|#8 Ohio State 10-1, 6-1 Big Ten Roster | Schedule||November 27, 2010 12:00 PM ET - ABC —— Ohio Stadium Columbus, OH||Michigan 7-4, 3-4 Big Ten Roster | Schedule|
Rich Rodriguez brings his third Wolverine squad into Ohio Stadium Saturday for the 107th matchup between two of the more storied programs in college football history. Hired as an innovative break from the old guard, the beleaguered coach actually has a potent offense this year.
The offense, led by dynamic sophomore Denard Robinson (#16), is averaging over 514 yards per game, good enough for 5th in the nation. The high point was a 721 yard effort against Bowling Green in week four and the 676 yards they put up in the overtime thriller against Illinois earlier this month. Further illustrating the potency of the group, it has put up over 400 yards rushing and passing in different games, depending on what the opposing defense is willing to give up.
Oh, but that defense. GERG's Tickle Bear Crew is 112th in the nation in yards allowed, giving up 445 per game. Compare that to a great, but not elite Ohio State defense giving up just 241 a game. The putrid defense is a great reason why Robinson will likely not be returning as the DC and just about every team the Wolverines have played have been able to exploit it. If Michigan's defense was capable of playing at a level anywhere near where the offense currently does, it would be a very dangerous team. But alas, it doesn't.
To his credit, Rodriguez does finally appear to "get" the rivalry, saying all of the right things at his presser earlier this week. This game may not be vital to him keeping his job -- the seven wins likely bought him another year -- but upsetting the Buckeyes in Columbus tomorrow would be quite the icing on a third year cake that's seen improvement both in morale and on the scoreboard for the Wolverines.
For Ohio State, a win would likely capture a sixth-straight conference title, matching Woody's run from 1972-77 and would also likely earn Tressel an 8th BCS bowl berth in just his 10th season in town. Like all games in this series, it will be intense, chippy and will be the hardest hitting team either will play this season. As we learned so well during the Cooper era, you can throw out the records and previous results when the two get together.
Robinson, clearly the MVP of this Michigan team has had a wonderful season. As much as it pains me to admit that, there's really no other way around it. He's already eclipsed the FBS mark for rushing yards by a quarterback in a season with 1,528 (and counting) and he's also the first FBS quarterback to pass and run for over 1,500 yards in the same year. Small and explosive, he's capable of hitting a seam and taking it to the house on every touch, but, as his numbers indicate, he's a much better passer than you'd think. He's almost good enough to excuse him for saying his defense was the "one of the best defenses in the nation", but not quite.
Robinson's size and style do sometimes lead to him being sidelined after solid hits and should that happen Saturday (and there's a great chance it will), our old friend Tate Forcier (#5) will make an appearance. Despite obvious struggles against the Buckeyes last year, Forcier still played with heart and at times, moved the ball. Probably a better pure passer than Robinson, Forcier has completed nearly 67% of his throws in various relief efforts this season.
The receiving corps is led by redshirt soph Roy Roundtree (#12). Roundtree has had a couple of really impressive games this season, most notably the 9 catches for 246 yards he put up against the Illini. For the season, he's piled up 58 receptions for 839 yards and will be Robinson's primary target both in the pocket and when the pocket breaks down and Denard is forced to improvise. Complimenting Roundtree are Darryl Stonum (#22) and Junior Hemingway (#21). Both are nursing injuries, but are expected to play. Tight end Kevin Koger (#86) will get some balls, but not enough to warrant serious attention as a threat.
Robinson is the alpha and omega with regards to the team's rushing attack, accounting for over half of the team's yards, but Vincent Smith (#2) and Michael Shaw (#20) will get touches as well. Smith will get the bulk of the leftover carries, but enters nursing a head injury. The sophomore enters averaging 4.7 per carry, but does not get enough touches to be a factor in the Wolverine offense.
The Wolverine offensive line is decent and thanks to Robinson's elusiveness, looks better on paper than it probably is. Left guard Stephen Schilling (#52), a four-year starter, is the anchor of the group and is good enough to play just about anywhere. Right tackle Mark Huyge (#72), a redshirt junior, will have his hands full with Heyward and Williams, as will left tackle Taylor Lewan (#77).
Are you ready to discuss the Wolverine defense? The group has been nothing short of a disappointment for Robinson (though some would put the blame on the DC), appearing in the bottom 20% of virtually every major defensive category. The group has held just one opponent, lowly Purdue, under 20 points and gave up 37 to UMass, 35 to Indiana, 38 to Iowa, 41 to Penn State under McGloin, 65 to Illinois and 48 just last week to Wisconsin. Life without Brandon Graham has not treated Michigan well, to say the least.
Playing in a 3-3-5 that was surely concocted after a night of huffing paint, the unit features exactly one player that is capable of disrupting things, tackle Mike Martin (#68). Linebacker Jonas Mouton (#8) has a boat load of tackles (102), but the majority of those are a function of situations, not elite athleticism.
As bad as the front six are, the back five are likely even worse. The star of the group is a former walk-on, Jordan Kovacs (#32). It's not often you see a defensive back closing in on 100 tackles, but that's exactly what you get with this defense. Also notable in the secondary is James Rogers (#18), who has made headlines twice in recent weeks by first guaranteeing Wisconsin wouldn't drop 83 on the Wolverines and then by taking a shot at Chris Spielman over Twitter.
The Buckeyes emerged with a hard-fought win at Iowa City last weekend and have now won four straight after dropping a tough night loss at Camp Randall. With the Big Ten title and a BCS berth still on the line, there's still plenty to play for and even if there were not, it's hard to imagine the team not being ready for this game.
Tressel had the team skip Iowa game film as they began preparing for the Wolverines immediately after returning to Columbus and that usually means there will be a slick play or two in the works. He always saves something great for Michigan and this year will be no different. Will it be Dane making another throw, something special from Pryor to Posey early or something else? Or will the recently quiet Brandon Saine, playing for his last chance to win Gold Pants, give us a treat? That's about the extend of the suspense in this one as the good guys enter as nearly 18 point favorites. Whatever happens, expect the receivers to bounce back from a relatively awful performance in Iowa City that saw them drop 8 passes.
For the 25 seniors playing their last home game, including standouts like Barclay, Boren, Browning, Chekwa, Heyward, Hines, Homan, Larimore, Rolle, Saine, Sanzenbacher and Torrence, Saturday will be a great opportunity to go out with a bang and hopefully make their mark on this series.
Beating the Wolverines is simple, really: find a way to slow Denard Robinson. Good defenses have been able to do it (see Iowa and Wisconsin), but lesser units have been trampled by the sophomore. While this Buckeye defense isn't the best we've seen in the Tressel era, it's plenty good enough to slow down Robinson. Expect Brian Rolle, who had a monster game against Michigan in Ann Arbor last year to spy the quarterback with some help from Ross Homan.
The offense will move the ball all day and Saturday will be a great opportunity for the group to cure whatever ails it before taking on a considerably more talented defense in a bowl game. Michigan will move the ball as well, but won't have enough to outpace the Buckeyes, especially at home.