Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines: Complete Game Preview
“This is a one-game season for both teams.”
The Buckeyes (11-0) come into the game still very much alive in the national title race. The Wolverines (7-4) are spiraling toward their worst season under Brady Hoke.
For three-and-a-half hours on Saturday afternoon, none of that will matter. Two rivals will take the field at Michigan Stadium with a year's worth of bragging rights on the line.
Ohio State, favored by 14.5 points according to Vegas Insider, will be looking for its second consecutive victory over Michigan.
Will the Buckeyes take care of business? What do the Wolverines need to do to spring the upset?
Get all the details with this complete game preview.
Date: Saturday, Nov. 30
Time: Noon ET
Place: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Ohio State's Keys to Victory
Since being outscored by Iowa in the first quarter (10-3) on Oct. 19, Ohio State has been burying teams early with an offensive barrage.
In fact, against its last four opponents (Penn State, Purdue, Illinois and Indiana), Ohio State has scored 11 first-quarter touchdowns while the defense hasn't surrendered a single point.
A quick start on Saturday would put Michigan in a world of hurt.
The Wolverines have struggled tremendously in recent weeks, and facing an early deficit against an offense as explosive as Ohio State's will only confound that issue. An early lead would also knock the wind out of the home crowd and set the pace for the entire game.
The Buckeyes are going to want to get on the board early.
Attack, Attack, Attack
Michigan started the year on a tear offensively, averaging more than 42 points and 445 total yards through its first seven games.
When the calendar hit November, though, the Wolverines' production dipped dramatically. In its last four games, Michigan is averaging fewer than 17 points and just 216 total yards.
The Wolverines have struggled immensely in the run game, and that's a vulnerability Ohio State should attack. With an aggressive player like Ryan Shazier, who leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss, the Buckeyes could have a lot of success against Michigan's fading offense.
Michigan's Keys to Victory
Find a Running Game
Even when Michigan's offense was rolling earlier in the season, the running game was largely dependent on Devin Gardner. The Wolverines' inability to block effectively out of power sets, in addition to lacking capable running backs, is a big reason for their recent struggles.
Throughout the last four games, Michigan is averaging just 32.5 rushing yards. In a two-week span against Michigan State and Nebraska, the Wolverines rushed for minus 69 yards.
Reinvigorating the rushing attack will be a hard thing to do against the Buckeyes.
Ohio State does a number of good things defensively, but it's best at stopping the run. The Buckeyes only allow 95 rushing yards per game, which ranks sixth nationally.
The matchup doesn't look promising for the Wolverines, but they have to find a way to move the ball on the ground.
Get after Braxton Miller
Ohio State struggled most this season when Braxton Miller was knocked off his game.
Against Northwestern, Miller was flustered by solid pressure from the Wildcats. The junior signal-caller committed a season-high three turnovers, which helped Northwestern build a 10-point second-half lead.
Since that Week 6 matchup, Miller and Ohio State's offense have found a groove. The Buckeyes boast one of the nation's most productive offenses, ranking third nationally with 48.7 points per game.
If Michigan is to disrupt that, it will need to get after the person most responsible for Ohio State's efficiency. Look for the Wolverines to put as much pressure as possible on Miller.
Players to Watch for the Buckeyes
Over the course of the Big Ten season, Carlos Hyde has been the most consistent member of the Ohio State offense.
Against Indiana last week, Hyde rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns on just 18 carries. That performance came a week after he set career highs with 246 rushing yards and five total touchdowns against Illinois.
Last year against Michigan, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes rode Hyde to victory. The 6'0", 235-pound running back plowed for 146 yards and a touchdown in the 26-21 victory.
The Wolverines are solid against the run, though, ranking 14th in the country in allowing just 116 yards per game on the ground. If Hyde continues to roll, though, it will open things up for the entire offense.
Curtis Grant, the emerging middle linebacker who has played very well for the Buckeyes this year, was injured and missed Ohio State's last two games.
Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch reported on Monday that Meyer expects Grant to play against Michigan.
That's good news, because Grant fits best in the defensive packages that require three linebackers. Ohio State will be using a lot of those packages against the Wolverines, especially when they line up in power/running formations.
Players to Watch for the Wolverines
Michigan is going to need a monster game from its quarterback.
Devin Gardner has the ability to hurt Ohio State where it is weakest. The Buckeyes have struggled at times defending the pass—they gave up big yards to Cal, Wisconsin and Northwestern—and if Gardner has enough time to get through his progressions, he's a dangerous quarterback.
Gardner could also cause some damage with his legs.
The last two dual-threat quarterbacks Ohio State has faced—Nathan Scheelhaase (Illinois) and Tre Roberson (Indiana)—ran for a combined 125 yards and one touchdown against the Buckeyes. Roberson, who accounted for 79 of those yards, played sparingly as a change-of-pace quarterback.
If Al Borges makes an effort to get Gardner on the perimeter and the blocking is set up, he could hurt the Buckeyes.
Jake Ryan, the fantastic linebacker out of Westlake, Ohio, was a star for the Wolverines defense last year, but a torn ACL kept him on the sideline for half the season.
He returned and bolstered an already solid defense, and his presence will certainly be felt on Saturday.
In last year's game, Ryan was everywhere, recording nine total tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and two forced fumbles. His speed makes it hard for ball carriers to create separation and his strength makes him extremely hard to block.
If the Buckeyes are struggling offensively, Ryan will likely be the cause.
What They Are Saying
Michigan coach Brady Hoke blames his team's offensive slump on a lack of execution, according to the team's official website.
Offensively, we need to be more consistent. We get a nine-yard gain and then take a step back. Or we have good protection and don't finish the throw, or execute the throw, or catch the football -- which is all part of it. That is all part of execution.
I didn't realize it, because I was just like most that from the outside looking in, "Hey, it's a really great game." I grew up in the 10‑year war, and I learned to dislike Michigan at a very young age. But, no, you never really appreciate it until you're behind the walls here and find out how serious it is.
Michigan's offensive lineman Taylor Lewan is confident in the Wolverines' defense, according to the team's official website.
We have a good defense. This is not about Ohio, this is about Michigan, University of Michigan 134 years of Michigan Football; most wins in college football. I'm talking about that right now. Our defense will play; our offense needs to be more consistent.
Ohio State receiver Dontre Wilson is looking forward to getting his first taste of the rivalry, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors.
I heard it was the best rivalry in all of sports. Not just in college or the NFL, but all of sports. I watched the game on TV last year, but, to be honest, I don’t really know that much about it. I’m sure going to find out soon though.
Ohio State 38, Michigan 17
The Buckeyes will get out to a fast start, scoring the game's first 14 points before Michigan gets on the board with a field goal to close out the first quarter.
The Wolverines will threaten on their next possession, but a promising drive will be cut short when Devin Gardner throws an interception that Bradley Roby returns 75 yards for a touchdown. A 40-yard field goal from Drew Basil shortly after will give the Buckeyes a 24-7 halftime lead.
Michigan will come out strong in the third, putting together an eight-play, 60-yard drive that ends with a field goal. The Buckeyes will answer immediately, though, when Braxton Miller finds Devin Smith for a 50-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive.
The defenses will tighten down the stretch, but each team will manage a fourth-quarter touchdown as Ohio State closes out the 21-point victory.
Miller will throw for 210 yards and a touchdown to complement 85 yards and another score on the ground. Carlos Hyde will continue his strong play, rushing for a game-high 160 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries.
The midfield handshake between the two coaches will last approximately one-and-a-half seconds.
All stats via NCAA.com.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.