Michigan Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Ohio State

Zach Dirlam@Zach_DirlamSenior Analyst IINovember 23, 2012

Michigan Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Ohio State

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    The Michigan Wolverines are looking to derail the Ohio State Buckeyes' perfect season in the 109th edition of The Game, which will be held at the Horseshoe in Columbus on Saturday.

    It is still a mystery at this point who will be Michigan's starting quarterback, but odds are Devin Gardner will be under center for a fourth straight game while Denard Robinson will be utilized at various positions by offensive coordinator Al Borges.

    Click ahead for the five keys the Wolverines will need to execute in order to pick up their second straight win over the Buckeyes and their first road victory in the series since 2000.

Devin Gardner Has to Be Efficient Through the Air

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    With junior dual-threat Devin Gardner at the helm for the last three games, the Michigan Wolverines have been able to take on an entirely new look offensively by mixing in a lot more play-action and throwing more passes down the field.

    Gardner has been a much more accurate passer than Denard Robinson, and he has shown more of a willingness to take off and run for first downs when everyone is covered up in the passing game.

    In order for Michigan's offense to pile up the points like it has against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats and Iowa Hawkeyes over the past three weeks, Gardner will have to continue to be an effective passer in order to help the Wolverines establish a legitimate rushing attack to keep the Ohio State Buckeyes off balance.

    The Inkster High School product has completed 65 percent of his passes in three starts and should be able to have success against Ohio State's secondary, which has struggled against some of the better passing offenses in the Big Ten conference this season.

    Look for Gardner to target freshman tight end Devin Funchess, junior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon and fifth-year senior Roy Roundtree for some big passing plays against the Buckeyes on Saturday.

Michigan's Defense Must Contain Braxton Miller

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    The main reason why the Ohio State Buckeyes are one of the nation's best offenses is because of how much attention sophomore dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller commands at all times.

    Miller may not be a polished passer at this point in his career and has only completed more than 50 percent of his passes in three of Ohio State's last six games, but the Hubert Heights, Ohio native is as dangerous as anyone in college football once he gets outside the pocket and takes off running.

    The 6'2", 210-pounder has used his shiftiness and pure speed to rack up 1,213 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns this season.

    In order for Michigan to slow down Ohio State's No. 9-ranked rushing attack, the Wolverines will need Jake Ryan and the rest of the linebackers to hold true to their assignments, turn Miller back inside as much as possible and bring Miller down on first contact.

    If the Wolverines are able to slow down Miller and force him to win the game with his passing abilities, then Michigan fans will be smiling all afternoon.

Keep the Buckeyes in 3rd-and-Long All Afternoon

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    If the Michigan Wolverines hope to end the Ohio State Buckeyes' undefeated season at the Horseshoe on Saturday they will have to keep the Scarlet and Grey in 3rd-and-long situations all afternoon.

    The Wolverines will need to win first down and make the Buckeyes one dimensional by limiting big gains by Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde, who have combined for over 2,000 yards and 28 touchdowns on the ground this season.

    Miller has completed 56 percent of his passes this year, but on third downs of six yards or more he is just 22-of-52 (42.3 percent).

    Michigan's front seven will have to play well early in the game and shut down Ohio State's vaunted rushing attack in order to keep the Buckeyes in long third downs, which will force Miller to win the game with his arm.

Thomas Rawls Has to Be a Threat

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    Senior all-purpose player Denard Robinson will draw a significant amount of attention from the Ohio State Buckeyes' defense when he is on the field, which means sophomore running back Thomas Rawls will have to be a threat out of the backfield for the Michigan Wolverines to operate at full force offensively.

    Rawls simply needs to grind out consistent short-yardage runs and help Michigan keep the chains moving, so that the Buckeyes have to worry about more than just Robinson when he lines up as a running back or wide receiver.

    Michigan fans have been lauding for Rawls to carry the ball on a more frequent basis, and now that Fitzgerald Toussaint is out with an ankle injury the Flint, Mich., product will have his best chance to date to prove he is the Wolverines' top running back.

    Rawls does not have to be fantastic in order for the Wolverines to beat the Buckeyes on Saturday, but he has to be effective enough to command some respect from Ohio State's defense.

Denard Robinson Has to Finish the Game with at Least 15 Total Touches

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    For much of his four-year career with the Michigan Wolverines, senior quarterback Denard Robinson has looked like a running back playing at the quarterback position and last weekend the Deerfield Beach, Fla., native proved to be more than capable of lining up in the backfield on a consistent basis.

    Offensive coordinator Al Borges drew up 15 plays specifically for Robinson last Saturday, and the Wolverines used all of them in their 42-17 rout of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

    Robinson finished the game with 13 carries for 98 yards and two receptions for 24 yards.

    The Ohio State Buckeyes will be prepared for Robinson, but if the Wolverines can get him the same amount of touches he had a week ago and continue to mix in new formations this week, it will be enough to keep Urban Meyer's defense off balance.

    Michigan hasn't revealed all of its new wrinkles either. Although Robinson has yet to throw a pass since leaving the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers with an elbow injury, you can bet the Wolverines will utilize his arm a couple of times against Ohio State on Saturday.

    The Wolverines need a big game from Robinson as a utility player just as much as they need an efficient performance from Devin Gardner at quarterback.