rushing this season, Robinson is the Michigan rushing game for all practical purposes, but his lack of heft has taken its toll as the season has progressed. The wear and tear of Big Ten play has knocked Robinson out of action with various injuries, and he has several fumbles and has thrown nine interceptions since conference play began.

The Wolverines' offensive line returned pretty much intact from a year ago, and the experience has shown in their solid performance this season. The standouts in that group are senior left guard Stephen Schilling and junior center David Molk. The tight end is Kevin Koger, from Toledo Whitmer, one of just a couple of Ohio products on the Michigan roster that the Buckeyes offered but failed to land. Koger has 11 receptions and two TD's on the season.

Defense Too Young to be Good

Mich_OSU6Coordinator Greg Robinson's 3-3-5 defensive set hasn't stopped anybody this season, and it's understandable considering the injury problems and the inexperience on that side of the ball. The Wolves have just two seniors starting on defense, and five freshmen playing in their regular rotation. There are a couple of solid players there, notably nose guard Mike Martin, and senior weakside linebacker Jonas Mouton, who leads the Big Ten with 102 tackles, but that hasn't been enough to slow down Big Ten offenses thus far.

The Wolverines are last in the Big Ten in total defense, allowing 445.2 yards per game. Contrast that with OSU's 241.5 yards allowed, and you see the extent of the problem. Through seven conference games, only Purdue has failed to score at least 34 points on Michigan. Last week Wisconsin ran the ball on 33 of their 34 offensive plays in the second half, and Michigan had no answer for it. No one will compare the Buckeyes rushing attack to that of the Badgers this year, but Michigan has given up an average of 181 yards per game on the ground, 9th in the conference.

The defensive secondary for the Wolves was young when the season began, and they have lost several projected contributors to injuries, with a couple others leaving the program. At the moment they have three freshmen starting among their five DB's, with senior cornerback James Rogers the only upperclassman on the field. As you'd expect, this green unit ranks last in the conference in pass defense, surrendering 263.9 yards per game through the air. Sophomore strong safety Jordan Kovacs has been a pleasant surprise for the UM coaches, as the former walk-on has contributed 95 tackles and 7.5 TFL in the first 11 games.

Idle Speculation

Mich_OSU5Like I said at the top, there are lots of reasons this game why shouldn't be close, and to those we can safely add Michigan's lousy kicking game (4 for 13 on field goal attempts) and their mediocre coverage and return teams. Throw in OSU's +12 turnover margin and Michigan's -7 stat, and a seventh straight win looks more and more like a cinch. But an OSU blowout is not exactly what I sense is coming.

The quick-strike, no-huddle explosiveness of Denard Robinson and the Wolverine offense, plus the porous defense that Michigan has played all year, would seem to portend a wild, high-scoring, back and forth affair. Some of the predictions I've seen this week are calling for as many as 70 total points to be scored. I just can't see that happening Saturday.

The Buckeyes are giving up 13.9 points per game, and while I think Michigan could well score more than that, I don't see them doubling that number.

And the OSU offense hasn't exactly been hitting on all cylinders in the last couple weeks. First half scoring for the Buckeyes in their last two games: 3 points...and 3 points. Last year in Ann Arbor, with many of the exact same players on the field, the Ohio State offense generated just 14 points in a 21-10 win.

Whatever legitimate criticisms can be made of the talent level of the Wolverines, no one can say that Rodriguez doesn't have them playing hard every week. I guess their intensity level Saturday may provide a clue as to how badly they want their coach to keep his job. One key to the game will be how long the Wolverines can hold on to that early intensity and keep the game within reach. I expect them to come out fast and serve notice that they'll be around for 60 minutes.

Terrelle Pryor has not had to throw the ball much in his two starts against Michigan. He is 14 of 30 in the two games combined, with three TD's and two interceptions. Rushing the ball, he had 74 yards on 19 carries a year ago, but he wasn't a factor in the running game his freshman year, as Beanie Wells was doing what he always did against the Ugly Hats.

I expect Pryor to be a bigger factor in the running game this week, assuming I guess that he's anxious to compete on the stage with Robinson and come out with the better performance.

It would be nutty to pick against Jim Tressel in the Ohio State-Michigan game in Columbus, and I'm not going to do that. But I do think Michigan will hang around for a half, and possibly throw a scare into the Buckeyes into the second half. They'll be the looser, more relaxed and less risk averse of the two teams, and we know from years of experience that this game is often closer than it has any business being.

I've got the Bucks wearing them down with the running game and winning the turnover battle to bring home another (partial) Big Ten title for their coach. I can see Robinson breaking at least one long one against the Buckeyes, but I can also see him not being able to finish the game.

OSU 33 - Michigan 19



Mich_OSU_HelmetsPlaying their last home game at Ohio Stadium will be 24 senior Buckeyes, including starters:

Brandon Saine, Dane Sanzenbacher, Bryant Browning, Justin Boren, Devin Barclay, Cameron Heyward, Dexter Larimore, Ross Homan, Brian Rolle, Chimdi Chekwa, Devon Torrence, and Jermale Hines.

Congratulations, guys...and thanks.


The Buckeyes will be wearing throwback uniforms by Nike for The Game again this year, featuring red jerseys and red helmets, with gray pants and red on the shoes. Here's the look the Bucks will be sporting Saturday (8 photos). The throwback uniforms are being worn to honor the 1942 Ohio State team, several of whose members went on to serve the country in World War II. Saturday's OSU helmets will feature a decal on the back with a bronze star and the initials of one of those 1942 Buckeyes, Charles Csuri, who was awarded the Bronze Star for his service at The Battle of the Bulge.


OSU safety/linebacker Tyler Moeller has been granted an extra year of eligibility to return and play for the Buckeyes next season. Moeller, a senior, missed all of 2009 with a serious head injury, and then tore a pectoral muscle in OSU's fifth game of this season.


Dane Sanzenbacher put together a parody of a LeBron's recent Nike commercial in the service of a good cause....clearly with the blessing of team management. YouTube video here.



OSU Athletics Communications - Game Notes (pdf)

2010 OSU Roster

2010 Michigan Roster

Big Ten Statistics - Team and Individual

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