Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes are a win away from an undefeated season.
At Ohio State University expectations are always high, often too high. So when Urban Meyer took the head coaching job in Columbus, and promised a fast-paced spread offense, many fans expected 50 points a game and no punts. That hasn't been the case, nor should it have been. Good things take time, but with 11 games under their belt, the Ohio State Buckeyes have improved and are ready to unleash their offense on their biggest rival.
While Meyer has the services of a do-it-all QB in Braxton Miller—a possible Heisman ceremony invitee—he doesn't have the number of playmakers his offense needs to be great. However, Miller's supporting cast has now stepped it up to provide just enough help to get to 11-0.
The Michigan Wolverines haven't had as much success in terms of wins and losses, but their defense has put up solid numbers this season. But they simply do not have enough firepower to stop the explosive Buckeye offense.
Power Running Game
Ohio State coaches fretted early in the season about the number of carries Miller had in the first few games. Since running back Carlos Hyde has returned from a knee injury, he has become a reliable between-the-tackles runner. Over the last month it has become obvious that Ohio State's offense is at its best when they are running downhill with Hyde.
Surprisingly, Saturday against Wisconsin Ohio State's offense reverted back to what it did early in the year, which was lean too heavily on Miller's legs. Wisconsin proved that, while running the QB works against the likes of UAB, Cal and UCF, that game plan doesn't work against solid Big Ten opponents—Michigan fans could have told us that.
After narrowly escaping Madison where the offense only produced one TD in regulation, Meyer and Hyde both expressed that the Buckeye running back should have had more carries. Therefore, look for Ohio State to get back to pounding Hyde. The Buckeyes will soften up Michigan's undersized defense with a heavy dose of their 6'1'', 235-lb tailback and powerful offensive line.
Despite Michigan's defense being stout statistically against the run—151 yards a game—it has not seen a power running game like Ohio State's since the first game of the season. In that game, Alabama pummeled them up front. Ohio State might not dominate Michigan as thoroughly as Alabama did between the tackles, but expect the Buckeyes to have success.
Miller as the Counter
Michigan isn't big and does not have any superstars on its defense. What that means for Brady Hoke's defense is that it has to get population to the ball-carrier. Especially when facing a powerful back like Hyde.
Michigan could elect, as the Badgers did, to stop Miller at all costs. But with Meyer more conscious of the importance of Hyde's between-the-tackles running, I do not believe Michigan will have that option.
So after a solid pounding by Hyde, Michigan's defenders will get focused on Hyde. That will allow Miller to pull the ball out in the read option and get into the open field.
Michigan has had trouble with mobile QBs losing to Nebraska and Taylor Martinez and allowing Kain Colter and Northwestern to take it to overtime. If Michigan struggled with those two, Miller, who is in a class of his own running the ball, should have a field day.
Improving Efficiency in the Passing Game
Against Michigan last season, Miller had his best passing game of the season. Largely due to the fact Corey Brown and the rest of the Buckeye receiving corps was able to get behind Michigan's secondary.
Michigan was great against the pass this season and is tops in the Big Ten allowing only 152 yards a game. Meanwhile, Ohio State is only throwing for 180 yards a game, and Miller is coming off a game in which he threw for only 97 yards.
However, Michigan's safeties will be forced to step up and help with the run and big-play threats Brown and Devin Smith, the Big Ten's yards-per-catch leader, who will get one-on-one matchups with Michigan's corners. Last season, the Buckeyes receivers won those matchups; it won't be different this year.
Friendly Confines of Ohio Stadium
Ohio State's offense has sputtered at times on the road—except against Indiana, a team no defense sputters against—but at home the Buckeyes have been nearly unstoppable. The Buckeyes are averaging 42 points a game at home, including a 63-point performance against the Legends Division's best team.
Miller has thrown 10 of his 14 TD passes and rushed for 10 of his 13 rushing TDs in Ohio Stadium. The fact of the matter is Miller is much more comfortable at home than on the road—as are most second-year QBs.
I suspect the coaching staff sees the difference in Miller at home versus on the road, and that is why they have played things a little closer to the vest—a strategy many Ohio State fans hoped would die under Meyer's regime.
As a result of Miller being more comfortable, Ohio State's offense is capable of hitting a higher gear—a gear I don't think Michigan's defense can match for 60 minutes.
Ultra-conservative former head coach Jim Tressel used to always have a few tricks up his sleeve for Michigan—like a screen or counter. I have to imagine Meyer has something special waiting for the Wolverines that he won't hesitate to break out if the Buckeyes hit a rough patch.
Who knows, maybe we will get to see what Meyer had planned on his secret piece of paper with diagrams of Miller and backup Kenny Guiton in the same backfield. It would be fitting since QBs Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson are likely to appear in Michigan's backfield together.
All in all, "The Game" will be a great one to watch. The Buckeyes will be in the Top Five, possibly the only undefeated team in the country and have a chance, albeit slim chance, at an AP title.