The greatest rivalry in all of sports – declared by ESPN.com in 1999 – will be renewed on Saturday as the Michigan Wolverines (7-4, 3-4) welcome the #3 Ohio State Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0) to Michigan Stadium.
This is the 110th and the 96th-consecutive meeting between the two storied programs. Michigan leads the all-time series 58-45-6, but the Buckeyes have won eight of the last 10.
This rivalry has proven many times that the records are irrelevant, but these teams are going in different directions. After starting 5-0, Michigan has gone 2-4 over the last six games.
The Buckeyes extended the nation’s longest win streak to 23 games last week, setting the school record for consecutive wins. They have already clinched the Leaders division title for the second-consecutive year and will make their first appearance in the Big Ten title game next week.
When Michigan Has The Ball
The Wolverines' offense has struggled for most of the year. They rank tenth in the Big Ten in scoring and are middle of the pack in points per game.
Quarterback Devin Gardner was expected to help this offense transition to a pro-style system. Unfortunately, he has been widely inconsistent this year and has spent most of his time in the shotgun. Gardner was also injured late in last week’s Iowa game and there were some reports that he couldn’t move his shoulder, though he claimed to be alright.
For the season, number 98 is completing just less than 58% of his passes for 2509 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He has also rushed for 473 and 10 scores.
Gardner is not a rushing quarterback like Denard Robinson, but he can still make plays with his feet. He likes to keep plays alive by running and that’s something Ohio State must be aware of.
Gardner’s rushing numbers would be better if it weren’t for all the sacks Michigan allows. The offensive line has started five different combinations, yet has not found a group that works. They have allowed 32 sacks this season, including 20 in the last four games.
The unit also has allowed 102 tackles for a loss, most in the FBS.
The OSU defensive line may be the stiffest challenge yet for the Wolverines. The Buckeyes have sacked the quarterback 36 times this year and are consistently in the backfield. Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, and Adolphus Washington are young but talented and have proven that this season.
Ryan Shazier has five and a half sacks this season along with 19.5 tackles for a loss. He will blitz frequently and should be helped out with the return of Curtis Grant who Urban Meyer said should be available this weekend.
The running game has been ineffective all year for Michigan. They are averaging 128.8 yards rushing per game, ranked 100th nationally. During a two-game losing streak this year, the Wolverines had negative rushing yards in both games. Fitzgerald Toussaint is their leading rusher with 613 yards and 11 touchdowns, but freshman Derrick Green is expected to start against Ohio State. For the year, Green is averaging 3.1 yards per carry and has two touchdowns, but has shown ability to make people miss and a knack to get tough yards.
Gardner’s top two passing options are receiver Jeremy Gallon and tight end Devin Funchess. The two are quite different physically – with Gallon measuring 5’8” and Funchess checking in at 6’5” – but both get the job done, combining for 114 reception, 1795 yards, and 13 touchdowns.
Gallon – who wears Desmond Howard’s number 21 – will likely see a lot of Bradley Roby. The 5’11” Roby struggled with bigger receivers this year, but Gallon is more his size. Doran Grant, who left last week’s game but is expected to play, may see some of Gallon as well.
Funchess will be covered by a linebacker some, but more likely safeties C.J. Barnett or Corey “Pitt” Brown. That is a matchup the Wolverines should look to take advantage, as Funchess is four inches taller than either of them.
Kicker Brendan Gibbons is 15/20 with a long of 47 yards.
Punter Will Hagerup is averaging 45 yards per punt with a long of 62.
When Ohio State Has The Ball
The Buckeyes should be able to move the ball on Michigan with their high-powered offense. Michigan’s defense has had some similar issues as OSU’s in terms of being able to defend the pass, so Miller should be able to spread the ball around.
Miller is the most efficient quarterback in the Big Ten but has not passed for over 252 yards this season going up against some poor pass defenses.
The Buckeyes’ offense has been balanced this year, but they have leaned on Carlos Hyde when they needed yards. The running back became Meyer’s first 1,000-yard back last week and has scored 13 touchdowns this season.
Miller and Hyde are two of the most feared weapons in the Big Ten and it will be difficult for the Wolverines to contain one of them, not to mention two.
Defensive end Frank Clark is their playmaker along the defensive line. He has four and a half sacks this season and at least one tackle for a loss in six-straight games.
He and the rest of the defensive line will be matched up with one of the best offensive lines in the country. The four seniors on the line will be playing their last game in the rivalry and talked this week about how important this game was to them.
The Buckeyes were without senior wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown for much of the Indiana game, but the injury was called “minor” and he is expected to play.
OSU’s leading receiver will want to be on the field for his last Michigan game. Brown needs one more reception to reach 50 on the season and one touchdown achieve double digits.
Without Brown last week – and in windy and snowy conditions – Ohio State’s leading pass catcher was Dontre Wilson with three receptions for 32 yards and a touchdown. Wilson has been used inconsistently throughout the season, so it will be interesting how the staff utilizes the freshman in a road rivalry game.
If there is one thing this Michigan defense does well, it is intercept the ball. They rank second in the Big Ten with 16 interceptions. Defensive back Blake Countess leads the team with five. Junior Raymon Taylor has four picks himself, so Miller will have to be alert of these two when he is throwing.
Tight end Jeff Heuerman led the Buckeyes in receiving yards last week. Though he only has 22 receptions on the year, he is someone the coaches continue to rave about. He already had one big game this year against Purdue – five receptions for 116 yards and one touchdown – and he could be rewarded again if the Wolverines focus their attention elsewhere.
Linebacker Jake Ryan was recovering from ACL surgery at the beginning of the season but has recently started to round into form with at least four tackles in the last three games. His fellow linebackers Desmond Morgan and James Ross III (Michigan’s leading tackler) both left the Iowa game with injuries and their availability for the game has not been announced.
Drew Basil just had to knock through six extra points last week, taking his season total to 65/66. Meyer gave Basil credit for winning the game against Michigan last year with four made field goals.
Punter Cameron Johnston will experience his first OSU-Michigan game. His only issue this year has been when he has outkicked the coverage to allow a return.
How It Will End Up
As they say about The Game, the records go out the window. Ohio State is looking to remain unbeaten and keep hopes alive for a trip to the national championship.
The Wolverines are a wounded animal though and this game could help save their season. It has happened plenty of times before – as anyone who witnessed this rivalry in the 90s – that the underdog has come through to upset an undefeated team.
Michigan is worried that this will be more of a home game for the Buckeyes, as many disappointed fans have put their tickets for sale.
The Wolverines only have pride left to play for in this game, hoping not to lose their 11th game in the series since 2000.
Ohio State too is playing for pride, but also has more on the line.
Devin Gardner turns the ball over and Michigan can’t get the run game going. The Scarlet and Gray keep things rolling and bring another win against the team up north.
Ohio State 42 Michigan 24