One of the most intriguing matchups in the Ohio State Buckeyes' 26-21 win over the Michigan Wolverines last November was not between players.
It was really about defensive coordinator Greg Mattison of Michigan and head coach Urban Meyer of Ohio State.
Mattison, you may recall, was Meyer's defensive coordinator when Florida defeated Ohio State for the 2007 BCS National Championship. The friendship began when both coaches first worked together at Notre Dame beginning in 1997.
“We'll always be friends,” Meyer told mlive.com.
"He was the first phone call I made when I got the job at University of Florida to find out if he'd go with me," Meyer added later. "We lived next to each other at Notre Dame for a long time.”
It's also well known that Meyer and Mattison are competitive in the recruiting game. Scout.com placed Ohio State's 2013 class at No. 1 and Michigan's No. 2. The Buckeyes needed help at the skill positions, while Michigan added linemen on both sides of the ball.
Mattison, whom Meyer calls one of the nation's great defensive coordinators, did wonders for the Michigan defense the last two seasons, but he is well aware of how Ohio State controlled the football in the second half of the last meeting with the Buckeyes.
Even though Ohio State managed only six points after halftime, the Buckeyes held the ball for 19 of the 30 minutes, rushing for 123 yards and easily killing the last 4:50.
Mattison, of course, will get another chance to stifle Meyer's widely renowned spread-option offense next fall. Here are a few ways to stop it.
Meyer loves to spread the field and create mismatches, either by using motion or by placing three receivers on one side of the field. Mattison's defense was burned often by South Carolina's Ace Sanders, who often was matched up with safety Thomas Gordon.
Starting with the return of cover corner Blake Countess, who missed all but the opener with a knee injury, Michigan will be much more versatile in the secondary.
In the last two recruiting classes, Michigan landed five cornerbacks and five safeties, with recruits Delano Hill and Jeremy Clark able to play both positions.
Contain Braxton Miller
There's no question Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is the perfect athlete for Meyer's spread offense. Miller passed for 2,039 yards and ran for another 1,271 last season, stats not unlike a healthy Denard Robinson.
Against Michigan, Miller was sacked four times, but he was still able to complete 14 of 18 passes for 189 yards while rushing for another 108. The problem, as it has been for the last two seasons, was Michigan's lack of pressure from the front four.
Next fall, Michigan will have a deeper group of linebackers and might even be better up front.
If the Wolverines can stop the rushing of Carlos Hyde, they could play more 3-4 defense, which Mattison used successfully with the Baltimore Ravens. Michigan could either use a spy on Miller, blitz from just about anywhere or play conservatively with a four-backer bracket.
Regardless, it's all about stopping the big play. Protecting the sideline and keeping the deepest receiver in front certainly helps.
Michigan has all season to find a solid cover corner to complement Countess. If Mattison can discover a hidden gem, the Wolverines could free up an extra blitzer.
Ramon Taylor did more than an adequate job in 2012, pressed into service after Countess' injury and pressured even more when J.T. Floyd was suspended.
The Wolverines will be much taller in the secondary in the not-too-distant future. Channing Stribling, Reon Dawson, Jarrod Wilson, Clark and Allen Gant are all 6'2” or taller.
Add the speed of Ross Douglas, Dymonte Thomas, Delonte Hollowell and Terry Richardson, and Michigan could shut down Ohio State's Corey Brown and 5-star freshman Jalin Marshall.
Before either team begins spring practice, both teams seem closely matched. The two teams were one point apart over the past two seasons and were two positions apart in Scout.com's 2012 and 2013 team rankings.
If there is an advantage, it's Ohio State's offense that features veterans Miller, Hyde and Brown. For Michigan, Devin Gardner may prove to be the best athlete on the field, but top receiver Jeremy Gallon and the running back tandem of Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith might be behind their Ohio State counterparts due to a lack of experience.
The home-field advantage makes the 2013 edition of "The Game" a tossup.