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Posts Tagged ‘The Game’

Inside the Numbers: The golden age of the Michigan – Michigan State rivalry

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Burke steal

Michigan does not like Michigan State. Michigan State does not like Michigan.

This is no secret.

Those who have participated in the heated rivalry on the hardwood in recent years have made that very clear. Former U-M point guard Darius Morris told former MSU guard Kalin Lucas to “get the f*** off my court” after a Michigan win in Ann Arbor three years ago. U-M guard Nik Stauskas blew kisses to the Breslin Center crowd moments after the Wolverines toppled MSU just last month. And MSU head coach Tom Izzo summed it up best in January 2012 when he told the press, “Do I like [Michigan]? Not one bit. I don’t like anything about Michigan and they don’t like anything about us, and that’s the way it should be.”

However, do not let the conduct that transpires before the tip and after the buzzer fool you into thinking that this intrastate rivalry has always been one of the best. For a rivalry to be at its best, both rivals must frequently sport top-notch teams, competing against one another with championships at stake year after year. This is not an apt description of the Michigan-Michigan State basketball rivalry prior to 2012.

This is never clearer than when one realizes how infrequently both Michigan and Michigan State have been ranked in the Associated Press poll in their matchups. Generally, when a team is ranked in the AP poll, it is one of the best teams in the nation. Therefore, rivalry games are more significant and anticipated when both rivals are ranked in the AP poll. Yet, of the 113 meetings between U-M and MSU from January 20, 1949 — the date the first AP poll was released — to the end of the 2011 season, both the Wolverines and Spartans were ranked in only six.

Michigan-Michigan State Games With Both Teams Ranked in AP Poll – Prior to 2012


Home Team

Road Team


Feb. 20, 1986

#7 Michigan

#19 Michigan State

MSU, 74-59

Mar. 1, 1990

#14 Michigan State

#8 Michigan

MSU, 78-70

Jan. 29, 1992

#13 Michigan State

#15 Michigan

U-M, 89-79 (OT)

Feb. 15, 1992

#17 Michigan

#12 Michigan State

MSU, 70-59

Feb. 2, 1993

#25 Michigan State

#7 Michigan

U-M, 73-69

Feb. 17, 1998

#14 Michigan State

#22 Michigan

MSU, 80-75

It was not until 37 years after the very first AP poll was released when Michigan and Michigan State squared off against each other as ranked teams. U-M and MSU went toe-to-toe 64 times during that prolonged span. Although the AP poll did not expand to 25 teams until the 1990 season, this is an extraordinary amount of basketball played between two teams without one marquee matchup.

It does not mean, however, that both U-M and MSU were bottom-dwellers throughout those four decades. Both programs had fantastic seasons during those years. The Wolverines were in the AP Top 10 for eight of their 64 contests with MSU. The Spartans were in the AP Top 10 for five of those 64 meetings. It just so happened that neither school managed to be one of the best in college hoops the same season as the other.

Nik Stauskas blew kisses to the Breslin Center crowd after Michigan's 80-75 win on Jan. 25

Nik Stauskas blew kisses to the Breslin Center crowd after Michigan’s 80-75 win on Jan. 25

This changed slightly after U-M and MSU’s first matchup in which both teams were ranked in 1986. Over the course of the next dozen years, Michigan and Michigan State went head to head five more times as members of the AP Top 25. The rivalry hit its high note when U-M’s touted “Fab Five” recruiting class stepped on campus. Both teams were ranked for the Fab Five’s first three showdowns with the Spartans in 1992 and 1993. It seemed like the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry was on the verge of something special.

But it did not materialize. By the end of the century, because of the sanctions imposed due to the Ed Martin scandal, Michigan basketball was a shell of its former self and fell off the proverbial map. From 1999 to 2011, U-M and MSU faced off 22 times. Michigan was not ranked once in any of those contests. As a result, perception of the rivalry suffered, having little appeal outside the footprint of the Big Ten. The rivalry seemed destined to be forever overshadowed by the likes of Duke-North Carolina, Kentucky-Louisville, and Syracuse-Georgetown.

Rankings are not the only metric that tells this same tale. The Big Ten standings tell it, too. Rivalries are at their best when both rivals are in the hunt for conference and national titles. More is on the line. Win, and you celebrate a championship at the expense of the team you most like to see miserable. Lose, and you suffer, wondering how your team came so far only to allow the team you like the least snatch success from your team’s grasp.

The Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry is perfect example. Fans of U-M, OSU, and college football in general consider this prestigious rivalry’s best era to be the Ten Year War. Why? Because the outcome of “The Game” crowned the Big Ten champion nine of those 10 seasons. Until 2012, the Michigan-Michigan State hoops rivalry had nothing resembling that sort of an era.

Seasons In Which Both Michigan and Michigan State Finished in Big Ten Top 3 – Prior to 2012


Michigan’s Finish (Record)

MSU’s Finish (Record)


t-2nd (8-6)

1st (12-2)


1st (11-3)

2nd (10-4)


1st (14-4)

3rd (12-6)


3rd (12-6)

1st (15-3)


t-3rd (11-7)

t-3rd (11-7)


3rd (11-7)

2nd (14-4)


t-3rd (10-6)

t-3rd (10-6)

Michigan State basketball joined the Big Ten in 1951. In the 61 seasons played from 1951 to 2011, Michigan and Michigan State both finished in the top three in the Big Ten standings only seven times. That is it. To contrast, in 58 seasons of ACC basketball from 1954 to 2011, Duke and North Carolina both finished no worse than third place in their conference 34 times. Additionally, prior to 2012, U-M and MSU secured the two best spots in the conference standings in the same season just twice. The more recent of these two occurrences happened almost a half-century ago. No matter how one tries to break these numbers down, the same conclusion will be reached: the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry was irrelevant nationally and not very prestigious.

However, the key word in that last sentence is “was.” No longer can anyone make the claim that this rivalry is not prestigious. It has changed dramatically in the past three seasons. Izzo has continued to lead MSU to successful season after successful season, but Michigan finally burst back onto the national scene under the direction of head coach John Beilein. In just a few short years, the Wolverines have transformed from a program trying to eke its way into the NCAA Tournament into a program that won a share of a conference title in 2012 and appeared in the national championship game the following season.

As a result, for the first time in the history of the rivalry, Michigan and Michigan State both have been two of the best college basketball programs. Want proof? Let’s once again look at U-M and MSU’s ranks in the AP poll when they compete against one another, but only at their ranked matchups since 2011 this time.

Michigan-Michigan State Games With Both Teams Ranked in AP Poll – Since 2011


Home Team

Road Team


Jan. 17, 2012

#20 Michigan

#9 Michigan State

U-M, 60-59

Feb. 5, 2012

#9 Michigan State

#23 Michigan

MSU, 64-54

Feb. 12, 2013

#8 Michigan State

#4 Michigan

MSU, 75-52

Mar. 3, 2013

#4 Michigan

#9 Michigan State

U-M, 58-57

Jan. 25, 2014

#3 Michigan State

#21 Michigan

U-M, 80-75

In the past three seasons, all five games between the Wolverines and the Spartans have featured two teams ranked in the AP Top 25. In fact, U-M and MSU both were ranked in the AP Top 10 for two of those for the first time in the rivalry’s history. Do not forget that the Wolverines and Spartans both were ranked in only six games played against each other from 1949 to 2011. With MSU at No. 13 and U-M at No. 20 in this week’s AP poll, they will do it for the sixth straight meeting this Sunday at the Crisler Center. Simply, the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry has never been better.

This is why this Sunday’s showdown in Ann Arbor between Michigan and Michigan State will be the biggest game in the history of the rivalry. Sounds crazy, but it is not. The fans agree with this notion, too. The average price on the secondary market for this week’s game is $269, which is the highest for any Michigan basketball home game. Ever. And here is why:

Beilein and Izzo (Tony Ding, AP)

When Beilein and Izzo square off on Sunday it will be the biggest game in the history of the rivalry (Tony Ding, AP)

Currently, Michigan and Michigan State are tied atop the Big Ten standings with 10-3 records, sitting 1.5 games ahead of third-place Iowa. Given Iowa’s difficult remaining schedule, there is only an outside shot that the Hawkeyes make a push for the Big Ten championship, so this is very likely a two-horse race between the two hated rivals.

But this is the biggest game in the rivalry because never before have Michigan and Michigan State been the two clear leaders in the Big Ten race, within one game of each other, this late in conference play with a meeting on the horizon. Only three times before have both Michigan and Michigan State finished in the top two of the Big Ten. In 1959, the Spartans were the runaway champion, besting second-place Michigan by four games. In 1966, the Wolverines clinched the title before their only meeting with MSU in the finale. And, in 2012, U-M shared the crown with Michigan State and Ohio State only because MSU blew a two-game lead in the final week.

This is different. This game will have more of a combined impact on these two programs’ championship hopes than any prior meeting between the two rivals. Because MSU faces Purdue tomorrow, while U-M has a midweek bye, the Spartans will either be a half-game ahead or behind U-M come Sunday. Therefore, not only will the winner on Sunday be in sole possession of first place, the winner also may have a 1.5-game cushion with no more than four games remaining. The winner between Michigan and Michigan State — two rivals in the midst of the best stretch of their rivalry’s history — will be propelled into the driver seat in this Big Ten race and may never look back.

So this Sunday, if Stauskas starts chirping towards the Michigan State bench or the Spartans start slapping the floor on every defensive possession, know that they are no longer doing it just because they are rivals 64 miles apart that do not like each other. They are doing it because they know that their regular-season goal — to win the Big Ten championship — is on the line and likely will be decided by the game’s outcome. And that is wonderful, albeit heart-wrenching, feeling because it means that Michigan-Michigan State basketball rivalry is finally where it belongs: at the top.

Michigan-Ohio State game preview

Friday, November 29th, 2013

Twelve times in the history of college football’s greatest rivalry have the Ohio State Buckeyes entered the annual season-ending showdown unbeaten. In nine of those they came away with defeat. Tomorrow will be lucky number 13 for the scarlet and gray, and with a school record 23-game winning streak Urban Meyer’s squad has its sights set on a national championship.

On paper it’s easy to see why the Bucks have had such success. They rank third nationally in points scored, eighth in points against, sixth in rushing yards, seventh in total offense, seventh in third down conversions, fourth in red zone percentage, sixth in rush defense, 12th in total defense, and second in sacks. Statistically, they’re about as complete a team as there is in the country. But there’s a reason they find themselves ranked third in the BCS standings entering the final week of the regular season: their strength of schedule.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12pm EST – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (2nd season)
Coaching Record: 127-23 (23-0 at OSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Tom Herman (2nd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Luke Fickell (9th season)
Last Season: 12-0 (8-0, 1st Leaders)
Last Meeting: OSU 26 – Michigan 21 (2012)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 58-45-6
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan leads 31-20-4
Record at Michigan Stadium: Michigan leads 23-18-3
Current Michigan Streak: Lost 1
Last Michigan Win: 2011

Michigan isn’t likely to help in that regard given that the Wolverines come in just 7-4, 3-4 in Big Ten play, having dropped three of their last for and four of their last six. Yet according to the Sagarin Ratings, Michigan (46th) is the third best team Ohio State has faced this season, behind only Wisconsin (4th) and Iowa (35th). Three Buckeye opponents are just downright terrible. California (117th) ranks near the bottom of the FBS; Purdue (157th) is behind several FCS schools; and Florida A&M (224th) is near the bottom of the FCS.

While Ohio State boasts an average winning margin of just over 30 points, the Bucks aren’t quite so invincible as it appears. Against teams ranked in the top 70 that winning margin is cut in third, to just over 20 points. Against teams ranked in the top 50, it drops to just 8.5, and both of those opponents were either tied or within one score in the fourth quarter.

Michigan falls within the top 50 and despite four losses has had a chance to win all but the Michigan State game down the stretch. The 15-point Vegas line may be too high.

Much has been made this week about the comparisons to 1969 when a 6-2 Michigan team upset a heavily favored unbeaten Ohio State squad. Comparatively, that Michigan team was better than this one, but the fact that the Wolverines pulled it off and did so again in 1993, ’95, and ’96 shows that anything can happen. Brady Hoke knows that which is why he played up the ’69 game this week, to instill confidence in a team that has lacked it the last few weeks.

Can Michigan pull off what would be an even greater upset than it was in ’69? Will Ohio State dominate as most are predicting? Or will the result lie somewhere in between – a great game that goes down to the final minutes? Honestly, all three are possible, but let’s take a look at how the teams compare.

Michigan defense vs Ohio State offense: When Ohio State has the ball

The offense is what makes the Buckeyes go, averaging nearly 50 points per game. It all starts with quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde. Miller’s improvement since Michigan’s win in 2011 has allowed the entire offense to keep expanding. He’s completing 67.7 percent of his passes, taking care of the football (only four interceptions), and averaging 6.4 yards per carry.

Hyde missed the first three games of the season due to suspension but last week became the first 1,000-yard rusher of Urban Meyer’s career. He has 1,064 yards in eight games, averaging a whopping 7.7 yards per carry. He has eclipsed 100 yards in each of the last six games.

Philly Brown and Devin Smith are talented receiving targets for Miller. Brown leads the Buckeyes with 49 receptions for 596 yards and nine touchdowns, while Smith has 40 for 591 and seven. Tight end Jeff Heuerman is the third leading receiver with 22 catches for 314 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Freshman Dontre Wilson is the jack of all trades that Meyer loves. He has 28 carries for 226 yards and a touchdown as well as 21 receptions for 215 yards and two scores. He also averages 25.8 yards per kick return. Meyer likes to get the ball in his hands in space to use his athleticism.

The offensive line is a veteran group that has done a great job of paving the way for the running game and has also protected Miller, allowing just 13 sacks. It is led by senior left tackle and captain Jack Mewhort who has started 36 straight games.

The Buckeye offense is versatile enough to run spread or power and also utilizes a lot of tempo. Michigan’s defense has struggled against tempo this season – most notably against Indiana – and hasn’t seen an offense this talented. You can bet Greg Mattison will be prepared to at least slow the Buckeyes down. But if the Michigan offense isn’t able to string together drives and give the defense some rest it could be in for a long day.

Michigan offense vs Ohio State defense: When Michigan has the ball

Ohio State’s defense ranks highly statistically in all areas except pass defense, but has been prone to giving up yards and points. Buffalo scored 20, Cal scored 34 – the most they scored all season against FBS opponents -, Northwestern scored 30, and Illinois scored 35.

The defense is led by linebacker Ryan Shazier who leads the team with 108 tackles, 47 more than the next best. He has 19.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

The line doesn’t have a single senior but is a very talented group that has a chance to help break the school’s single season sack record. The Bucks have 36 sacks so far and the school record is 47. End Noah Spence is the leader with 7.5 sacks, while the other end, Joey Bosa, has 5.5. The tackles, Adolphus Washington and Michael Bennett, have 7.5 combined.

The secondary has been the one unit that has been picked on this season. Cornerback Bradley Roby is the one that gets all the attention. He could have gone pro last season but came back and has had an up and down season. The safeties, Christian Bryant and CJ Barnett, are also veterans, but Bryant was lost for the season with a broken ankle against Wisconsin. That has certainly caused some of the problems in the secondary.

Michigan can move the ball on the Buckeyes if and only if Al Borges utilizes a quick passing game with short and intermediate routes from the start. Long drops will put Devin Gardner in the same position he has found himself in the past few weeks: in the face of pressure, resulting in either sacks or poor decisions.

The other third: Special Teams

Kicker Drew Basil has three years of experience as the starting kicker. He has made 8-of-9 field goals this season with a long of 45. Punter Cameron Johnson averages 43.5 yards per punt with 21 of 34 ending up inside the 20.


There’s no doubt about it, Michigan needs to play a perfect game in order to win. Even then, it will need some Ohio State mistakes and a bit of luck as well. Gardner has to be smart with the ball, not throw it away as he has been prone to, and not lose unnecessary yards when faced with pressure. The offensive line has to call the right protections and give Gardner time. Derrick Green has to hit the holes hard and run with a purpose. Jeremy Gallon, Devin Funchess, and Drew Dileo have to catch everything thrown their way. The defense has to prevent the big play but also take the pounding from Hyde without breaking.

The chance of all of these things happening is extremely low. I do expect Michigan to play inspired football, hoping to recapture the magic of 1969, but that will only carry them so far. It will come down to execution and playcalling. Will Borges feature a short passing game early on to keep the linebackers back? If not, Gardner will be running for his life like he has the past few weeks. Can Mattison have his defense ready at the time of snap when OSU goes into its tempo offense, but at the same time defend both the edge and the thumping it will receive from Hyde?

How the first quarter goes will determine the outcome of this one. If Michigan can have some offensive success and get a stop or two early on the Wolverines will gain confidence that they can compete. If they turn the ball over, get a couple of three-and-outs, and fall behind early, the floodgates will open. I think Michigan hangs around just enough into the second half to give some hope but is simply overmatched when all is said and done.

Ohio State 38 – Michigan 24

First Look: Ohio State

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Michigan’s season continued its downward spiral on Saturday as the Wolverines blew a 14-point halftime lead and gained a season low 158 total yards of offense in the process. Now, the one game season begins with rival Ohio State coming to town.

The obvious storyline is Ohio State’s 23-game winning streak. Urban Meyer still hasn’t lost since he took over in Columbus last season and the Buckeyes are still trying to back their way into the BCS title game. With Alabama and Florida State ahead of them, Ohio State needs to not only win, but win impressively to try to gain ground. The Bucks have already locked up a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State, but you can be assured that they won’t overlook Michigan.

Ohio State has won its 11 games by an average of 30.4 points per game, beating Florida A&M 76-0, Penn State 63-14, and Purdue 56-0. But not every game has been a blowout. Wisconsin, Northwestern, Iowa, and even Illinois to some extent played the Buckeyes tough despite losing. Wisconsin is by far the best team Ohio State has faced and if not for a dropped interception at the end of the first half that was followed by a 40-yard touchdown strike on the next play, the Badgers might have ended Meyer’s streak.

The following week was supposed to be a big showdown at Northwestern. ESPN College Game Day was there and the Wildcats led 20-13 at halftime and 30-27 midway through the fourth quarter. But Northwestern has lost seven straight and with each passing week Ohio State’s win looks less and less impressive.

Those were the only ranked teams the Buckeyes have beaten this season and only Wisconsin is still ranked. When it comes to common opponents, aside from Northwestern, Ohio State beat Penn State and Iowa, both teams that Michigan lost to. However, the Bucks had them both at home while Michigan played them both on the road. The fourth common opponent is Indiana, which Ohio State beat 42-14 this past Saturday. Michigan set several offensive records against the Hoosiers, but the Buckeyes didn’t even top 500 total yards.

There’s no argument which is the better team, but does Michigan have any chance of upsetting the men of the scarlet and grey? Or will Urban’s streak continue? Let’s take a look at how the two compare statistically.

Ohio State Statistics & Michigan Comparison
Ohio StateMichigan Rank Opponent Rank
Points Per Game 48.7 | 33.1 3 | 47 18.4 | 25.1 8 | 52
Rushing Yards 3,4621,417 1,048 | 1,280
Rush Avg. Per Game 314.7 | 128.8 5 | 100 95.3 | 116.4 6 | 14
Avg. Per Rush 6.9 | 3.2 2.9 | 3.2
Passing Yards 2,3782,574 2,619 | 2,603
Pass Avg. Per Game 216.2234.0 75 | 62 238.1 | 236.6 81 | 80
Total Offense 5,8403,991 3,667 | 3,883
Total Off Avg. Per Game 530.9 | 362.8 7 | 95 333.4 | 353.0 12 | 26
Kick Return Average 23.5 | 22.6 27 | 41 17.8 | 22.6 10 | 92
Punt Return Average 9.0 | 6.7 52 | 91 16.5 | 7.4 119 | 57
Avg. Time of Possession 32:0631:41 23 | 31 27:54 | 28:19
3rd Down Conversion Pct 53% | 38% 7 | 83 33% | 38% 16 | T51
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 13-69 | 32-244 T20 | T110 36-250 | 21-159 T2 | T69
Touchdowns Scored 73 | 45 26 | 30
Field Goals-Attempts 8-9 | 16-23 7-10 | 23-29
Red Zone Scores (51-54)94% | (39-46)85% 4 | T52 (24-31)77% | (33-39)85% 31 | T80
Red Zone Touchdowns (45-54)83% | (30-46)65% (19-31)61% | (19-39)49%

Ohio State’s offense is one of the best in the nation, ranking third in points per game (48.7), fifth in rushing average (314.7), and seventh in total offense (530.9). While Michigan’s offense has struggled in Big Ten play, Ohio State’s hasn’t missed a beat. The lowest offensive total they have recorded in a game this season is 390 yards. Michigan has seven of 11 games with fewer total yards, and in three of Michigan’s last four games, the Wolverines gained less than half the total yards of Ohio State’s worst game.

Meanwhile, Michigan’s defense has held six opponents to fewer than 390 total yards, including Nebraska and Northwestern, so there is some hope that Greg Mattison’s crew can at least slow down the Buckeyes.

Ohio State does most of its work on the ground. Led by Carlos Hyde – the first 1,00-yard rusher of Meyer’s career – and Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes average a Big Ten best 314.7 rushing yards per game. Hyde has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of his last six games. The most total rushing yards Michigan’s defense has allowed in a game is the 168 yards Iowa gained on Saturday.

Urban Meyer brings a 23-game winning streak into Ann Arbor (Rich Barnes, USA Today Sports)

The Buckeye passing game isn’t as explosive, but that’s more because it doesn’t need to be than because it can’t be. Miller’s arm has vastly improved since the last time he came to Ann Arbor two years ago. The Bucks average just 216.2 passing yards per game, but Miller completes nearly 68 percent of his passes and has a 19-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Michigan’s pass defense ranks 80th nationally and has allowed more than 300 passing yards four times this season.

Defensively, Ohio State is similar to Michigan in that it is better against the run than against the pass. Indiana and California both gained 132 yards on the ground and no opponent has gained more. That’s bad news for a Michigan running game that has gained just 130 total rushing yards in the past four games combined.

The Buckeyes’ pass defense is actually slightly worse than Michigan’s, giving up a yard and a half more than Michigan per game. California, which is 1-11 and the only win was over an FCS team, passed for 371 yards on the Buckeyes. Wisconsin, Northwestern, Iowa, Penn State, and Indiana each threw for at least 237 yards.

In addition to gaining a lot of yards offensively, Ohio State ranks seventh nationally in third down conversions (53 percent), 20th in sacks allowed (13), and fourth in red zone offense, having converted 94 percent of their 54 red zone trips and 83 percent of those have been touchdowns.

The Bucks are strong in those categories on defense as well, ranking 16th in third down conversions (33 percent), second in sacks (36), and 31st in red zone defense (77 percent).

If there is one statistical weakness for the Buckeyes, it’s a minor one. Ohio State ranks 119th nationally in punt coverage, allowing 16.5 yards per return. However, that stat is a bit misleading as OSU has punted only 34 times all season and only six of those have been returned. Of the other 28, 21 have been downed inside the 20.

When looking at the two teams statistically, there isn’t really anything to give much hope of an upset. But they play the games on the field, not on paper, and as the two teams have shown over the long history of the storied rivalry, anything can happen. Michigan could salvage its disappointing season with a win, and that’s really all the Wolverines have to play for at this point.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Rating
Braxton Miller 132-195 1,626 19 4 165.8
Kenny Guiton 75-109 749 14 2 165.2
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Avg/Carry
Carlos Hyde 138 1,064 13 55 7.7
Braxton Miller (QB) 116 738 5 70 6.4
Jordan Hall 79 519 8 49 6.6
Kenny Guiton (QB) 40 330 5 44 8.3
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Avg/Game
Philly Brown 49 596 9 58 54.2
Devin Smith 40 591 7 90 53.7
Jeff Heuerman (TE) 22 314 2 40 28.5
Evan Spencer 22 216 3 25 19.6
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Ryan Shazier (LB) 77 31 108 19.5-72 5.5-44 (4FF)
CJ Barnett (S) 42 19 61 0-0 (2INT) 0-0
Bradley Roby (CB) 46 10 56 1.5-5 (3INT) 0-0 (12PBU)
Noah Spence (DE) 18 24 42 13.0-77 7.5-64 (1FR)
Kicking FGA FGM Long XPA XPM
Drew Basil 9 8 45 66 65
Punting Punts Yds Avg. TB In 20
Cameron Johnson 34 1,479 43.5 1 21
Full Stats

A Michigan-Ohio State rematch: Good or bad?

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

When Maryland and Rutgers join the Big Ten in 2014, the conference will switch its divisions from Legends and Leaders to East and West. Not only are the names changing, but the teams that compose each division will be realigned as well. The realignment puts both Michigan and Ohio State in the East, meaning only one of the two will be able to compete for the Big Ten title each season. That means this season is the last opportunity for the rivals to play back-to-back games – the regularly scheduled final game of the season and then the Big Ten Championship game a week later. Would that be a good thing or not? Sam and Justin debate.

Why do we love sports?

It’s a question that seems incredibly easy to answer, yet is extremely thought-provoking if pondered on a deeper scale.

Sure, we love football Saturdays for the big hits, baseball during the dog days of summer for the relaxation, and basketball for the purity of the game, but ultimately sports are nothing more than men and women kicking, throwing, shooting, and doing other seemingly silly tasks with balls or other objects.

There has to be more to it than a simple “love of the game” that pre-dates meaning.

On the surface many people do love playing just for fun, but watch one game on TV and it becomes instantly clear that there is more at stake than fun. Sports rule people’s lives, create lifelong friendships, tear couples apart, and have a lot more sway than they probably should.

And there’s a reason for this – winning and losing.

It is not instinctual for humans to love sports, but it most certainly is instinctual for humans to love power, to love prestige, and to love superiority. From the beginnings of time, animals, and thus men, have fought to survive by being bigger, faster, and stronger than their counterparts. Today, with abundant quantities of human necessities, man typically no longer has to fight tooth and nail to survive. But we still have that urge to be better than everyone else. And so we have, and love, sports.

Two games means two opportunities for iconic moments like this

The vast majority of sports fans will never have first-hand experience of playing at the college level, but we still rabidly support our teams and schools with a passion that is rare away from the field. For Michigan fans, that means cheering on the Wolverines as if the world depended on it.

I’ll be the first to admit that the difference between wins and losses has dictated many of my past decisions. Throughout my college years, a Michigan victory would often lead to a night of laughter and partying while an untimely loss (and aren’t they all) typically meant a night full of studying and an 8:00pm bed time. Yes, I have watched every single Michigan basketball and football game for probably the past seven years running, and the outcome of each of those 200-and-some games had some effect on my mood, as they certainly did for Michigan fans around the world.

Wins over the Delaware States and Towsons of the world probably didn’t bring more than a smile, and expected losses during the tough times were hard to swallow but relatively easy to get over, but the big games were always exhilarating.

The tussles with the Buckeyes, the Fighting Irish, and the Spartans are always certain to amplify my reaction by unforeseen amounts, because there is nothing better than the feeling of besting a rival.

Recently, conference expansion caused some realignment in the Big Ten, and the historic football rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State, known simply as The Game, fell into threatened status, not because it would be discontinued, but rather because there were rumblings that the matchup would be moved from its slot on the final weekend.

Luckily, The Game was kept in place, but the ballooning of the Big Ten to 12 schools, and eventually 14 starting in 2014, made divisions a necessity. Michigan and Ohio State, who have dominated the Big Ten for about as long as the conference has existed, would now either be placed in the same division and play for the right to advance to the Big Ten championship game, or would be put in opposite divisions and play for a spot in the championship game but also a possibility of a rematch.

As it stands this season, Michigan and Ohio State find themselves in opposite divisions, and many pundits are projecting both the Wolverines and the Buckeyes to fare extremely well within those separate groupings. If these predictions hold true and both teams perform up to their potentials, Michigan and Ohio State could be playing on November 30 in Ann Arbor and again on December 7, just one week later, in Indianapolis.

But it also means more opportunities for moments like this

Fans of both teams have come out in either strong support of or opposition to this idea. Those against it cry out that the rivalry will be watered down, and that The Game could prove meaningless if both teams are already guaranteed a spot in the title game the following weekend, or that a split in the series would eliminate all bragging rights.

I, on the other hand, foresee a thrilling rematch – and only if both teams are deserving of a second game.

First of all, the chances that a rematch happens are not great, but even if it does, I will rest assured knowing that Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer want their teams to rip the other team’s collective heart out no matter what the stakes. These two teams could be playing in a gladiatorial death cage or they could be playing for a new Barbie playhouse and no one would know the difference. Emotions will flare, tempers will rise, and a battle will ensue – no matter the circumstances.

Secondly, a simple listing of some of the best rivalries in sports does wonders in support of seeing the Maize and Blue square off with the Scarlet and Grey twice. Take the Yankees and Red Sox, Real Madrid and Barcelona, the Cowboys and the Giants, Duke and North Carolina, and tell me when the last time was when these greatest rivals in the world played but one time in a season. Take any number of huge rivalries outside of college football, and one of the constants anyone will see is that rivals love playing each other more than once a year. Multiple matchups certainly haven’t eased the tensions between any of these fan bases.

Perhaps the best thing to come from twice as many rivalry games with Ohio State, however, would be twice as many moments to remember, twice as many games to reminisce over years into the future, and twice as many heroes to worship. Ohio State fans aren’t soon to forget Chic Harley, Dick Schafrath, Maurice Clarett, or Troy Smith, and in no small part for their roles in taking down Michigan; likewise, Wolverine faithful adore Tom Harmon, Desmond Howard, Charles Woodson, Chris Perry, and Denard Robinson much for their contributions in felling the Buckeyes. A potential second game every season would allow for so many more of these players to enter the halls of history of the greatest rivalry in sports.

To those who really only want to see Michigan play Ohio State once every year, I will choose to enjoy my alternate universe in which the Wolverines and Buckeyes play a second time while you sleep through another pounding of Northeastern College of the Arts.

To those who think a rematch would water down a game between two teams full of hatred for each other, I ask, do you honestly think one of these teams could swallow a loss one week and lay down in the Big Ten Championship the next? I certainly don’t.

All I envision is more hatred, more celebrations, and, yes, sometimes even more early bed times.

Despite the alternate jerseys and Big House renovations the past few years, Michigan football is all about tradition. You know the drill: winningest program, most recognizable helmets, best fight song…the list goes on. A major part of that tradition is the annual end of season battle with the Buckeyes.

The mere suggestion that it could be moved away from the last weekend in November  - whether it was a real possibility or not – was enough to draw ire from both sides of the rivalry. That’s how steeped in tradition it is and part of what makes it a greater rivalry than the other big rivalries that exist in sports.

Fans from both sides know the importance of the game. Many of us have family or friends on the other side. And for as long as any of us can remember, it has been the game that ended the regular season, leaving us to face those family and friends over the holidays with either a pompous joy or a sheepish distain. It means so much because there is only one shot. Win and you have 364 days of bragging rights. Lose and you have to hear about it for 364 days until you can get another shot.

This year, the possibility exists of the teams meeting in back to back weeks. In that scenario, there are four possible outcomes: Michigan wins both, Michigan wins the first but loses the Big Ten title game, Michigan loses the first but wins the Big Ten title game, or Ohio State wins both.

The Game should never give the losing team a chance for revenge because it will diminish moments like this

Obviously, Michigan winning both would be the ultimate icing on the cake, but in my opinion the other three outcomes are not good. Of course, losing to Ohio State in back to back weeks would make for a horrible offseason, but here’s why the other two outcomes are bad as well.

Based on schedules this season, Ohio State is far more likely to enter the end of season matchup unbeaten, or at least with a better record. Michigan has to play Notre Dame, Nebraska and at Michigan State – none of which are on the Buckeyes’ schedule – and at Penn State, while OSU gets the Nittany Lions at home. Ohio State’s only road games prior to coming to Ann Arbor are California, Northwestern, Purdue, and Illinois. None are likely losses and only Northwestern carries the possibility.

Let’s say a 9-2 Michigan team beats a 11-0 Ohio State squad on Nov. 30, but then Ohio State returns the favor in the Big Ten Championship game. The Buckeyes would go to either the BCS National Championship or the Rose Bowl, while Michigan would go to either the Rose Bowl or another bowl game and the Nov. 30 win would be all but forgotten. Just a minor hiccup on the Buckeyes’ schedule. They won the one that matters and that’s all they will remember.

In the other scenario, let’s say 11-0 Ohio State beats 9-2 Michigan on Nov. 30, but Michigan still wins the Legends and then upsets the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship game a week later. At 10-3, Michigan would get the automatic BCS berth, but it would be hard to argue that the Wolverines were better than the 12-1 Buckeyes who would also get a BCS at-large bid. Depending on the score of the two matchups (were they both close, down to the wire games, or did Ohio State win the first won handily and Michigan need a last second field goal to win the second?) the Big Ten title game victory would mean less than it would if they had only played once and Michigan won. Yes, it would mean a Big Ten title, but it would be dampened by the fact that the teams beat each other in back to back weeks. Both teams could rightfully claim they were better and there would be no tie-breaker.

So if three of the four outcomes of the scenario are negative why would I want it to happen? Unfortunately, for Michigan to win the Big Ten this season, I believe the rematch will have to happen, but thankfully this is the last year it could. Beginning in 2014, Michigan and Ohio State will both be in the East battling for a spot in the Big Ten title game. That also isn’t ideal since only one of them will get a shot to win the Big Ten each year, but it’s the reality of a bigger conference that requires divisions – which I hate, but that’s a topic for another day – and it’s better than the possibility of them meeting back-to-back.

Let’s just hope Michigan wins both and we can put this issue to rest once and for all.

Ohio State 26 – Michigan 21: Second half play-calling, miscues send Michigan home in defeat

Saturday, November 24th, 2012

He ran to his right, cut upfield, shrugged off a sandwich by two defenders at the 45, and sprinted to the end zone to give Michigan a 21-17 lead just before the half. It was the stuff of legends – the senior Denard Robinson making a highlight-reel play in the game’s biggest rivalry. It capped an impressive first half for the Michigan offense that was matching Ohio State punch for punch.

Ohio State 26 – Michigan 21
Final Stats
21 Final Score 26
8-4, 6-2 Record 12-0, 8-0
279 Total Yards 396
108 Net Rushing Yards 207
171 Net Passing Yards 189
13 First Downs 22
4 Turnovers 2
5-54 Penalties – Yards 9-74
4-191 Punts – Yards 3-133
23:10 Time of Possession 36:50
4-of-10 Third Down Conversions 4-of-13
0-of-1 Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0
4-39 Sacks By – Yards 4-29
0-for-0 Field Goals 4-for-5
3-for-3 PATs 2-for-2
1-for-1 Red Zone Scores – Chances 4-for-5

Two drives later, on Michigan’s second drive of the second half, Denard rushed to his right and tried to juke a defender who’s helmet squarely hit the ball and popped it loose. Ohio State recovered, and despite missing a field goal, Michigan would never recover.

In the span of two drives, two plays signaled the swings in momentum that decided the game. The fumble was one of many miscues made by Michigan that doomed their chances of winning as the Wolverines coughed it up four times.

The game started ominously as Ohio State took it right down the field on six plays, using a 52-yard pass to Devin Smith to set up a 3-yard Carlos Hyde touchdown run. Michigan mounted a nice drive to the Ohio State 22, but Devin Gardner was sacked by Adolphus Washington and fumbled. After an Ohio State punt, Michigan got on the board with a 75-yard touchdown pass from Gardner to Roy Roundtree.

Ohio State answered with an 11-play field goal drive to take a 10-7 lead. On Michigan’s ensuing possession, an offensive pass interference call on Roundtree negated a first down and led to a Michigan punt. But Ohio State’s Philly Brown muffed the punt and Michigan recovered. Five plays later, Gardner carried it in for the score to put Michigan ahead 14-10.

After the teams traded punts, the Buckeyes got back on the board with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Braxton Miller to Brown. Michigan got the ball back with 1:30 remaining in the half and Denard’s aforementioned 67-yard touchdown run put Michigan back on top. Ohio State tacked on a field goal to head into the half with Michigan ahead 21-20.

The first half was evenly played and, except for Gardner’s fumble on the sack, the offense moved the ball rather well. There was a good mix of plays with Denard, both at quarterback and lined up at other positions. But the second half was a different story.

Denard Robinson fumbles in the third quarter (Jay LaPrete, AP)

Michigan completely went away from any offensive creativity, instead opting for using Gardner and Denard on the field separately, and the offense became entirely predictable. On Michigan’s first possession of the second half, the Wolverines got to their own 48. Facing a 4th-and-2, Brady Hoke initially sent the punt team onto the field, but called a time out to re-think the decision. He then sent the offense back out and ran Denard up the middle, but he was stuffed. Ohio State took advantage of the game-changing field position and kicked a 28-yard field goal to re-take the lead. Michigan would never get it back.

Michigan’s next possession was Denard’s fumble, on which Ohio State wasn’t able to capitalize. When Michigan got it back, the Wolverines faced a 3rd-and-short, but handed off to Vincent Smith up the middle. Again, he was stuffed for no gain and Michigan punted.

The defense kept Michigan in the game as Jake Ryan sacked Miller and forced a fumble that was recovered by Frank Clark. But again, facing 3rd-and-1 at the Michigan 45, Al Borges elected to hand off to Smith up the middle and he was stopped for a loss of two. Michigan punted.

After an Ohio State punt, Michigan got the ball on its own eight. A pass interference penalty gave the offense some breathing room, but two plays later, Garnder was sacked and fumbled. Ohio State recovered at the Michigan 10, in prime position to score a touchdown and all but seal the game. But yet again, the Wolverine defense held strong, forcing Ohio State to kick a 25-yard field goal.

Trailing 26-21 with 6:26 remaining, time was of the essence for Michigan, but the game was still well within reach. Gardner completed a 10-yard pass to Jeremy Gallon for a first down and picked up another, but the latter was called back by a holding penalty. Two plays later, Gardner was intercepted by C.J. Barnett on a poorly thrown ball to Drew Dileo. Michigan never got the ball back as Hyde converted a 3rd-and-7 with a 13-yard run up the middle and the Buckeyes were able to run out the clock.

Denard scores on a 67-yards touchdown run in the first half (Jay LaPrete, AP)

If you saw a theme in the second half drives it was Michigan’s inability to move the ball and inexplicable play-calling – especially on short yardage plays – that handed Ohio State the game. The first half had all the makings of a shootout, but that offense – and the one that Michigan ran the week before against Iowa – suddenly disappeared. Denard and Gardner never saw the field at the same time in the second half, not even to use Denard as a decoy. Instead, the Buckeyes were able to load the box when Denard lined up at quarterback and send the blitz when Gardner was in. The offense never crossed midfield in the second half and gained just 61 yards, and it wasn’t because Ohio State’s defense suddenly learned how to play. Simply put, the play-calling was atrocious.

Michigan obviously missed Fitz Toussaint in the running game as Thomas Rawls and Vincent Smith were able to manage just 10 yards on 10 carries. Denard, on the other hand, rushed for 122 and a touchdown on 10 carries, nearly all of which were in the first half. He passed Mike Hart for third on the career rushing touchdown list and Jamie Morris for third on the career rushing list. He also eclipsed Illinois’ Juice Williams for sixth on the Big Ten career total yardage list and became Michigan’s all-time career total touchdown leader, passing Chad Henne with 91.

Gardner completed 11-of-20 passes for 171 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, while also rushing for a touchdown. Roundtree led the way receiving with three receptions for 92 yards and passed Jason Avant and Marquise Walker on the career receiving list.

Ohio State finished its season with a perfect 12-0 record and will forever complain about not being able to play for the national championship due to its sanctions from the Jim Tressel scandal. Perhaps it was fitting then that the Buckeyes honored Tressel and his 2002 national championship team during the first quarter.

Michigan finishes the regular season at 8-4 and will play in either the Capital One Bowl or the Outback Bowl on New Years Day against an SEC opponent, likely either Texas A&M, Georgia or Florida. Both would be tough matchups, but one final time for Denard and the rest of the seniors to suit up in the maize and blue. The matchup will be announced next Sunday.

Stay tuned at the beginning for the Monday Morning Quarterback segment which will break down what went wrong with Michigan’s play-calling in the second half and where the Wolverines go from here.

M&GB Pick’em: Ohio State staff predictions

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

Last week, Matt captured his third prediction victory of the year with his 41-13 pick. Katie and Justin were both close as well, while Sam had his worst pick of the season. This week is the big one, the one we’ve all been waiting for since Michigan beat the Buckeyes a year ago. Ohio State is favored and looking for an undefeated season, while Michigan is still hoping to keep its Big Ten title hopes alive. A lot is on the line, and that’s just how it should be. Let’s take a look at our picks.



Justin: Michigan 35 – Ohio State 38

Chris: Michigan 23 - Ohio State 26

Josh: Michigan 31 – Ohio State 28

Sam: Michigan 21 – Ohio State 27

Katie: Michigan 31 – Ohio State 27

Matt: Michigan 41 – Ohio State 38


Average: Ohio State 30.7 – Michigan 30.3

Justin (1): Despite being unbeaten, Ohio State is far from unbeatable. The Bucks had to survive overtime against Wisconsin and needed a last minute comeback just to force overtime against Purdue (!). They let Indiana score 49 points and needed a late touchdown to beat Cal, who is just 3-9 this season.

A week ago, questions swirled about Denard’s status and availability. Would he see the field? If he did, would it just be a ceremonial snap for one last time in the Big House? Well, he did see the field and that ceremonial snap turned into another and another and another. In the end, he carried the ball 13 times for 98 yards and caught two passes for 24 more. He lined up at quarterback a few times, but didn’t throw a pass, and he also served as a decoy several times, one of which resulted in a Vincent Smith touchdown as the entire Iowa defense keyed on Denard.

Yes, it was against Iowa, but Ohio State’s defense isn’t much better. In fact, statistically, they aren’t. The offense that was on display last week will be built upon. Al Borges will try to get the ball to Denard in space to make Ohio State’s linebackers and defensive backs make plays in space. Devin Gardner will also throw the ball quite a bit, looking for Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo underneath the Buckeye zone. There will be yards to be had and Michigan will need to be efficient with punching the ball into the end zone instead of settling for field goals or turning it over.

Ohio State’s offense is high-powered and will put a lot of pressure on Michigan’s defense. Braxton Miller has gotten much better since last season, though he’s still prone to mistakes. Michigan’s defensive line will have to make sure it doesn’t rush right by him, leaving lanes for him to step up and run. To be sure, Greg Mattison’s defense will focus on keeping Miller from getting to the edge like Wisconsin did. Linebackers Jake Ryan, Kenny Demens, and Desmond Morgan will need to stay disciplined. We will also probably see quite a bit of Jakes Ross to get more speed on the field like we have against other spread offenses.

I just don’t see this one being a defensive battle, nor do I see it being a blowout in either direction. It will go back and forth with both teams scoring often. Unfortunately, I think Ohio State ends up on top. But I hope I’m wrong. For more analysis, check out this morning’s game preview, yesterday’s Friend vs Foe, Wednesday’s MMQ, and Monday’s First Look.

Ohio State 38 – Michigan 35

Chris (2): The time has come for The Game. The biggest rivalry in all of sports. There are others that come close, but there is no competition that matches the hatred and passion that comes with Michigan and Ohio getting together to battle it out on the football field at the end of every season. Saturday’s matchup is no different. Michigan will enter the game knowing whether they have a chance to win the Legends Division after a Nebraska loss on Friday. Even if that’s not the case, Michigan will be motivated by the opportunity to ruin Ohio’s undefeated season and what will be Ohio’s bowl game, since they are not eligible for any postseason play.

Michigan will need to get pressure on Braxton Miller and keep him contained (Mike McGinnis, Getty Images)

Last week, Michigan unveiled a new style of offense with Denard Robinson playing in a new multi-role position and Devin Gardner taking all of the snaps under center.  The result was the best day of offense that a Michigan team has had in years.  As I pointed out in my Monday Morning Quarterback article this past week, I believe that dynamic nature of this offense has added a positive twist to this game that will make it even more exciting.

Living in Columbus, I have seen Ohio play a lot.  I feel like I have a pretty good sense of the strengths and weaknesses of this Ohio team.  One thing I can tell you is that they struggle with is teams that spread them out and attack them with multiple formations and multiple looks.  They have been especially vulnerable when offenses get the ball out on the edge quickly and the defense is forced to run to the ball and make a tackle.  Speaking of tackling, Ohio has been poor in this area all season, which could be an advantage for the Michigan offense.

So what do I see happening on Saturday?  Defensively, Michigan needs to stop the run and prevent QB Braxton Miller from the running the ball out of the pocket.  This means a disciplined pass rush that keeps Miller contained in the pocket.  Expect Ohio to try to establish dominance in the trenches right off the bat with a strong rushing attack to wear down the defense and keep an explosive Michigan offense off of the field.

When Michigan is on offense, I think the key will be up front with the offensive line defending against the Ohio pass rush.  All season, Michigan has struggled with their blocking.  If they can’t keep the Ohio defense from penetrating the line and disrupting the play in the backfield, it will be a long day for Michigan fans.  Al Borges will need to call a heavy mix of screens, draws, and short, quick-hitting passes that will force the defense to stay off of the line of scrimmage and give the offense room to operate.  Spread them out and make the defense tackle in space.  That’s how Michigan will move the ball.

My prediction for this game is that Ohio is going to be too much for the Michigan defense on the ground.  Michigan hasn’t been great defending the run this year and that’s not a recipe for success in this rivalry.  I want Michigan to win and hope with everything in me that I’m wrong.

Ohio State 26 – Michigan 23

Josh (2): Ah, Beat Ohio week. My favorite week of the year. Last year Michigan broke their losing streak to that team from Columbus and look to make it two in a row for Brady Hoke. The Game always has significance but it lost some of its luster under the last regime, who didn’t seem to understand its importance. But let us not dwell on the past. Ohio comes into the game at 11-0 and would love nothing more than to cap off their undefeated season with a win against the Wolverines. A month ago I would have said Ohio wins big, but with the emergence of Devin Gardner and a legitimate passing game I have changed my tune. It won’t be easy, it never is against Ohio, but with Gardner at QB and Denard playing the role of WR/RB I think we have a really good chance at beating an undefeated Ohio team again.

Michigan has the nation’s top pass defense; part of that is who they’ve played but a bigger part is Greg Mattison and his scheme. He sets his guys up to succeed and has instilled a great confidence that had been lacking since the 2006 team. Ohio has a high octane offense led by Braxton Miller but, as Wisconsin showed last week, it is possible to bottle him up and stifle their offense. Being in Columbus will not make this an easy task for our boys in Maize and Blue but if they can limit the Buckeyes’ big plays and get their offense in a groove they have a great chance of coming away with a win.

Can the Devin and Denard show continue to work? (Tony Ding, AP)

Denard Robinson has meant so much to this program, with both his play and his leadership. I have not always been so supportive of his passing ability but his leadership is unquestioned. It would mean the world to him and Wolverine fans the world around if he could go out having beat Ohio in his last regular season game. That said, Devin Gardner is now the starting QB and I could not be any more confident in him than I am right now. He may not have the electric legs of Denard but his passing and decision making are head and shoulders above. We may not have the best sample to look at, having faced less than stellar teams the past three weeks, but what he has done against weaker defenses is what any good QB should do. 46/70, 834 yards 7 TD’s, 3 picks and he’s added 105 yards on the ground and another 6 TD’s. 13 total TD’s in three games to only 3 turnovers, definitely solid numbers. Throw in the wrinkle of Denard being in the backfield or spread out wide and you have a deadly combo that will be a nightmare for Ohio to prepare for.

Ohio has one of the worst pass defenses in college football. They’ve given up over 300 yards passing or 200 yards rushing in six of their eleven games; Miami (OH), Indiana and PSU all put up over 300 yards passing and Cal, Nebraska and Wisconsin all totaled over 200 yards rushing. They’ve given up over 300 yards of total offense to ten of their eleven opponents; Illinois being the only one held under. Yes, they do average over 400 yards per game, 425 to be exact, but defense wins championships and their defense gives up a ton of yards. The odds of Michigan not having a 300 yard passer or 200 yard rusher are slim to none. If Michigan puts up those types of numbers they should be in a good spot to win the game.

Devin Gardner gives this team a unique advantage; Ohio has only three games to look at and game plan against. Teams cannot prepare for Gardner the way they can against Denard, as he can both pass and run very well. I don’t expect Denard to throw the ball, though it wouldn’t shock me on a trick play, but look for Borges to get him the ball in space where he is deadly. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Denard return kicks or punts in Columbus.

The keys to this game are how well Michigan’s defense contains Braxton Miller and the Buckeye offense and if Borges can get the run game going without Fitz Toussaint. If they can prevent the big plays and keep Ohio from scoring like they are accustomed to then Michigan goes back to A2 with the win. Denard should help alleviate some of the sting from the loss of Toussaint and we should see a good dose of bruiser Thomas Rawls as well to keep the Ohio defense off balance.

Michigan will play spoiler to Ohio’s perfect season and come away with a close win in Columbus.

Michigan 31 – Ohio State 28

Matt (3): WhatHere it is! Michigan vs Ohio State week! It’s a game that I get so excited for. It’s a game that I get so nervous for.

Michigan comes into the game in Columbus this Saturday with a potential shot to win the Legends Division (that is if Iowa can defeat Nebraska on Friday). But even if the Wolverines can’t win the Legends Division with this win, it’s obviously a game that they still want to win.

This season is Urban Meyer’s first season as the Buckeyes head coach, and he’d love nothing more than to go undefeated, topping the season off with a win over the Michigan Wolverines. And of course, Brady Hoke would love to be the one that spoils that for Urban. Brady beat the Buckeyes last year, in his first season as head coach of the Wolverines. He’ll look to stay undefeated against the heated rival.

Carlos Hyde has been a touchdown machine for OSU (Mike McGinnis, Getty Images)

I would normally go into stats, but when it comes to this game…The Game, you can throw the stats out the window. Michigan has a few losses this year. It doesn’t matter. Ohio State is undefeated this year. It doesn’t matter. Braxton Miller is hoping for a Heisman. Yep, it doesn’t matter.

Al Borges got to have some fun last weekend, having Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson on the field at the same time. He’ll look to use that same attack this weekend in Ohio Stadium. Devin has played very well in his starts as quarterback for Michigan. You have to go with the hot hand. And having Denard on the field is a must. The guy is electric. You never know what he’s going to do. For instance last week it was 3rd down and one yard to go, and Robinson rushed for 40.

This Devin/Denard duo is incredible. One of the best Michigan has ever seen. I think that is going to be the difference. OSU and Michigan’s defenses match up well, as does their offense in my opinion.

Look for Greg Mattison to have the Wolverines defense pumped and ready to flatten those Buckeyes. Although Luke Fickell wiill have his defense ready as well. I really do think the difference is that a Devin/Denard duo beats one Braxton Miller.

If this game were played 100 times, I wouldn’t be surprised if it went 50/50. We’re in store for a very exciting game this Saturday at noon. Michigan edges Ohio State out in a close game, and Brady Hoke continues his success as Michigan head coach, and his winning streak against the team he simply calls, “Ohio”.

Michigan 41 – Ohio State 38

Sam (1): It is said that when rivals go up against each other, all previous records and statistics should be thrown out the window; adrenaline and effort will decide the outcome. Truth be told, however, I’ve never bought into that line of thinking. In a rivalry game, both teams are going to give their all on every single play out of sheer hate and respect for the opponent. Considering this, all we really have to analyze is past performance. Sure, upsets might be more common in rivalries, but there is no reason they should be. If everyone cares equally, the best team should win.

We all know that when it comes to rivalries, there is none bigger than The Game. Michigan and Ohio State, Maize and Blue versus Scarlet and Gray, the Wolverines against the Buckeyes. Even the imagery seems to suggest bitter enemies, and throughout time, that is what these two schools have been.

Tomorrow Michigan will take the trip down the Ohio Turnpike to face a hostile Columbus crowd in the Horseshoe for the biggest game of the season. The Buckeyes are playing for pride, honor, and perhaps a shot to go down in history as the best ever team in the bowl era to not play beyond November. The Wolverines come into the game with an outside chance to claim a Big Ten crown, but fate is not completely in their hands. Regardless of how everything plays out, the winner will go home happy, and the loser will look to the calendar to count down the days til next year’s match-up.

Urban Meyer looks to complete an undefeated season with his first win over Michigan (Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

Everyone knows tomorrow will be Urban Meyer’s first Game as Ohio State’s head coach, Brady Hoke’s first time as head coach in Columbus, and the second year in a row where one team is breaking in a new head man. The game is played on the field, though, where Michigan will likely be starting a different quarterback for the fourth straight year against Ohio State while the Buckeyes return sophomore sensation Braxton Miller to the gridiron.

Hoke has returned Michigan to form over his two years as head coach, and has also returned the program to the days of Fort Schembechler, where practically no useful information gets out of the inside. No one knows Denard Robinson’s status for tomorrow’s game after he played a scatback role in last Saturday’s blowout of Iowa. I assume Devin Gardner, who has been impressive thus far, will start behind center again, but Hoke has yet to rule out Shoelace from playing quarterback. Then again, for all we know, Robinson may not even be able to go with the unpredictable nature of his nerve injury.

Meyer will roll with Miller running his run-spread offense, an offense that seems tailor-made for the big yet speedy quarterback. The Buckeyes have averaged 5.3 yards per carry behind Miller’s 1,214 yards on 207 carries and have outscored their opponents by more than two touchdowns per game.

With Gardner under center for Michigan, the Wolverines will likely look to the air more often to exploit Ohio State’s secondary. The running game just hasn’t been up to par all year for Michigan, and with the loss of Fitzgerald Toussaint last week, I don’t see a single running back that can go for more than 50 yards total. A healthy Denard Robinson completely changes things, however, and gives Al Borges the opportunity to run a plethora of looks and plays. The Buckeyes will look to contain Robinson if he plays and will pay special attention to the passing game, which just might open things up on the ground.

Unlike in traditional match-ups between these two rivals, this year could see a bit of a shoot-out. Ohio State has given up more than 20 points in five of their past six games and has yet to hold an opponent to single digits while Michigan has scored more than 30 in three straight, but Ohio State has also scored more than 20 points in all but one game and has gone for 50+ on four different occasions. Try as Michigan might, they will not hold Ohio State all day long. Braxton Miller is going to break a couple long runs and the secondary will probably give up one or two back-breakers.

All truth be told, this should be a very close game. While I won’t discount each teams’ previous results as many others will, I don’t see a whole lot to give one team a decided advantage. Vegas tends to agree, giving Ohio State a 3.5-point edge, which is basically a toss-up decided by the traditional three to four points given for home field advantage.

This game will come down to turnovers in the end, and inexperience on the visitor’s side will not bode well as the Buckeyes claim a 2-to-1 turnover advantage on their way to dashing Michigan’s Big Ten title hopes.

Ohio State 27 – Michigan 21

Katie (2): Heading into the last and most anticipated game of the season Michigan and its fiercest rival are neck in neck despite the discrepancy in the win-loss standings. Ohio State may be coming into the game with a perfect record, but then again they also haven’t played two teams who have had or now hold the number one ranking. Michigan has rebounded since the early losses and the unfortunate play and collapse of the offense that led to the Nebraska debacle. A spot in the Big Ten Championship is also all but gone for Michigan, unless of course the Huskers get outplayed or outlucked by the Hawkeyes. But that’s not what matters this week, as it’s more than likely that neither team will be playing for the conference title (of course the Buckeyes are out regardless).

In keeping with recent tradition, OSU will be wearing new uniforms tomorrow

What matters is firmly reinstating the rivalry after shallowly ending the drought that plagued Michigan for more than half a decade. One win doesn’t prove that Michigan has made a comeback in The Game, but back to back victories, one amid the hostility that is The Shoe would show that the Wolverines are going to make the coming years a stage for uphill battles.

The numbers are fairly similar, so what it will come down to is execution. Can the Buckeyes hold Michigan to twenty points or less, which is what history has written the past two years for the Wolverines only losses. Since Hoke has been coach the Wolverines are 18-0 when scoring more than twenty points. And since the offense for Michigan has only gotten more prolific that should be a tall task for the Buckeyes. Not to say that Braxton Miller couldn’t take over and play well, as he has nearly all season, and force an old fashioned shootout. But with Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner shifting in the backfield and posing all sorts of defensive headaches, the outlook is good that Michigan will be able to score enough points to keep the Bucks at bay.

The key will be keeping the Ohio State offense to a dull roar by making big plays, like forcing fumbles, a problem that the Scarlet and Grey are familiar with this season, and increasing their percentages of three and outs. To keep the Buckeyes high powered offense from scoring Michigan needs to maintain clock control with long drives, because it won’t be enough to simply attempt to stifle them. They can’t score if they don’t have the ball. That equation always works out. Add to that the fact that Michigan goes into the week ranked 12th in the nation defensively, while Ohio State is falls short at 38th.

However, the Buckeyes do have the advantage of having the better rush defense, an asset that will presumably bode well for them when facing the backfield potential of Robinson and Gardner. The intangibles of this game also coming into effect, with Meyer being in his first year, the status of the game, Robinson wanting to part with the team with a win, this being the last game of the season for OSU, all amount to this game likely being a close call either way. I’ve got Michigan in this one, and the first back to back wins since 1999-2000.

Michigan 31 – Ohio State 27

Michigan vs Ohio State game preview

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

As Thanksgiving has come and gone, we find ourselves at the game that signals season’s end, the annual showdown with Ohio State looming and yet another regular season ready to be etched into the record books. For some, like Denard Robinson and Jordan Kovacs, it means one final chance to perform against a bitter rival. For others such as Devin Gardner, it’s a chance to break out on the big stage and set the expectations heading into next season. Furthermore, for those such as Brady Hoke, it’s a chance to establish the upper hand over his foremost adversary. Yes, The Game is here.

Ohio Stadium  -  Columbus, Ohio
12pm EST  -  ABC

Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (1st season)
Coaching Record: 11-0 (115-23 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Tom Herman
Defensive Coordinator: Luke Fickell
Returning Starters: 19 (9 offense, 10 defense)
Last Season: 6-7 (3-5)
Last Meeting: Michigan 40 – Ohio State 34 (2011)
All-time Series: Michigan leads 58-44-6
In Columbus: Michigan leads 27-24-2
In Ohio Stadium: Ohio State leads 23-21-1
Current Streak: Michigan 1

For so many years, the season-culminating battle has determined Big Ten titles and national championship game berths. It has featured legendary performances and provides bragging rights for the next 364 days. The game had lost some of its luster over the past few years, but Michigan finally got back in the win column a year ago. Now, Ohio State comes in unbeaten and Michigan enters with a chance to win the Big Ten Legends division and advance to the championship game. The stakes are high, just as they should be.

Although the Buckeyes aren’t able to parlay their magical season into the BCS National Championship game due to the sanctions brought on by Jim Tressel and his merry band of tattooed men, that doesn’t stop them from honoring him and his 2002 national championship team prior to the game. And it makes them that much more hungry to come together, beat Michigan, and go down in Ohio State lore as one of the greatest teams in Buckeye history.

As the old adage goes, when the two teams square off, you throw out the records. But despite the fact that Ohio State is undefeated and Michigan has three losses, these teams are pretty even. It can certainly be argued that if the teams had switched out-of-conference schedules, their records would be reversed. Ohio State’s first four opponents have a combined record of 18-27, while Michigan’s three losses were to teams with a combined record of 31-3.

Can Michigan pull off a second straight win over the Buckeyes and their first in Columbus since 2000? Or will Ohio State conclude their season undefeated and continue Michigan’s futility across the border? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Ohio State has the ball

Ohio State has been a high scoring team all season, averaging 38.2 points per game. The Bucks have scored over 50 four times and have been held below 20 just once, although they needed overtime to top 20 last week against Wisconsin. Perhaps the Badgers provided the blueprint for slowing down the Buckeye offense by keeping Braxton Miller from getting outside. But it’s easier said than done. Miller completes 56.8 percent of his passes for 168 yards per game and carries the ball 19 times for 110 yards per game. He’s certainly more dangerous on the ground but has enough of a throwing ability to make defenses pay if they key too much on his feet.

In the backfield, Carlos Hyde is a powerful back that averages 5.2 yards per carry. Despite not playing in two games, he’s nearing 1,000 yards and has had three games this season with at least 137 yards. He’s also a touchdown machine with 15 on the season and has scored at least one in each of the past six games.

Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer face off for the first time

The receivers aren’t the stars we were used to seeing, but they are capable. Sophomore Devin Smith is the big play guy with 555 yards and six touchdowns on just 28 receptions. Philly Brown is the more reliable with 48 receptions for 456 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Jake Stoneburner has caught just 15 passes all season, but four of them have been touchdowns, so he’s a dangerous one to watch for in the red zone. Sophomore Evan Spencer is the only other Buckeye with double digit receptions (11), though he hasn’t caught a TD, while 10 others have caught at least one pass.

The offensive line is good, but not the typical mauling Ohio State line. They use a zone blocking scheme for the running game, but aren’t great in pass protection, having given up 26 sacks, which ranks 88th nationally. By comparison, Michigan has allowed just 11.

When Michigan has the ball

As I discussed in yesterday’s Friend vs Foe, Ohio State’s defense is built to defend the traditional Big Ten offenses such as Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan State. And in those games, they did look good. But against spread offenses, they have been porous. While the rush defense is respectable, giving up just 117 yards per game, teams have been able to pass all over the Buckeyes to the tune of 250.1 yards a game.

The line is anchored by tackle Jonathan Hankins, who Brady Hoke called “as good of an interior lineman as anyone in the country.” The space eating junior ranks fourth on the team with 52 tackles, four of them have gone for loss, including one sack. On the end is John Simon who leads the Big Ten with nine sacks to go along with 14.5 tackles for loss. Strongside end Nathan Williams has 39 tackles and two sacks, while Garrett Goebel holds down the other tackle spot and does a good job.

Linebacker Ryan Shazier is the man that makes the Buckeye defense go. He leads the team with 110 tackles and 14.5 for loss. He also has four sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception. He’s fast and athletic, but also still prone to some of the boneheaded plays we saw out of him as a freshman last season. Etienne Sabino returned last week from a broken leg that was suffered against Nebraska to help stabilize the Buckeye defense, while converted fullback Zach Boren holds down the middle.

The secondary is the weak point, most notably corner Travis Howard. Despite four interceptions, he’s not a great cover corner and should be the one Michigan targets. Bradley Roby is a good cover man who leads the nation with 19 passes defended. Against Nebraska he picked off Taylor Martinez and returned it for a touchdown

The other third

Kicker Drew Basil has attempted just six field goals all season, making four, though he did hit 16-of-19 last season. Punter Ben Buchanan averages 40.9 yards per punt, which ranks seventh in the Big Ten. The return game could be dangerous with Corey Brown ranking third in the conference in punt returns with an average of 13.6 yards per, but the Buckeye kick return unit ranks just 87th nationally.

Rushing Attempts: 29 – Denard will pass Butch Woolfolk for 6th in career rushing attempts.
Rushing Yards: 121 – Denard will pass Jamie Morris for 3rd in career rushing yards. With 200, he will pass Anthony Thomas for 2nd. With 16, he will pass Missouri’s Brad Smith (2002-05) for 2nd in NCAA FBS history.
Rushing Touchdowns: 1 – Denard will pass Mike Hart for 3rd in career rushing touchdowns.
100 rushing yards: Denard will pass Jamie Morris for 4th in career 100-yard rushing games.
Pass Completions: 17 – Denard will pass Tom Brady for 5th in career completions.
Pass Yards: 211 – Denard will pass Elvis Grbac for 3rd in career passing yards.
Total Yards: 47 – Denard will pass Illinois’ Juice Williams (2006-09) for 6th in career total yards in Big Ten history.
Receiving Yards: 63 – Roy Roundtree will pass Jason Avant for 8th in career receiving yards. With 85 he will pass Marquise Walker for 7th. With 100 he will pass Tai Streets for 6th. With 126 he will pass Mario Manningham for 5th. With 133 he will pass David Terrell for 4th.
Field Goals: 1 – Brendan Gibbons will pass Bob Bergeron for 6th in career field goals made. With 2 he will tie Ali Haji-Sheikh for 5th.


There is so much unknown with Michigan’s offense right now which will make it hard for Ohio State to prepare. The Devin at quarterback, Denard everywhere else offense that was showcased last week has so many possibilities that it’s hard to imagine Michigan’s offense struggling against the Buckeye defense that allowed 49 points to Indiana, 38 to Nebraska, and 22 to both Purdue and Illinois. Perhaps the best matchup to watch will be Taylor Lewan opposite of Simon as both have established themselves as the best in the Big Ten at their respective positions.

Look for Michigan to find a variety of ways to get the ball to Denard in space and let him go to work with his feet against mistake-prone linebackers and a poor tackling secondary. Along with that, expect him to be used as a decoy equally as much, as Ohio State will make sure to always know where he is on the field. I also would not be surprised at all see Denard throw a pass once more, but off of a reverse or step back screen rather than from behind center. For Gardner, the open spots will be underneath the cover-4 zone, where Ohio State has given up yards all season, so Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo will have plenty of open space. It will be up to them to make guys miss after the catch.

Defensively, Michigan will try to keep the Buckeyes up the middle and force Miller to beat them through the air. Expect to see Kovacs walk up early and often in run support, leaving the secondary exposed to a big play here and there. And, as is usual in a game like this, a big special teams play could swing the game in one direction or the other.

It’s going to be a back and forth offensive shootout that could go either way, but I think Ohio State figure out a way to contain the Michigan offense without Fitz Toussaint and will pull it out at home. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

Ohio State 38 – Michigan 35

They were passionate enemies to be sure

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Woody was the titan from the Buckeye state, and Bo a protégé working his way up the ranks, but now the two are synonymous with one of the most touted rivalries in all of football, and one that is as zealous as it is old. It started in the 1800s in a bitter dispute over the state boundary then known as the Toledo Strip. Both states claimed the territory for themselves, each sending troops to defend it. And while no blood was shed over the matter the clash remained a sore point in the history of the states that neither particularly cared to dissolve into goodwill. Ohio was conceded the portion of land, and Michigan was compensated with a much larger, but also much more remote piece of property now known as the Upper Peninsula.

Despite being bitter rivals, Bo and Woody held a tremendous amount of respect for one another

But it would be sixty years before the two states would herald the two teams that would draw such accented hatred for one another. In 1897, the Wolverines and the Buckeyes faced off for the first time, and after World War I would continue to play each and every year until the saga was built on more than a half century of fervent clashes. No one could have guessed, however, that the matchup would achieve the status of an ongoing war, and that it would have its very own Benedict Arnold.

Bo Schembechler had worked under Woody Hayes for several years at Ohio State when his alma mater, Miami University of Ohio, asked him to be the head coach of its football program. Woody, not wanting to see him go, told him that he would assume the role under the helm after he had retired, a date which he thought would roll around in a handful of years. But Bo didn’t want to miss the opportunity, and packed his bags and headed south to what would become a stepping stone to his greatest achievement, and a role that would cement his status in football lore.

In 1969 an Ohio man was crowned the sovereign head of Michigan football to the sound of a thousand freshly stacked papers headlined, “Bo Who?”.  A rather lackluster start for what would embed itself into Wolverine and Buckeye history alike in a few short months.

Coming into the 1969 game Michigan was still licking its wounds from the year before, as it is naturally hard to console any embarrassment caused to the ego without being given a shot to redeem the thing that precipitated it. In the case of Bo’s first team it was the memory of the outrageously unsympathetic two point conversion attempt made by Hayes when his Buckeyes were up 50-14 very late in the fourth quarter. It didn’t matter that the extra points weren’t converted, and it surely didn’t help that in the aftermath Woody is said to have replied upon being asked about his decision that he went for two “because I couldn’t go for three.” The attempt was one aimed at humiliation, and it served its purpose. Thus it was with the smell of fall lingering in the air, and a season of reminders of what had been a spit in the face to a down and out opponent, that the Wolverines had come to face their shot at revenge. The enemy however, had only gotten stronger.

Bo bested his mentor in their first meeting in 1969, setting off the Ten Year War

Arriving at the gates of the Big House, the Buckeyes were an impressive force having won 22 straight games and averaging more than 500 yards of offense. If Michigan was to beat the Scarlet and Gray they were going to have to play as they had in the four games leading up to the meeting in which they scored an average of 45 points. Needless to say they were underdogs. Yet they were also the best kind, those with immense potential and an outlet to prove it.

There were over a hundred thousand fans packed into the stadium that day to see student face off against teacher, and they were treated to a show. Ohio State ran the kickoff back close to the mid-field line and continued to march down to just outside the ten before coming upon a fourth and two. They went for it, the refs marked it, and it was short. Michigan’s ball, but they did nothing.

The Buckeyes put up the first points of the game but missed the point after. Michigan matched the score and put the ball through the uprights. Not to be outdone, Ohio State scored again, and again cannot convert the two-point conversion. The Wolverines were not to be discouraged and put up a touchdown of their own, retaking the lead. On their next possession they ran the punt back to Ohio State’s doorstep and scored two plays later. Then, on their last possession before halftime, they attempted a field goal. It was good. 24-12 Michigan at the half.

And so it stays, the crowd counting down to the victory of the century and the dawning of what would become one of the greatest decades in football for the two programs. It was the era of the Big 2, and the Little 8. The series went back and forth until 1974 when Ohio State won twice in a row before losing in three straight matchups to the Wolverines. The pupil/mentor rivalry couldn’t last forever though and Woody’s angry foul at the 1978 season ending bowl game against Clemson, when he hit an opposing player on the chin after an interception looked to seal the win for the Tigers, also sealed his fate. He resigned as head coach shortly after, but Bo continued to lead the Wolverines for another eleven years until he retired.

They were passionate enemies to be sure, but they also held a tremendous amount of respect for each other. Not feeling well, Hayes insisted on delivering an introduction speech for Schembechler at a banquet in Dayton. He did, and passed away the next day. Bo, not to be outdone in regards to the man he so revered and the rivalry he loved so much, passed away the day before the first-ranked Buckeyes hosted the second-ranked Wolverines in 2006.

While Ohio State triumphed that night it was evident by the signs hoisted in the air by sworn enemies that both sides grieved the loss of a coach who had cared so deeply, and had been so instrumental in making the rivalry what it was. Because the truth of the matter is that as much as Michigan hates Ohio State, and as much as the feeling is reciprocated, both teams want to face the other at its best. They want the game not to mean something. They want it to mean everything.

What stands now is the opportunity for the rivalry to be reinstated after two decades of lopsided streaks, the Cooper era, and then the late Carr-Rodriguez debacle. Can Hoke and Meyer bring The Game to the height of its glory, and perhaps a few back-to-back installments to make things doubly interesting? Surly, this can’t be asking too much. Not for the fans who cheer year in and year out, who scold those who don’t believe that ten seconds is enough time to make a come back, and who hate the sound of the silence after a loss just as much as the ecstatic cries from the other side after a win. A true rivalry is about history, and all of those who tune in each game day to see whether today is the day for it.

MMQ doesn’t think Buckeyes can stop the Devin-Denard combo

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Last week against Iowa, the Michigan coaching staff revealed a twist to the offense which had never been seen before in the capacity that it was used: Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner on the field at the same time, with Gardner under center instead of Denard. Last year, Gardner did get some playing time at quarterback while Denard ran some plays at wide receiver or running back. However, those were mostly Denard as a decoy or a handoff to Denard on a fly sweep. In the Iowa game, Gardner maintained his role as the starting quarterback, which he’s had since Denard’s elbow injury, and Denard played primarily as a running back. The result of this move was outstanding offensive production from both players. Gardner threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns while also scoring three touchdowns on the ground. Meanwhile, Denard ran for almost 100 yards of his own and caught a couple passes on 15 touches. All in all, the Michigan offense had 513 total yards, which was one of its best days in years.

With Devin and Denard in the backfield, the possibilities are endless (Ann Arbor News)

After seeing what this offense can do, I believe that the dynamic of The Game this weekend against Ohio has changed. A few weeks ago, if you would have asked me whether Michigan was going to win in Columbus, I would have said no. I thought they were going to lose by two touchdowns. But things look and feel different now. Ever since Gardner’s move to quarterback, the offense has a legitimate passing threat. Gardner can flat out throw the ball and usually throws it pretty well. To go along with that, the receivers seem to have taken a liking to Gardner’s passing as he generally throws a good ball and puts it where his receivers can not only make the catch, but continue moving downfield afterwards. In addition, Gardner has some speed and is a very definite threat to run the ball when his number is called or when the protection breaks down and he has to leave the pocket.

The dual-threat nature of Gardner’s game is a scary prospect for opposing defenses. I imagine it to be somewhat like how defenses have felt playing against quarterback Braxton Miller of Ohio (although I think Gardner is a better passer and equal in terms of running ability) or Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. When a defense prepares for a true dual-threat QB like these guys, they are forced to think differently about how to defend against them. They can’t play close to the line of scrimmage because he will throw it over their heads. They can’t play back because then the defense gives up the run. Also, pass rushers can’t make a beeline for the quarterback when he drops to pass in the pocket. If they do, a dual-threat QB will step aside and either get outside of the rush or run the ball up the middle.  Instead, the defensive line has to rush in their lanes straight up-field in order to keep contain. This is hard for aggressive defenses. See the Texas A&M versus Alabama game from a couple weeks ago if you want to see why rushing directly at a dual-threat QB doesn’t work.

Both can run, both can throw. How do you defend it? (Ann Arbor News)

Now add to this offensive concept a speedy running threat like Denard Robinson who not only can line up in the backfield as a running back, but as a slot receiver or as a wide receiver out on the edge. What I envision Al Borges doing (or what he should be doing) is using Denard in a multi-purpose role to create match-ups against defenders which he can exploit with his quickness and speed. This means moving him all over the field so the defense doesn’t know where he will be from one play to the next. It also means putting him in motion. Not every play has to go Denard’s way either. Sometimes he can act as a decoy. He has earned enough respect with his playmaking ability that defenses must account for him at all times, meaning Denard can be just as effective without the ball in his hands.

If the Ohio defense keys on Denard only, that opens the door for guys like Roy Roundtree, Drew Dileo, Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess to work their way into the mix. And Ohio’s defense hasn’t exactly been great against teams that spread them out and get the ball out of the QB’s hands quickly. They have been vulnerable all season to screen passes of all kinds, especially those out on the edge. The Ohio defense is built to stop teams like Michigan State and Wisconsin which will try to pound the ball with the run, not offenses with multiple threats like Michigan, Cal, or any SEC team they have ever faced.

Showing the new offense to the Ohio coaching staff the week before the game was a great move! The fact that the move worked so well was an added bonus. Some might say that they would have been better to wait until game day to show it. I disagree. First off, it gave the Michigan coaches a chance to use the offense and personnel in a game situation. Those are reps that you can’t get in practice against the scout team. Secondly, I like the mind game that Hoke is playing with the Ohio coaches. They thought they would have 11 game tapes and a week to prepare for a pretty vanilla Michigan offense. Oh yeah, and the bye week that Ohio had two weeks ago before the Wisconsin game, where not only did Ohio practice for Wisconsin but also spent the time preparing for Michigan. Wasted. Now that they’ve seen it, Ohio only has one week to prepare and the coaches are spending all of their time figuring out what to do as opposed to perfecting what they had already prepared during the bye.

Expect Denard to line up in a variety of spots on Saturday (MGoBlog)

This Saturday’s annual installment of The Game already had some interesting storylines. Ohio is coming in undefeated and the folks around Columbus can only ask “What if…” at the thought of what could have been had the school and team not cheated and firmly planted themselves in the category of a Miami or North Carolina. Because of the scandal, this will also be Ohio’s last game of the season. So it’s like a de facto bowl game for the players and fans and also the last time any of the Ohio seniors will wear the uniform and play in the stadium. Lastly, every coach wants to win their first game against the school’s big rival and the same is true of Urban Meyer. While not feeling any real pressure from stepping into Jim Tressel’s shoes after his forced resignation/firing, Meyer knows that despite Tressel’s decision to cover up his player’s misconduct, he had an almost perfect record against Michigan. This is something that is not lost on the Columbus natives, who, because of his record, still believe that Tressel should be the coach of their beloved team. If you don’t believe me, listen for the roar from the crowd when his name is announced as they honor the 2002 national championship team prior to the game.

This Michigan team also has some motivation entering this game. They are still eligible for the Big Ten championship should Iowa grow a pair and knock off Nebraska at home on Friday. And aside from winning back-to-back games against their hated rival, the Wolverines will be looking to erase the possibility of Ohio having an undefeated season. If for no other reason than to shut the mouth of every annoying Ohio fan that you or I have ever met who will tell you that “Ohio was the real Big Ten champs” or “Ohio should be playing for the national championship.” We all know one of them.

Saturday’s game will certainly be an exciting game full of passion, hate, and good old fashioned, hard-hitting football. I can’t wait! Stay tuned this Friday for my weekly prediction for the game.

Back to the way it was: Ohio State-Michigan feels like it used to

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

On November 18, 2006, Michigan and Ohio State squared off in Columbus, both undefeated. Two titans with an unrivaled history found themselves in what was dubbed by the national media “The Game of the Century.” The Big Ten title and a spot in the BCS National Championship game were at stake. The game went back and forth like a heavyweight fight, but in the end, the scoresheet went in Ohio State’s favor.

The day before, the great patriarch of Michigan football, Bo Schembechler, had passed away, and along with him metaphorically went the program. Michigan went to Pasadena on New Years Day and got thumped by USC.

Bo's passing shook the rivalry and the Michigan program

Bo’s understudy, Lloyd Carr, decided to stick around for one more year. After all, he had a senior, fourth-year starting quarterback and running back, the eventual first overall NFL Draft pick at left guard, and a talented receiving corps. Who could blame him for giving it one last go-around? But a shocking loss to Appalachian State started the season, followed by a humiliating drubbing by Oregon and the Michigan program that had spent most of the previous season looking unbeatable had now lost four straight. The program that had seemed unshakeable for over 40 years was now suddenly lost without its figurehead.

The Wolverines rebounded with eight straight wins before dropping the final two to Wisconsin and Ohio State. In Carr’s swan song, Michigan faced a heavily favored Florida squad coached by Urban Meyer who relied heavily on his star quarterback. Carr pulled out all the tricks in the bag, using an offense almost foreign to the Michigan faithful and beat Meyer’s Gators.

Carr’s retirement a year after Bo’s passing signaled the end of Michigan football as we knew it and college football’s greatest rivalry suffered along with it. Ohio State beat Michigan by a combined score of 100-24 over the three years that followed while Michigan was guided by an outsider who many felt never truly understood the importance of the rivalry.

And so it was only fitting that it would take a Bo disciple to right the ship. Brady Hoke immediately returned the program to what it was like under Bo and followed in Bo’s footsteps by beating Ohio State in his first season. It ended Ohio State’s seven game winning streak over Michigan, but the Buckeyes were going through some troubles of their own. The great tattoo scandal sent Jim Tressel packing and left the Bucks headless last season, but led the man who was on the losing end of the final game of the old Michigan era to become the new head man in Columbus.

All he has done in his rookie season is not lose a game. Despite being ineligible for the postseason, OSU is ranked fourth in the AP poll and could conceivably be crowned national champions by the writers upon season’s end. Michigan faced a much tougher non-conference schedule which eliminated any national title hopes, but still holds hopes of a Big Ten title. And that’s just the way it should be: title hopes on the line, dreams either made or dashed.

Tim Biakabutuka's record performance ruined OSU's perfect season in 1995 (Larry E. Wright)

It’s the way it was so often throughout the past few decades. Something was always on the line, and more often than not, it was that way for both teams. The season-ending battle truly was the one game season.

Six times in the past 19 matchups, at least one of the two has entered The Game undefeated. Saturday marks the seventh and Michigan will be looking to do what it has done three times since 1993: hand the Buckeyes their first loss.

In 1993, OSU entered with a 9-0-1 record, it’s only non-win a 14-14 tie at Wisconsin. Michigan was just 6-4 with losses to Notre Dame, Michigan State, Illinois, and Wisconsin. The Wolverines played spoiler with a resounding 28-0 win in what Ohio State head coach John Cooper called “by far the most embarrassing game I’ve been associated with in college football.” Tyrone Wheatley gashed the Buckeyes for 105 yards and Todd Collins played an efficient game. The defense picked off the Buckeyes four times and Michigan ended Ohio State’s 16-game unbeaten streak and hopes of an outright Big Ten title and handed the Bucks their first shutout since 1982.

Two years later, in 1995, Ohio State visited Ann Arbor with a 11-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking. Michigan was just 8-3. A Buckeye win would give them the Big Ten title and likely a national championship pending the Rose Bowl result. But yet again, Michigan played spoiler. Prior to the game, Ohio State receiver Terry Glenn mouthed off to the media that Michigan was nobody. But when the teams took to the field, Tshimanga Biakabutuka rushed for 313 yards, the most an Ohio State defense had ever given up to a single back as Michigan soared to a 31-23 victory. Once again, Cooper issued a strong statement, saying, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been as disappointed in my life as I am right now.”

Charles Woodson helped keep Michigan's perfect season intact against OSU in 1997

The following season, Michigan traveled to Columbus to face yet another unbeaten and second-ranked Ohio State squad. Michigan was 17-point underdogs and this time, Cooper kept his players from speaking to the media in order to prevent any bulletin board material. But Michigan didn’t need it. Ohio State jumped out to a 9-0 halftime lead, but wouldn’t score again. Michigan had to turn to Brian Griese due to an injury to starter Scott Dreisbach and he threw a 68-yard touchdown to Tai Streets. Kicker Remy Hamilton added a pair of field goals to give Michigan the 13-9 win. Following the game, it was Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson who did the talking, saying, “It was a great victory, to be able to look those people in the eye and say, ‘this is why I didn’t go to Ohio State’. I wanted to win at Michigan.”

In 1997, it was Michigan that carried the undefeated season into The Game. At 10-0 and ranked first in the nation, Michigan hosted the 9-1, fourth-ranked Buckeyes. The Big Ten title was on the line – either Michigan won it outright or the two shared it – and for Michigan, the national title was at stake. Michigan prevailed 20-14 on the heels of a great all-around performance by Woodson and advanced to the Rose Bowl where the Wolverines beat Washington State and captured the national title.

In 2002, Ohio State once again brought an unblemished record into the matchup. At 12-0, and ranked second, Ohio State needed a win to capture the Big Ten and advance to the BCS National Championship game. Michigan was 9-2 with losses to Notre Dame and Iowa. The Buckeyes held on, intercepting a John Navarre pass near the end zone to win 14-9 and eventually won the national title.

This Saturday, the rivalry has the ferver it did back then. Michigan needs a win and a Nebraska loss to advance to the Big Ten championship game. Ohio State needs a win to complete an undefeated season. The only thing holding the game back from receiving all of the national spotlight is the sanctions Ohio State is currently facing, keeping the Buckeyes from being able to win the Big Ten and play for the national title. But on the field, the two teams will battle it out just like the good old days and Michigan will hope to ruin Ohio State’s dream season for the fourth time in the last 20 years.

The man who has resurrected Michigan’s program with the Bo-like approach now faces off with the man who has transformed the Buckeye program. It has all the makings of a new “ten-year war” like the one Bo and Woody Hayes once fought with both programs at the top of their games. Most importantly, the game matters again. It’s back to the way it was.