After winning their first five games of the season, the Michigan Wolverines have regressed in thorough fashion while losing four of their last six.
Given their struggles, it is hard to find a reason to think Brady Hoke's sinking squad can upset the undefeated No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes when the two meet in Michigan Stadium this Saturday.
Hoke asked if Michigan can win a shootout with Ohio State, says, "However we have to get it done." Real answer: not a chance.— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) November 25, 2013
The Buckeyes will be feeling frisky. No. 11 Michigan State looms for the Buckeyes in the following week, but don't look for the Buckeyes to be looking past this one. It's no guarantee that the Buckeyes wouldn't be passed by a one-loss team for the BCS title game should either No. 1 Alabama or No. 2 Florida State lose.
That said, screwier things have happened in rivalry games, and if Michigan plays up to its potential and executes a solid game plan, the Wolverines can earn a win that will be big enough to change the entire perception of their season.
Get the Run Game Going
Success on the ground has rarely been as big of a struggle for Michigan as it is now. Michigan is averaging 362.8 yards per game. Only 128.8 of those per-game yards have come on the ground. That is good for 100th in the nation.
This offense is not getting better as the season goes on, either. Playing Iowa, Michigan mustered just 98 passing yards and 60 rushing yards.
If the Wolverines are going to have a chance in this game, those numbers have to improve and that has to start with the ground game. Establishing the rushing game will allow Michigan to control the flow and set up the defense to be vulnerable to big yards in the passing game.
This will be far easier said than done. The Buckeyes have been marvelous against the rush this season by allowing less than 100 rushing yards per game.
Win the Turnover Battle
This is the key in just about every game, right? That is twice as true for the underdogs. The quickest way to neutralize a talent disadvantage is to swipe a few key takeaways.
This is another area where the Wolverines are struggling to succeed.
Michigan has 23 takeaways on the season. This is a solid number. However, Michigan is not doing a good job of protecting the ball themselves. They've turned the ball over 19 times.
Meanwhile, Ohio State has done a solid job of protecting the ball. The Buckeyes have a plus-seven margin in turnovers with 20 takeaways.
Get a Huge Performance from Devin Gardner
Quarterback Devin Gardner has had an up-and-down season, and he will enter this game mostly on a down note.
Last week, against Iowa, Gardner completed just 13-of-28 passes for 98 yards. The Wolverines are going to need Gardner to be far more efficient in this game. They have to sustain drives and keep the Buckeyes offense off the field.
If there is one thing that Gardner can rally around it is that he threw two touchdowns and no interceptions last week. That is his third-straight game without an interception. He threw at least one pick in six of the season's first eight games.
Going back a little further, Gardner has thrown just one interception in his last 154 attempts and that came in a do-or-die situation late in the game against Michigan State.
A breakout game looks to be on the way for Gardner. If he can do that this week, he'll leave the entire nation impressed.
All stats via CFBStats.com.