Michigan vs. Ohio State: Why Dominant Defense Will Lead Wolverines to Victory
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Michigan needed 40 points to squeeze past Ohio State in the 2011 edition of college football's biggest rivalry, but that won't be the case this weekend.
On Saturday, against an undefeated Buckeyes squad, the Wolverines will again emerge victorious. This time, though, it'll be the defense that leads the way.
Devin Gardner and the Michigan offense have been scoring points in bunches since the junior replaced the injured Denard Robinson at quarterback. The Wolverines have averaged 38.3 points per game in that span.
D-Rob returned to action at running back in a 42-17 win over Iowa, but the lingering nerve issue in his elbow may prevent him (per Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com) from returning under center for a fourth straight week.
Regardless of who's taking the snaps, the Wolverines will need a stout defensive performance to neutralize the pressure Buckeyes fans in Columbus will be applying throughout the game.
Expect Jake Ryan and the Michigan defense to deliver just that.
Here are three reasons the Wolverines (8-3, 6-1) will use a dominant display of defense to snag a road win and crush Ohio State's (11-0, 7-0) hopes of an undefeated regular season in the process.
Silencing Carlos Hyde
Running back Carlos Hyde isn't even the Buckeyes' biggest offensive weapon. That title belongs to the dynamic dual-threat QB Braxton Miller.
Make no mistake, though, Hyde can rip a defense to shreds when he finds a rhythm.
An absolute scoring machine, the junior has 13 rushing touchdowns in Ohio State's last six games. The 6'1", 235-pound bruiser is averaging 111 yards per game during that time.
The Wolverines defense, however, has allowed only eight rushing TDs in 2012 and just two against Big Ten opponents.
Hyde's also happens to be the type of ball carrier that Michigan specializes in shutting down.
The Wolverines have struggled to contain small, shifty backs like Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and the 5'7, 175-pound Cody Getz out of Air Force. But stopping workhorse RB's like Hyde has been a cinch for the Maize and Blue.
Michigan held Le'Veon Bell, No. 2 in the Big Ten in rushing, to 68 yards on 26 carries in October. Bell measures up at 6'2", 244 pounds and features a ferocious style of running. Notre Dame's duo of bigger-bodied backs in Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood managed only 91 yards on 24 carries as well. Like Bell, each were kept out of the end zone.
Hyde is surprisingly shifty and quick for his size, and Ohio State's talented QB will keep the Wolverines from keying on him completely. Even so, Michigan's front seven will effectively render Hyde's contributions useless this week.
Keeping Braxton Miller on the Fritz
Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE
If there was ever a good time to pounce on a stumbling Buckeyes' offense, this Saturday is it.
Smothering a struggling Miller is a great place to start.
The sophomore signal-caller managed a mere 97 yards passing (his lowest single-game output of the year) last week in a 21-14 overtime win against Wisconsin. His 23 carries produced only 48 yards on the ground, producing a season-low 2.1 yards per carry.
For the first time all season, he failed to reach the end zone.
Ohio State's offense disappeared after getting out to a 14-0 lead over the Badgers, and the Buckeyes needed OT to finish them off. Wisconsin was able to pound away on offense, and it kept Miller and the Buckeyes' offense out of tempo as a result.
For Michigan to do the same, it starts with frustrating Miller in relentless fashion. Which is where defensive coordinator Greg Mattison comes into play.
Led by Ryan, Desmond Morgan and Kenny Demens, Mattison has developed Michigan's corps of linebackers into a dominating unit. Ryan has a team-leading 75 tackles (13 for loss) in addition to 3.5 sacks on the year. He's emerged into a potential Big Ten Player of the Year and is only a sophomore.
Demens, a senior, is arguably playing his best football of his career.
And Morgan, according to Kyle Meinke, will return from an undisclosed head injury in time for "The Game".
Dominating the trenches will, of course, be vital to Michigan's success. But you can expect Mattison to get creative with his talented group of linebackers as they look to neutralize Ohio State's electric QB who hasn't been so effective in recent weeks.
Just Playing Their Game
In this rivalry, win-loss records mean nothing, and national rankings are irrelevant.
The fact that Ohio State is ineligible for the postseason has no impact either, because playing Michigan already gives the Buckeyes plenty of reason to leave it all on the field.
As the Wolverines head to Ohio Stadium in search of the program's first road win over OSU since 2000, they simply need to worry about themselves and the task at hand.
Brady Hoke and his staff won't allow his players to get caught up in anything more.
The Buckeyes may be 11-0, but they are hardly unbeatable. Having to sneak past Indiana and Purdue indicates as much. Not to mention Ohio State's non-conference schedule consisted of Miami (OH), UCF, Cal and UAB.
Who's taking the big game this weekend?
Michigan's dominant defensive effort against Notre Dame—now the No. 1 team in the country—was deserving of victory, but five interceptions on offense resulted in a 13-6 loss. Costly turnovers doomed the Wolverines once more against Nebraska in Week 9.
Michigan's defense will rise to the occasion in its biggest game of the season, you can count on that. Will it be enough to win? We'll find out Saturday. But my money says if the Wolverines can avoid shooting themselves in the foot offensively, this one is theirs to lose.
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