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Posts Tagged ‘The Game’

The Game preview: #10 Michigan vs #8 Ohio State

Friday, November 27th, 2015


Game Preview_OhioState_banner

College football’s best rivalry renews at high noon tomorrow, and for the first time in years a lot is at stake for both teams. Both have a shot at a Big Ten championship game appearance, though it depends on the outcome of the Michigan State-Penn State game later tomorrow afternoon. If Penn State beats the Spartans, the winner of The Game will advance to Indianapolis to face Iowa for the conference title.

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Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12p.m. EST – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (4th season)
Coaching Record: 152-27 (48-4, 30-1 at OSU)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Ed Warriner (1st season)
Tim Beck (1st season)
Co-Defensive Coordinators: Luck Fickell (4th season)
Chris Ash (2nd season)
Last Season: 14-1 (8-0)
Last Meeting: OSU 42 – UM 28 (2014)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 58-47-6
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 31-21-4
Record in Michigan Stadium: Michigan 23-19-3
Jim Harbaugh vs Ohio State: 1st meeting
Last Michigan win: 2011 (40-34)
Last Ohio State win: 2014 (42-28)
Current Streak: Ohio State 3

But even if Michigan State seals their fate with a win, there’s still plenty to play for. Ohio State is still alive for a second straight College Football Playoff berth, though they need a lot of help. Michigan, meanwhile, has lost nine of the last 10 to their rivals from Columbus and would love nothing more than to cap the first season of the Jim Harbaugh era in the same fashion as his mentor, Bo Schembechler: by beating Ohio State. A win would essentially clinch a New Years Six bowl for Michigan, likely the Rose Bowl against whichever Pac-12 team doesn’t make the playoff.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, the biggest game of the season is tomorrow. The game lost some of its luster a week ago when Ohio State lost to Michigan State, ending its 23-game winning streak, but that should only give Michigan more confidence that it can make it two in a row for the Buckeyes. After plowing through the Big Ten last season, dominating Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game, cruising past Alabama and Oregon to win the national title, and winning their first 10 to open this season, Ohio State was starting to look invincible. But last Saturday they were exposed by the first team with a pulse they’ve played all season, tallying just 132 total yards of offense in a 17-14 loss to the Spartans.

Prior to that, the combined record of their 10 opponents was a paltry 43-58. The only Power 5 team Ohio State had played was Penn State, who they beat 38-10. Their second best win was a 20-13 victory over Northern Illinois in Week 3. In other words, probably close to a dozen teams nationally would have been 10-0 with that schedule.

So was the Michigan State game just an aberration? Or did the schedule from the first 10 weeks simply mask larger problems? Let’s take a look at the matchup.

When Ohio State has the ball

Ohio State fans are increasingly upset with new offensive coordinators Ed Warriner and Tim Beck. The architect of last year’s offense, Tom Herman, moved on to Houston and currently has the Cougars at 10-1 and ranked 21st in the AP and Coaches polls.

This season, Ohio State ranks 48th nationally and 3rd in the Big Ten in total offense (424.1 yards per game), 15th and 1st in rushing (230.4 yards per game), 100th and 10th in passing (193.7 yards per game), 37th and 2nd in pass efficiency (141.61), and 36th and 2nd in scoring (34.4 points per game).

The talk leading into the season centered around the trio of quarterbacks at Urban Meyer’s disposal, and while Braxton Miller made the switch to receiver, Meyer let the quarterback race hang in suspension for too long. Cardale Jones got the nod to start the season, but has since lost it in favor of J.T. Barrett. Neither has found consistency. Jones has completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 1,460 yards, eight touchdowns, and five interceptions, while Barrett has completed 64.4 percent for just 668 yards, nine touchdowns, and three interceptions. Barrett’s legs have been more dangerous, scoring eight rushing touchdowns with an average of 6.1 yards per carry. Miller, meanwhile, is the third leading receiver with 324 yards and three touchdowns and the third leading rusher with 227 yards and one score.

The best player on the offense is junior running back Ezekiel Elliott, who up until last week was one of the leading Heisman Trophy candidates. He ranks second in the Big Ten with 132.5 rushing yards per game and had rushed for at least 100 yards in each game until being held to just 33 yards on 12 carries last week. The fact that he got only 12 carries is a sore subject among Buckeye fans as Meyer chose to run Barrett more often than his workhorse. Elliott made his feelings known after the game that he wasn’t happy with the play calling and essentially announcing his intention to enter the NFL Draft after the season.

Junior Michael Thomas is the leading receiver with 47 receptions for 659 yards and eight touchdowns. He has had two 100-yard receiving games with seven catches for 107 yards against Maryland and five catches for 103 yards against Rutgers. The other nine games he has been pretty consistent with four or five catches for 60-80 yards. The one outlier is last week when he caught just two passes for eight yards. Much of that is a result of Ohio State only throwing a few passes due to the weather, but Michigan State’s secondary has been porous all season and he wasn’t able to take advantage of it. Sophomore Jalin Marshall is the second leading receiver with 29 receptions for 417 yards and four touchdowns. He had a six-catch, 110-yard game against Indiana, but the has been pretty pedestrian since then.

The offensive line is experienced, returning four starters from last year’s dominant line, but like the offense as a whole, has been consistent all season. Senior left tackle Taylor Decker is the leader and a likely first-round NFL draft pick next spring. The line was dominated by Michigan State’s defensive front last Saturday, and the question begs whether the team’s rushing success is more of a product of Elliott than the line’s ability to open holes. It has done pretty well in pass protection, having allowed 16 sacks this season — the same number Michigan has allowed.

When Michigan has the ball

Ohio State’s defense ranks 8th nationally and 3rd in the Big Ten in total defense (298 yards allowed per game), 30th and 7th against the run (133.7 yards per game), 5th and 3rd against the pass (164.3 yards per game), 7th and 4th in pass defense efficiency (100.64), and 2nd and 2nd in scoring defense (14.1 points per game).

The defensive line was considered one of the best in the nation last season and is very good again this year. Junior defensive end Joey Bosa is the one everybody talks about after leading the Big Ten in tackles for loss (21) and sacks (13.5) in 2014. He won the Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year award last season. He hasn’t been quite as dominant at getting to the quarterback in 2015 with just four sacks, but he does still lead the team with 15 tackles for loss (third in the Big Ten) and 12 quarterback hurries. The other defensive end, Tyquan Lewis, ranks second on the team with 12.5 tackles for loss and leads the team with 6.5 sacks. Inside, senior tackle Adolphus Washington is a force for offensive linemen to block. He has seven tackles for loss and four sacks. The other starting tackle spot is a rotation between senior Tommy Schutt and sophomore Michael Hill. Schutt has five tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, while Hill has gotten more playing time as of late and has a half of a tackle for loss.

Once you get past the front four, it doesn’t get any easier. The linebacking corps is fast and versatile, led by sophomore Raekwon McMillan, who leads the team and ranks third in the Big Ten with 105 total tackles. He also has four tackles for loss and one sack, but more than getting into the backfield, he flies around the field making tackles. Senior weak side linebacker Joshua Perry ranks second on the team with 88 tackles, fourth with seven tackles for loss, and fifth with three sacks, while sophomore strong side linebacker Darron Lee has 52 tackles, eight for loss, and 2.5 sacks.

The secondary is also very talented, led by junior safety Vonn Bell, who leads the team with nine pass breakups and ranks third with 59 tackles. He also has two interceptions. Junior Tyvis Powell is the other safety. Michigan fans will remember him as the guy who intercepted Devin Gardern’s two-point conversion attempt two years ago in the Big House. He has 59 tackles, three pass breakups and two interceptions. The corners are sophomores Gareon Conley and Eli Apple, who have combined for 63 tackles, three for loss, half a sack, 10 pass breakups, and three interceptions. Both are very good in coverage.

The other third

One area of weakness for Ohio State has been field goal kicking. Meyer has seemingly lost confidence in senior kicker Jack Willoughby‘s ability to make anything longer than 40 yards. He’s 7 of 11 on the season, but is 0-3 from 40-49 yards and just 3 of 7 from 30 yards or more. Punting, on the other hand, isn’t a problem for the Buckeyes. Junior Aussie punter Cameron Johnston ranks second in the Big Ten with a 43.9-yard per punt average. Of his 54 punts, 17 have gone longer than 50 yards, 24 have been downed inside the 20, 20 have been fair caught, and just six have gone into the end zone for a touchback.

Junior H-back Dontre Wilson and sophomore running back Curtis Samuel are the kick returners, averaging 23.9 and 22.8 yards per return, respectively. Marshall is the punt returner, and a dangerous one at that, averaging 12.8 yards per return.

Prediction

Ohio State laid an egg against Michigan State last week and it’s hard to imagine them doing so two weeks in a row. That’s the bad news for Michigan. The good news is the Wolverines have played well at home all season and have plenty of motivation with a potential Big Ten Championship Game appearance on the line. The weather calls for a perfect late November Saturday with cloudy skies, 42 degrees, and no precipitation, so the scene will be set for a classic Ohio State-Michigan game. And I think that’s exactly what we will get.

Make no mistake about it; Ohio State is the better team. But the gap that has separated the two teams for the last decade will be as narrow as it has been since the last time the two faced off as top 10 teams in 2006. Michigan will need to break out its bag of tricks, but won’t need to fully rely on them like they have the past several meetings. Michigan has a legitimate chance to win. The biggest key will be giving Jake Rudock time to throw. It’s unlikely that Michigan will be able to move the ball consistently on the ground, since it hasn’t done so against anyone since early in the season. But Rudock has been as good as any quarterback in the Big Ten during conference play, and especially the last three weeks when the passing game has taken off. Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh will have trouble getting open against Conley and Apple, and Jake Butt will meet his match against Bell, so if Rudock is constantly under pressure, it will be a long day for Michigan’s offense.

Fortunately, I believe Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno will pull out all stops with Jabrill Peppers. Harbaugh hinted at using the dynamic sophomore more at running back earlier this week, and with a month off between this game and a bowl — barring a Michigan State loss — there’s no need to hold Peppers back. I could see a running back rotation of Peppers and De’Veon Smith with Peppers getting the majority of the snaps in a variety of looks to not only get the ball to him in space, but use him as a decoy to get others open. That’s really the best shot Michigan has at being able to move the ball with any consistency.

On defense, Michigan will have to stop Elliott. That’s really what it comes down to. The chance of him getting just 12 carries is about as likely as Rudock running the triple option. Elliott may get 12 carries in the first quarter until Michigan proves it can stop him. Remember the Indiana game when Jordan Howard ran and ran and ran again? That’s what Ohio State’s game plan will be. If Michigan’s front seven can rise to the occasion and slow him down, Ohio State’s offense is much more containable. Miller is a threat when he gets the ball in space and has the ability beat the defense deep, but the rest of the offense isn’t as dangerous as anyone else Michigan has faced and Jourdan Lewis can lock down Thomas.

If Elliott is gashing through Michigan’s defense for six to eight yards a pop, Michigan will lose. If Michigan’s defense is holding him in check like Michigan State’s did, and forces the Buckeyes to rely on Barrett’s arm and legs, I like Michigan’s chances. I think the latter will happen. Michigan will sell out to stop Elliott and may give up a big play or two to Miller or Barrett, but will gladly take that over getting the ball rammed down its throat play after play after play. Peppers puts together a performance for the ages in all three phases of the game, reminiscent of his idol, Charles Woodson’s, performance 18 years ago, and leads Michigan to a thrilling narrow win.

Michigan 27 – Ohio State 24

First Look: Ohio State

Monday, November 23rd, 2015


Sad urban

The Game lost a little bit of luster when Ohio State lost to Michigan State on Saturday evening, putting the Spartans solely in possession of their Big Ten East destiny. The winner of the Michigan-Ohio State game will have to hope Penn State pulls off an upset in East Lansing; otherwise, the winner of college football’s greatest rivalry will have only bragging rights and a better bowl placement to take away from it. But bragging rights are always enough in this rivalry. Let’s take a look at how the teams compare.

Ohio State team stats & Michigan comparison
Ohio State | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 34.4 | 32.2 T36 | 51
14.1 14.9 2 6
Rushing Yards 2,534 1,775 1,471 1,102
Rush Avg. Per Game 230.4 161.4 14 81
133.7 100.2 30 4
Avg. Per Rush 5.5 | 4.2
3.4 3.1
Passing Yards 2,131 2,505 1,807 1,792
Pass Avg. Per Game 193.7 227.7 100 60 164.3 162.9 T5 4
Total Offense 4,665 | 4,280 3,278 2,894
Total Off Avg. Per Game 424.1 389.1 48 72 298.0 263.1 8 2
Kick Return Average 23.4 30.7 32 2 16.2 20.3 5 | 44
Punt Return Average 12.3 11.4 26 32 3.6 11.5 18 98
Avg. Time of Possession 28:52 | 33:19 83 | 10
31:08 | 26:41
3rd Down Conversion Pct 38.0% | 44.0% 81 34
33.0% | 23.0% T23 2
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 16-88 | 16-84
T33 | T33
32-181 | 29-224
T14 | T25
Touchdowns Scored 51 44
19 | 17
Field Goals-Attempts 7-12 14-18
8-15 | 15-18
Red Zone Scores (35-44) 80%|(43-46) 93% 93 | 7
(19-25) 76%|(21-25) 84% 23 64
Red Zone Touchdowns (28-44) 64%|(32-46) 70% (15-25) 60%|(8-25) 32%

Ohio State is averaging 2.2 more points per game than Michigan and 35 more total yards per game. However, in Big Ten play, Michigan leads the conference in points per game (34.7) and Ohio State is second at 34.3, though the Buckeyes still have the edge in total yards.

Through the first 10 games of the season, Ohio State’s rushing game was one to fear with Heisman candidate running back Ezekiel Elliott. But he got just 12 carries against Michigan State on Saturday as Ohio State was held to just 86 yards rushing as a team. Quarterback J.T. Barrett got the majority of the carries with 14 for just 44 yards and that drew the ire of Elliott in his postgame comments.

“How we lost, I just feel like we weren’t put in the right opportunity to win this game, we weren’t put in the right situations to win this game,” Elliott said. “I don’t think Michigan State was better than us. They weren’t. We didn’t execute.”

Whether that earns him a punishment or an extra helping of carries this Saturday remains to be seen, but he’s still one of the best backs in the nation and he still ranks second in the Big Ten with an average of 132.5 yards per game. He also leads the conference with 17 rushing touchdowns.

The passing game, on the other hand, has been wildly inconsistent this season. It ranks 100th nationally and 11th in the Big Ten, right in between two of Michigan’s last three opponents: Rutgers and Penn State. Those two managed just 201 combined passing yards against Michigan’s pass defense that ranks fourth nationally. Barrett doesn’t rank among the top 10 quarterbacks in the Big Ten in passing, and Ohio State’s leading receiver, Michael Thomas, ranks 10th in receiving yards per game (59.9).

Defensively, Ohio State is just a hair behind Michigan, ranking 30th nationally against the run and fifth against the pass. The Buckeyes do allow less than a point fewer per game, but that’s negligible. Two main differences between Ohio State and Michigan’s defenses are third down conversion and red zone defense. Ohio State ranks a respectable 23rd nationally, allowing opponents to convert third downs 33 percent of the time compared to Michigan’s 23 percent, which is second nationally. In the red zone, Michigan has done a much better job of forcing opponents to kick field goals. Both teams have allowed 25 opponent trips to the red zone. Ohio State has given up 15 touchdowns, while Michigan has allowed just eight.

Both teams are pretty good on special teams with dynamic return men. Michigan ranks second nationally in kick returns with the trio of Jourdan Lewis, Jabrill Peppers, and Jehu Chesson, all of which is a threat to take it all the way. Ohio State’s Dontre Wilson and Curtis Samuel rank 32nd in that regard. But Jalen Marshall’s 12.8-yard punt return average has the Bucks slightly ahead of Michigan in that category.

So what can we expect on Saturday? It’s too early for a prediction, but it’s a much more even matchup than any of us thought it would be entering the season. The status of Elliott and the psyche of a team that just suffered its first loss in 24 Big Ten games will play a major part in the outcome. Will they bounce back or will they crumble from their first experience of adversity? We’ll find out at high noon on Saturday.

Five-Spot Challenge 2014: Final Results

Monday, December 15th, 2014


Five-SpotChallenge_Banner1

Congratulations to JustJeepGear.com for winning the final Five-Spot Challenge of the season. JJG’s deviation of 135 was 40 points better than runner-up boggie. JJG was the closest to correctly predicting Devin Gardner’s total yards, just four away from his total of 254. JJG also tied for the closest to the game’s longest touchdown, which was Ezekiel Elliott’s 44-yard run on 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter. MichiganMack and Maizenblu62 were also only one away from that one. JJG wins the final $20 M Den gift card of the season.

Boggie was closest to Michigan’s total yards (372) with his prediction of 374. Kashkaav‘s prediction of 36 yards was the closest to the yards gained on Ohio State’s first possession (41). Kfarmer16 was exactly right with his prediction of 89 rushing yards for Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, although had Barrett not gotten injured on the first play of the fourth quarter, that total likely would have changed. Freezer566 was just one away from Dennis Norfleet’s longest return (29) with his prediction of 30, while GrizzlyJFB was just one away from Jalin Marshall’s longest return (23) with his prediction of 22. Finally, no one predicted that neither team would make a field goal.

Congratulations is also in order for kfarmer16, who won the season-long prize, a pair of tickets to next year’s home opener against Oregon State. While this season was a huge letdown, next season’s home opener should come full of hope, especially if Michigan is able to lure Jim Harbaugh away from the NFL. Freezer566 came in second, just seven points behind kfarmer16, while Hazel Parker finished third despite missing two of the 10 weeks.

No one correctly predicted the final score, though Hazel Parker was the closest with his prediction of Ohio State 38 – Michigan 28. Four of the 16 contestants picked Michigan to win by an average of two points, and the average score prediction among all of the contestants was Ohio State 38 – Michigan 18.

I will be in touch with each winner via email this week regarding your M Den gift cards and the grand prize tickets. I hope they can make for some nice Christmas gifts. Thanks for playing this season’s Five-Spot Challenge. We may hold some random challenges during basketball season, so stay tuned for those. Otherwise, the challenge will return next football season!

The weekly results and final overall standings have been updated.

The end: Ohio State 42 – Michigan 28

Sunday, November 30th, 2014


Garnder sportsmanship(Greg Bartram, USA Today Sports)

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett was tackled behind the line of scrimmage by a trio of Michigan defenders. They all got up, but he didn’t. As he laid on the Ohio Stadium turf, surrounded by medical personnel, senior Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner trotted across the field to console him. The photo gained national attention as a grand gesture of sportsmanship amid a heated rivalry, but the act itself signaled a perfect representation of Michigan’s season.

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Final Stats
Michigan Ohio State
Score 28 42
Record 5-7, 3-5 11-1, 8-0
Total Yards 372 416
Net Rushing Yards 121 233
Net Passing Yards 251 183
First Downs 27 20
Turnovers 2 0
Penalties-Yards 4-38 9-84
Punts-Yards 4-165 4-196
Time of Possession 34:05 25:55
Third Down Conversions 6-of-11 7-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 1-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 0-0 5-41
Field Goals 0-for-0 0-for-0
PATs 4-for-4 6-for-6
Red Zone Scores-Chances 4-of-4 3-of-3
Full Box Score

In his final game as a Michigan quarterback, Gardner completed 22-of-32 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns and gained 41 more yards on the ground. But his turnovers, the only two of the game for either team, both led to Ohio State touchdowns, which ultimately provided Michigan’s margin of defeat.

Gardner is a textbook example of the type of athlete Michigan — or any school — wants representing its program. His regular visits to Mott Children’s Hospital, his early graduation and soon to be Master’s degree, his selfless switching of positions twice in the same season, his sticking it out through two head coaches and three offensive coordinators, and finally, his display of sportsmanship in the final quarter of the final game of his career say more about the man and the future he will have than any on-field success could.

But fair or not, his performance on the field, which regressed from the point he took over for an injured Denard Robinson midway through the 2012 season through Saturday’s season-ending loss to Ohio State, will define his career in the eyes of most Michigan fans.

Michigan put a scare into the sixth-ranked Buckeyes, rebounding from a quick 7-0 Ohio State lead to score back-to-back touchdowns before Ohio State tied the game just before halftime. And after Ohio State took a 21-14 lead to start the third quarter, Gardner led Michigan right down the field for the game-tying touchdown. Ohio State took the lead for good late in the third quarter, but Michigan stayed within striking distance far longer than anyone thought they would.

The loss was Michigan’s seventh of the season, resulting in a third losing season in seven years, and effectively ending the tenure of head coach Brady Hoke. While Ohio State will face Wisconsin in next Saturday’s Big Ten Championship game and hope to gain a spot in the College Football Playoff, Michigan will turn its attention to a likely coaching search.

Gardner will hope to be selected in the NFL Draft next spring, but if he isn’t, he’ll have a Master’s of social work to carry him into his next profession. And he’ll have several single-game school records, the best offensive performance in Michigan-Ohio State history, and what is sure to be one of The Game’s most enduring moments to carry on his legacy.

Michigan-Ohio State game preview

Friday, November 28th, 2014


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For many years, Michigan and Ohio State ended the regular season with a clash that decided the Big Ten title. When the two rivals meet tomorrow afternoon in Columbus, they’ll both have something to play for beyond just bragging rights, but their goals couldn’t be more different.

Michigan missed an opportunity to gain bowl eligibility with a 23-16 loss to Maryland last Saturday, which means the Wolverines will have to beat the Buckeyes to extend their season. Ohio State, on the other hand, is still vying for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

UM-OhioState-small-final
Quick Facts
Ohio Stadium – 12 p.m. EST – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 138-26 (34-3 at Ohio State)
Offensive Coordinator: Tom Herman (3rd season)
Defensive Coordinators: Chris Ash (1st season)
Luke Fickell (9th season)
Returning 2013 Starters: 11 (4 offense, 7 defense)
Last Season: 12-2 (8-0 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: OSU 42 – UM 41 (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 58-46-6
Record in Columbus: Michigan leads 27-25-2
Record in Ohio Stadium: Ohio State leads 24-21-1
Brady Hoke vs OSU: 1-2
Last Michigan win: 2011 (40-34)
Last UM win at OSU: 2000 (38-26)
Current Streak: Ohio State 2

Ohio State already has the Big Ten East division wrapped up, but trails Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Mississippi State, and TCU in the rankings. Only the top four will get in. Ohio State will get a chance for another big win in next week’s Big Ten Championship game, but if they struggle with a 5-6 Michigan squad at home, it would be hard to make a case for moving the Buckeyes ahead of any of those other teams unless they lose.

TCU took care of business on Thursday night with a 48-10 win over Texas, and only has Iowa State remaining. Mississippi State visits in-state rival Ole Miss tomorrow, but the Rebels have lost three of their last four after opening the season 7-0. Unless Alabama loses to Auburn tomorrow, MSU won’t reach the SEC Championship game. If the Crimson Tide can top Auburn, they’ll face Missouri or Georgia next week for the SEC title. Oregon, like Ohio State, faces a 5-6 team, Oregon State, and then the Pac-12 Championship game. That leaves Florida State, the reigning national champion and the only unbeaten team.

A lot can happen this week and next, but in order to avoid getting left out, Ohio State has to beat Michigan and look good doing it. Playoff committee chair Jeff Long started a controversy when releasing this week’s rankings by describing the committee’s use of “game control” as an evaluation metric, which is essentially rewarding teams for running up the score. A 42-41 win over Michigan like last year will not win Ohio State any points in that category, so Urban Meyer will look to keep his foot on the gas pedal and send Brady Hoke packing.

As fans on both sides are fully aware, anything can happen in a rivalry of this magnitude. Because of this, OSU fans are approaching tomorrow’s matchup with caution, despite having won 11 of the last 13. Michigan fans, meanwhile, have already set their sights on Jim Harbaugh and can’t wait until the game is over to close the book on yet another lost season.

Does Michigan have a chance to knock off the Buckeyes in Columbus for the first time since 2000? Or will Ohio State simply take care of the inevitable, ensuring Michigan a third losing season in the last seven years? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

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

Although they lost running back Carlos Hyde, Ohio State entered the season with high hopes offensively, mostly because of senior quarterback Braxton Miller who would be entering his fourth season as a starter. The two-time defending Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year was near the top of most preseason Heisman trophy watch lists. But after re-injuring his throwing shoulder in fall camp, Miller was forced to spend the season on the sidelines.

Enter J.T. Barrett.

The redshirt freshman, who hadn’t seen the field since his junior year of high school thanks to a senior-year injury of his own, was thrust into action much earlier than expected. And while there were some early-season hiccups that resulted in a loss to Virginia Tech — which could ultimately cost the Buckeyes a shot at the national title — he has had one of the most impressive seasons in the country. The Wichita Falls, Texas native has completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 2,658 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, and has rushed for 849 yards and nine scores. Two more solid performances and he will likely earn an invitation to New York at season’s end.

Barrett ranks second in the Big Ten in passing yards per game, first in passing efficiency, and first in total offense. He may not match Miller’s 2012 rushing total of 1,271 yards, but he has far and away surpassed Miller’s best numbers.

But it hasn’t been a one man show in Columbus. Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott picked up right where Hyde left off with 1,061 yards through 11 games. He ranks sixth in the Big Ten in rushing with 96.5 yards per game and fifth with 5.9 yards per carry. He has topped 100 yards in five of the last eight games, including a 23-carry, 154-yard, two-touchdown performance against Michigan State.

Ohio State doesn’t have a receiver that ranks in the top ten in the conference in yards or receptions, but the Buckeyes have a group of very solid receivers. Senior Devin Smith is the big-play receiver, leading team with 610 yards on just 25 receptions. Sophomore Michael Thomas has 12 more catches, but five fewer yards. Both have eight touchdowns. Freshman Jalin Marshall has emerged as a threat as the season has gone on. He caught just six passes for 39 yards and two touchdowns in the first five games, but has 18 for 308 yards and four scores in the last six. Elliott has actually caught the second-most passes on the team (25) for 201 yards. Tight end Jeff Heuerman, who caught a touchdown against Michigan last season, doesn’t have nearly the production he had a year ago but is still a threat with 16 catches and two touchdowns.

The offensive line was a major question mark entering the season, but has progressed pretty well throughout and has had the luxury of starting the same group all 11 games. After giving up eight sacks in the first two games — seven in the Virginia Tech loss alone — the Bucks have allowed just 15 in the last nine games. Some of that has to do with the progression of Barrett, but the line has done its part. Left tackle Taylor Decker is the anchor alongside redshirt freshman Billy Price, junior center Jacoby Boren, redshirt sophomore guard Pat Elflein, and fifth-year senior right tackle Darryl Baldwin.

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

Last season, Ohio State’s defense didn’t do much to help its offense, but new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash has helped shore it up. While it’s still not where Meyer wants it to be, it ranks 30th nationally in scoring defense (22.5 points per game), 41st against the run (147.8 yards per game), 15th against the pass (182.5 yards per game), and 19th overall (330.4 yards per game). It also ranks 18th in sacks (32).

It all starts up front for the Buckeyes with one of the best defensive lines in the nation. The group took a hit when last year’s sack leader, defensive end Noah Spence, was suspended for failing a drug test after last season’s Big Ten Championship game. Slated to miss the first two games of the season, he failed another test and was summarily suspended for the entire season. The other end, sophomore Joey Bosa, has been an absolute star, leading the Big Ten with 11.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. Spence’s replacement, senior Steve Miller has recorded six tackles for loss and one sack.

In the middle, Ohio State is led by senior Michael Bennett and junior Adolphus Washington. Bennett finished fourth in the Big Ten with 15 tackles for loss in 2013, but has fallen off that pace this season with 7.5 so far and three sacks. Washington has seven and 2.5.

The linebacking corps had to deal with the loss of Ryan Shazier to the NFL, but has developed great cohesion with the same three players picking up 32 of the possible 33 starts. Junior weak side linebacker Joshua Perry leads the team with 99 tackles to go along with 8.5 for loss, three sacks, an interception, and two passes defended. Redshirt freshman strong side linebacker Darron Lee ranks fourth on the team with 50 tackles but second with 11.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, and also has two interceptions. Senior middle linebacker Curtis Grant has 47 tackles, three for loss, and one sack.

The secondary was the unit that got torched over and over again last season, but has fared much better this year. Cincinnati and Michigan State both passed for over 350 yards on Ohio State, but the Buckeyes have held five of 11 opponents below 150 yards through the air. Redshirt freshman Eli Apple and senior Doran Grant are the starting corners and have five interceptions and 18 passes defended between them. Sophomore safety Vonn Bell is the team’s second-leading tackler with 68 and also has three picks, while the other safety, redshirt sophomore Tyvis Powell, ranks third with 57 and also has three takeaways.

Special Teams: The other third

True freshman kicker Sean Nuernberger has made just 10 of his 16 field goal attempts on the season with a long of 49 yards. Interestingly, he has yet to attempt a field goal between 30 and 39 yards or over 50 yards all season. He is 5-of-6 from 20-29 yards and 5-of-10 from 40-49 yards. Punter Cameron Johnston, on the other hand, ranks third in the Big Ten with an average of 43.6 yards per punt. He has downed 19 of his 31 punts inside the 20-yards line and booted nine of them over 50 yards with just three going into the end zone.

The Buckeyes rank 18th nationally in punt returns and 19th in kick returns. Marhsall ranks second in the Big Ten with an average of 13.6 yards per punt return and has taken one to the end zone. Dontre Wilson ranks fourth in the conference with 24 yards per kick return — 0.1 more than Dennis Norfleet — but a broken foot suffered against Michigan State has sidelined him for the rest of the regular season.

Prediction

There are two likely scenarios for Michigan on Saturday. Either the team plays with nothing to lose, inspired by its soon to be former head coach and gives Ohio State a run for its money, or it packs it in at the first sign of distress and gets pushed around for 60 minutes resulting in the worst defeat in the history of the rivalry.

Michigan had no business nearly beating Ohio State last season, but came within a failed two-point conversion from doing just that. But heading into that game there was at least an indication that Michigan’s offense could outscore the Buckeyes. This year, however, Michigan’s offense has been stuck in neutral, failing to score 20 points in seven of 11 games. Ohio State hasn’t scored fewer than 21 points in a game all season and averages more than twice that.

The only hope Michigan has is if its defense plays its best game of the season, contains Barrett’s legs, and pressures him into mistakes that he — like any first year starter and freshman — can be prone to make. But that’s certainly no easy task and one that even Michigan State’s defense couldn’t do. And even if the defense can do that, Michigan will have to avoid costly turnovers that have plagued the offense all year. And even if both of those things happen, Michigan will need Dennis Norfleet to break a return that doesn’t get called back. In other words, Michigan needs a perfect storm.

Michigan has allowed just nine first half points in its last three games combined, and will hang with Ohio State early on. But Michigan won’t be able to keep the Bucks at bay for long, and if they can’t find the end zone themselves, will see the game slip away in a hurry. Expect a fairly close game at halftime that Ohio State blows wide open in the second half with a couple of deep balls to Smith or Thomas and the running combo of Elliott and Barrett wearing the defense down. Meyer goes for two at the end to get to 50 and earn style points with the playoff committee, Hoke is fired shortly after, and Jim Harbaugh comes home to reignite the rivalry.

Ohio State 50 – Michigan 13

Five-Spot Challenge: Ohio State

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014


Five-SpotChallenge_Banner1

Sorry for the delay in getting this week’s Five-Spot Challenge posted. Two basketball games to start the week got us behind. But congratulations to Bigboyblue for picking up his second win of the season with a deviation of 136.5, topping Jaeschke by four. Bigboyblue was the closest to Michigan’s longest pass (23 yards) with his prediction of 22. He wins a $20 gift card to The M Den.

Last week’s winner, Freezer566, was the closest to correctly predicting Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown’s total yards. His prediction of 250 was just two away. He was also the closest to correctly predicting the minutes until Michigan’s first touchdown. Michigan scored at the 10:25 mark in the third quarter (34.5 minutes into the game). Freezer566 predicted 35. Four contestants — MichiganMack, Hazel Parker, chris12qb, and Jaeschke — correctly predicted that Devin Gardner would score Michigan’s first touchdown. Four others predicted a touchdown pass from Gardner to Devin Funchess, and thus, were just one away. Finally, first time contestant Ray Weatherford was the closest to the total combined made field goals by both teams. His prediction of 167 was just 14 away from the actual total of 181.

Seventeen of the 18 contestants picked Michigan to win by an average score of Michigan 24 – Maryland 16, which was almost the exact reverse of the actual score of Maryland 23 – Michigan 16. MichiganMack and kashkaav each were correct in their predictions that Michigan would score 16 points, but neither tabbed Maryland’s score correctly.

The weekly results and overall standings have been updated. Unless Michigan beats Ohio State and gains bowl eligibility this will be the final Five-Spot Challenge of the season. All M Den gift cards will be sent out next week to those who have not received them yet.

Here are this week’s picks. As is our custom, we have added a couple more questions for The Game. Enjoy your Thanksgiving.

Tailgate Tuesday: Smoked gobbler legs

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014


TailgateTuesday_banner-Week13

Tailgate Tuesday is our weekly collaboration with Joe from MmmGoBluBBQ. These will be posted each Tuesday throughout the season and each recipe will be themed around that week’s opponent. 

Previously: Hot-’n-Fast pulled pork with Carolina mustard slawIrish stout pepper beefSpatchcock RedHawkGrilled RavioliSmoked “Land of 10,000 Lakes” Catfishpork loin with mustard glazeBrady Back Ribs,Moink Balls (a.k.a. Moinks)Caveman style Tri-TipCrockpot reuben dip, Caveman cowboy ribeye.

This is my favorite week of the year and for good reason. We have the best grilling day of the year and also have some huge football games on the schedule. Not only do I get to see my Lions play this Thursday, but I also get to watch the biggest rivalry in college football. We may be underdogs by more than 20, but it’s still a huge game for the Maize and Blue. This recipe for smoked gobbler legs can be done a few days early and enjoyed as leftovers or done on the morning of the big game. Either way, you will love these. GO BLUE!

Ingredients:

• Turkey legs
• 1 Gallon of water (enough to cover turkey legs)
• 3/4 Cup brown sugar
• 1 Cup salt or Creole seasoning
• Your favorite rub (I will include a sample rub below)
• Cooking spray

Rub:
• Equal parts of each
• Paprika
• Onion powder
• Cavender’s Greek seasoning
• Garlic powder

Directions:

Add brown sugar and salt or Creole seasoning to water and bring to rolling boil for about 5 minutes. This will allow time for the seasoning to dissolve. After the 5 minutes, remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. I like to throw in some ice cubes to help cool quicker. After cooling the brine, it’s time to throw in the turkey legs and brine and in the fridge for 12 hours or overnight.

Fire up the grill or smoker to 275-300 degree range and add some fruit wood for flavor. I love pecan wood for this recipe. While the smoker is heating up, remove your turkey legs from the brine and pat dry with some paper towel. I sprayed the legs with some cooking spray and added some rub. The spray helps crisp the skin a little and also helps the rub stick.

Turkey Legs 2-3

Once these are on the smoker, kick back and relax. We are a few hours until pure greatness. After about two hours, they will be nearing 160 degrees internally. You will also see the skin start to crisp up a little. Once we get to 165 degrees, they are done.

Once you get to 160-165 degrees, you can add some sauce if you’d like. These are great either way. Apply your sauce and let go for another 10 minutes. Once the sauce thickens up, you can remove and start chomping like Fred Flintstone. Let’s admit it, things are always more fun to eat when they have a built in handle.

Make a mess of these on Turkey Day and save for the big game on Saturday. These are even better as leftovers. Your tailgating buddies will love these and beg for the recipe. Let me know what you think! Go BLUE!!!!

Turkey Legs 4-5

For more great recipes, photos, and barbecue ideas, follow Joe on Twitter at @mmmgoblubbq. And don’t forget to check out his site, MmmGoBluBBQ, for recipes, product reviews, and more.

First Look: Ohio State

Monday, November 24th, 2014


FirstLook-OhioState

Michigan was unable to pick up its sixth win on Saturday, falling to Maryland 23-16. That leaves one final chance to gain bowl eligibility and avoid a losing season. Unfortunately, that game is in Columbus where Michigan hasn’t won since 2000. Normally, the week of the Michigan-Ohio State game is an exciting one that fans on both sides look forward to all week. But it has never felt so hollow than it does now. Let’s take a look at how the teams compare.

Ohio State Statistics & Michigan Comparison
Ohio State | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 44.3 | 20.3 5 | 111
22.5 | 20.6 30 | 21
Rushing Yards 2,856 | 1,833 1,626 | 1,179
Rush Avg. Per Game 259.6 | 166.6 13 | 61
147.8 | 107.2 41 | 9
Avg. Per Rush 5.6 | 4.7
4.1 | 2.9
Passing Yards 2,769 | 1,791 2,008 | 2,141
Pass Avg. Per Game 251.7 | 162.8 48 | 113 182.5 | 194.6 15 | 23
Total Offense 5,625 | 3,624 3,634 | 3,320
Total Off Avg. Per Game 511.4 | 329.5 10 | 114 330.4 | 301.8 19 | 9
Kick Return Average 23.7 | 19.9 18 | 82 17.8 | 21.7 15 | 81
Punt Return Average 12.0 | 6.8 19 | 85 6.0 | 12.8 44 | 116
Avg. Time of Possession 31:59 | 30:35 20 | 46
28:01 | 29:25
3rd Down Conversion Pct 53.0% | 38.0% 3 | 81
36.7% | 37.0% 40 | 42
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 23-156 | 20-130
T68 | T54
32-219 | 29-248
T18 | T30
Touchdowns Scored 65 | 25
32 | 25
Field Goals-Attempts 10-16 | 15-21
8-13 | 18-22
Red Zone Scores (47-57)82%|(29-33)88% T67 | T30
(27-33)82%|(31-38)82% T56 | 51
Red Zone Touchdowns (40-57)70%|(20-33)61% (22-33)67%|(18-38)47%
Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) .542 | -.241
11 | 94
-.435 | -.295 18 | 35

Ohio State clinched the Big Ten East division with a 42-27 win over Indiana on Saturday. But that doesn’t mean the Buckeyes can afford to take this week lightly. Aside from it being The Game, Ohio State still has a chance to make the College Football Playoff. Currently ranked sixth, and with only one team — Florida State — undefeated, the Buckeyes need all the style points they can get. Despite winning by 15 this past Saturday, the fact that they trailed Indiana — the Big Ten’s only winless team — until late in the third quarter, didn’t win them any style points. The Bucks have just two games remaining — Michigan and the Big Ten title game — to jump at least two of Alabama, Oregon, Mississippi State, and TCU and fend off Baylor.

Ohio State’s offense will be the best Michigan has faced this season. Only Baylor (50.0), TCU (45.9), Oregon (45.8), and Marshall (44.9) average more points per game than the Buckeyes (44.3). In fact, they’ve been held below 30 just once and below 40 just three times. The fewest points they’ve scored all season came in a 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech in Week 2. Michigan has scored fewer than that in seven of 11 games. Following the Week 2 loss, Ohio State averaged 51.3 points over the next seven games.

Schedule
Date Opponent Result
Aug. 30 at Navy W 34-17
Sept. 6 Virginia Tech L 21-35
Sept. 13 Kent State W 66-0
Sept. 27 Cincinnati W 50-28
Oct. 4 at Maryland W 52-24
Oct. 18 Rutgers W 56-17
Oct. 25 at Penn State W 31-24 2OT
Nov. 1 Illinois W 55-14
Nov. 8 at #8 Michigan State W 49-37
Nov. 15 at #25 Minnesota W 31-24
Nov. 22 Indiana W 42-27
Nov. 29 Michigan

The catalyst has been redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, who ranks 12th nationally in total offense (318.8 yards per game) — one spot ahead of Florida State quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. The combination of Barrett’s rushing ability and running back Ezekiel Elliott has Ohio State’s run game ranked 13th nationally. Elliott is already over 1,000 yards and Barrett is 151 yards away.

The OSU passing game is slightly less potent — 48th nationally — but has two very talented receivers in Michael Thomas and Devin Smith, a rising star in Jalin Marshall, and a solid tight end in Jeff Heuerman. And despite being a first-year starter, Barrett has 33 touchdowns compared to just 10 interceptions.

Put together, Ohio State’s offense ranks 10th nationally in yards per game (511.4). Michigan’s ranks 114th, or 12th-to-last. The Buckeyes convert 53 percent of their third downs, which ranks third nationally.

Defensively, Ohio State is slightly worse than Michigan, but not nearly as bad as last season. The 22.5 points allowed per game are two more than Michigan and rank 30th nationally. Michigan State put up 37 points, which is the OSU has allowed. Only one — Kent State — was held to single digits and only four have been held below 20.

Ohio State’s rush defense ranks 41st, allowing 147.8 yards per game, about 40 more than Michigan allows. Some of that is a result of playing Navy’s triple-option attack that racked up 370 rushing yards in Week 1, but Indiana rushed for 281 last week.

The pass defense is better, ranking 15th nationally with 182.5 yards allowed per game. Again, some of that is a result of playing Navy, which attempted just four passes for 20 yards. But Michigan State passed for 358 and Cincinnati for 352, so the Buckeyes can be vulnerable through the air.

Altogether, Ohio State’s defense ranks 19th nationally. Michigan’s ranks ninth. Despite a defensive line that most considered the best in the Big Ten and one of the best in the country this season, OSU has just three more sacks than Michigan through 11 games. In addition, OSU isn’t as good at keeping opponents out of the end zone once they reach the red zone. The Bucks allow 67 percent of red zone trips to result in touchdowns, compared to 47 percent allowed by Michigan.

Special teams is a big strength of Ohio State as they rank 18th nationally in kick returns and 19th in punt returns. Comparatively, Michigan ranks 82nd and 85th. OSU also ranks 15th in kick return defense and 44th in punt return defense compared to Michigan’s 81st and 116th.

Everything about this game suggests a Buckeye blowout. The way the season has gone many Michigan fans would be okay with that being the final nail in Brady Hoke’s coaching coffin. But perhaps Hoke can rally the troops to make one final stand the way they nearly did a year ago. It’s unlikely, but that’s why they play the game.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Average/Game
J.T. Barrett 190-293 2,658 33 10 241.6
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Average/Carry
Ezekiel Elliott 180 1,061 8 65 5.9
J.T. Barrett (QB) 156 849 9 86 5.4
Curtis Samuel 51 354 4 34 6.9
Cardale Jones (QB) 24 188 0 21 7.8
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Average/Game
Michael Thomas 37 605 8 79 55.0
Devin Smith 25 610 8 80 55.5
Ezekiel Elliott (RB) 25 201 0 22 18.3
Jalin Marshall 24 347 6 57 31.5
Jeff Heuerman (TE) 16 194 2 32 19.4
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Joshua Perry 58 41 99 8.5-31 3.0-18 (1 INT)
Vonn Bell 38 24 62 1.0-2 0-0 (3 INT, 8 PD)
Darron Lee 33 17 50 11.5-48 4.5-34 (2 INT)
Joey Bosa (DE) 27 16 43 18.0-102 11.5-84
Adolphus Washington 18 18 36 7.0-23 2.5-13
Kicking FG Made FG Att Long XP Made XP Att
Sean Neurnberger 10 16 49 65 65
Punting Punts Yds Avg. In-20 50+
Cameron Johnston 31 1,351 43.6 19 9
Full Stats

Stay tuned for more on Ohio State in the coming days.

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

Date

Home Team

Road Team

Winner

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

Season

Michigan’s Finish (Record)

MSU’s Finish (Record)

1959

t-2nd (8-6)

1st (12-2)

1966

1st (11-3)

2nd (10-4)

1986

1st (14-4)

3rd (12-6)

1990

3rd (12-6)

1st (15-3)

1992

t-3rd (11-7)

t-3rd (11-7)

1995

3rd (11-7)

2nd (14-4)

2003

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

Date

Home Team

Road Team

Winner

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.

Prediction

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