Michigan Football: 4 Ways the Wolverines Can Challenge Ohio State Next Year
The Game. The Game. The Game.
The University of Michigan and the Ohio State University live for their annual rivalry game, rightfully dubbed "The Game."
No game has more importance for either of these teams than this one. The Wolverines and Buckeyes hate each other to say the least. Each team counts down the days to The Game.
Ohio State is coming off an undefeated season under Urban Meyer.
Michigan had a disappointing year in the eyes of Brady Hoke.
Hoke told reporters (h/t Joe Rexrode, USA Today), "We had a (expletive) year, to be honest with you. Eight wins, it's not good enough."
With 312 days left until the 2013 showdown at the Big House, Brady Hoke needs to find ways to challenge Ohio State and pick up the big win over the rival Buckeyes.
1. The Devin-to-Devin Connection
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Michigan fans, the Denard Robinson era is finished. But have no fear.
While Robinson's nerve injury to his elbow hindered the team's performance down the backstretch of the 2012 season, Michigan has found a quarterback.
Many expected freshman 4-star recruit Shane Morris to be under center for the 2013 season, but Gardner has proved that he is the team's starter in 2013. Morris now has the time to transition into the world of college football and the pressures of wearing the maize and blue winged helmet.
Gardner, who was a 5-star quarterback recruit coming out of high school, takes the helm of this offense and gives the Wolverines a powerfully armed quarterback.
With Robinson at quarterback, Michigan lacked consistency in the passing attack. Gardner brings a more accurate, more comfortable pro-style quarterback for offensive coordinator Al Borges to work with.
Despite losing Roy Roundtree from the receiving corps, Michigan has an elite tight end who will emerge. Devin Funchess enters into his sophomore year and has the physical potential to light up opposing defenses. At 6'5", Funchess is a matchup nightmare and will need to be a go-to target for Gardner.
Michigan will have to unleash the Devin-to-Devin connection in order to challenge the Buckeyes.
2. The Return of Blake Countess
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Not only did Michigan suffer a tough loss to the eventual national champion Alabama Crimson Tide, but it also lost its best cornerback, Blake Countess, for the season in that game down in Dallas.
Michigan's stud defensive coordinator, Greg Mattison, will need Countess at 100 percent in 2013 to challenge Ohio State's versatile offense led by Braxton Miller. Countess boosts an already-strong secondary, but will need to take over a leadership role since the Wolverines lose safety Jordan Kovacs and cornerback J.T. Floyd.
As Michigan's best cover corner, Countess will have to match up with the best receiver that the Buckeyes have to offer. Countess will also have to contain the sidelines with his strong tackling when Braxton Miller scrambles out of the pocket and into open field.
Michigan must slow down the high-powered Buckeyes offense, and Countess can have a major impact on the result of The Game.
3. Contain, Contain, Contain the Heisman Hopeful
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
The Buckeyes boast one of the game's best mobile quarterbacks, Braxton Miller. If Michigan stands any chance of beating Ohio State, it all starts with containing the Heisman hopeful.
Miller can run all day whether it is out of designed quarterback runs, the deadly read option or making plays with his feet with electrifying scrambles. But Michigan will have the opportunity to end Miller's Heisman campaign by shutting him down on November 30th.
Michigan has a stout defense that has tremendously improved under the direction of Mattison, who took over in 2011.
Junior linebacker Jake Ryan leads the Wolverines defense with his intense play and ability to make plays all over the field. Ryan is the heart and soul of the defense, but he has a solid squadron of players around him.
Sophomore linebacker Joe Bolden, junior linebacker Desmond Morgan and junior defensive ends Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer will need to stop Miller from getting outside and into open field. The task is easier said than done.
Michigan has the personnel and mastermind defensive coach to perform the unthinkable and contain Miller. The Wolverines must mix up defensive packages and tackle at an elite level or else Miller will shred apart the defense on the ground.
4. Left Side!
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Left tackle Taylor Lewan, who would have been a top-15 pick in this year's NFL draft, returns for his senior season. Lewan anchors a burly Wolverines offensive line who will have to start younger players, but they do not lack the talent.
Michigan's left side will consist of All-American Taylor Lewan and sophomore guard Kyle Kalis, a 5-star recruit out of high school. Kalis competed for a starting job this past season and is ready for his chance to shine on the Michigan offensive line.
Borges must utilize Lewan and Kalis to the fullest, whether it is in the running game, protecting Devin Gardner in the pocket or on rollouts to the left. Michigan's backfield is in question after redshirt junior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint severely injured his leg against Iowa.
The Wolverines will have to rely on junior running back Thomas Rawls or a younger player to step up in order to pound the ball.
So long as the Wolverines remember "Left Side! Left Side! Left Side!", they will challenge the Ohio State Buckeyes in one of the biggest rivalry games in all of college football.