Breaking down the state of Ohio vs. Michigan
Known simply in Columbus, Ann Arbor, and everywhere in between as “The Game,” Ohio State and Michigan meet again in the regular season finale for both teams. And, as is often the case, the stakes are high.
The Buckeyes can’t claim anything worse than a piece of the Big 10 crown, and they’ll clinch a spot in one of BCS’s big games with a win. The Wolverines, who were thought to have been reduced to a pure spoiler role, have risen again in the conference race. The turning point of the Wolverines’ season has to be when Chad Henne threw a final-play touchdown pass against Penn State to knock them out of the undefeated ranks a month ago.
If that pass is incomplete, Michigan falls to 3-4 and this week’s game, while still the biggest game of the year, would be more about pride for the Wolverines than aspirations.
Not only do they need to emerge victorious on Saturday, but they would also need in-state rival Michigan State to pull off an improbable upset against Penn State later in the afternoon to grab a piece of conference honors.
Both teams enter this game playing their best football of the season, Ohio State’s offense has put up 40 points in the last four games, after quarterback Troy Smith struggled early on to direct the offense, only to looking almost flawless after his check on the headline job. he was running away. Because of this, everyone around him has improved.
Michigan, on the other hand, has moved the ball better behind sophomore Henne, and this maligned defense is even shutting down the opposition on a regular basis. Wins over Iowa, Northwestern, and Indiana are nice (only IU’s win was uncompetitive), but remember, Ohio State DESTROYED those three squads by a combined score of 120-23.
THE GAME PLANS
Both teams will want to establish the running game, and they have the back to do so, Ohio State’s Antonio Pittman and the combination of Michigan’s Jason Hart and Kevin Grady. I give the Buckeyes the advantage, as Smith is also a running threat, while Henne is the classic straggling passer. If the Wolverines are forced to play second and third, Henne and a sometimes shaky offensive line will have added pressure on them (literally) and these AJ Hawk-led Ohio State linebackers could feast on him all day.
Last year, with basically the same lineups, Smith rushed wildly for 145 yards and a score and threw for two more in the Buckeyes’ 37-21 win at Columbus. Michigan’s linebackers and safeties may have to attack him at times to force quick decisions, which leaves one-on-one coverage against a trio of talented receivers.
The Wolverines’ secondary has been their defensive stronghold all year, and they will be tested here. With Smith becoming a better passer, coach Jim Tressel has given him more opportunities to take the field with Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn.
I give Ohio State a small overall advantage on offense, as I feel like Henne has improved since his early-season struggles. He can do some damage with his receivers, Jason Avant and Steve Breaston, but he’ll need more time to shoot than I think he’ll have Saturday.
But, the biggest advantage for the Buckeyes rests on defense, where they physically pummel teams and wear them down in the second half.
On special teams, both teams have dangerous returns. Ginn and Breaston can change the game in a matter of seconds. Both hedge teams will be under pressure, and punters would be best advised to kick away from these guys, even out of bounds if they can without shan king it.
The home crowd probably gives the Wolverines their only advantage, but I still don’t think that’s not enough. Notre Dame and Minnesota were victorious without Michigan Stadium and the Buckeyes are better overall than either of those teams. History tells us that Michigan has controlled this series at The Big House, but Ohio State wins this one with a brutal display over D.
Ohio State 24 Michigan 13