Ohio State vs. Michigan: Keys to Victory for Both Teams in Big Ten Clash

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Ohio State vs. Michigan: Keys to Victory for Both Teams in Big Ten Clash
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan hasn't lived up to preseason expectations this year, but the Wolverines have a chance to ruin Ohio State's perfect season on Saturday when the two Big Ten rivals take the field at Michigan Stadium.

The undefeated Buckeyes haven't been challenged since mid-October.

Urban Meyer has fostered a confident group of young men who expect to win every single game by a large margin. Coming into the game, Ohio State ranks No. 3 in the nation in scoring and No. 8 in scoring defense—a potent combination.

Michigan, on the other hand, is limping toward the finish line this season, having lost four of its last six games. The Wolverines haven't been impressive in many aspects of the game this year, ranking in the middle of the pack in most offensive and defensive statistical categories. 

Clearly, Ohio State is heavily favored to win, but anything can happen once the whistle blows and players start hitting on the field. 

Here's a look at what both teams must do in order to secure the victory on Saturday. 

 

Ohio State: Get Carlos Hyde Going Early

One of the things Michigan does do well is stop the run. The Wolverines come into the game with the nation's No. 14-ranked run defense, allowing 116.4 yards per game, but more importantly only 3.23 yards per carry and nine total touchdowns. 

There will be big plays to be found in the passing game for Braxton Miller, but the Buckeyes must establish Carlos Hyde early in the game to demoralize Michigan's defense. 

Chipping away at the strength of Michigan's defense will make things easier for the rest of the offense.

Hyde has been phenomenal this season, popping off 7.7 yards per attempt while totaling 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns. His physical running style wears down defensive lines and linebackers, opening up huge plays downfield for the offense on play-action passes.

 

Michigan: Harass Braxton Miller Into Mistakes

If Ohio State plays turnover-free football, then Michigan doesn't have much of a chance to win this game.

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Braxton Miller has done a fine job protecting the ball all season long, throwing just four interceptions.

His agility in the pocket—combined with his size, strength and speed—makes him difficult to pressure, which is why he's been sacked just 12 times this season. 

This lack of consistent pressure has a lot to do with Miller's lack of turnovers, and the Wolverines must really turn up the heat this Saturday to change this trend. 

 

Ohio State: Shut Down Fitz Toussaint

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

In addition to creating turnovers, another way Michigan can wreak havoc on Ohio State on Saturday is by keeping the Buckeyes offense off the field.

Controlling the clock with Fitz Toussaint will be key for Michigan to steal a win on the road, which means Ohio State must first and foremost shut him down.

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Toussaint has had to work hard for his yardage this season, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. He suffered a concussion a couple of weeks ago and wasn't utilized heavily in the game leading up to this one. 

But Toussaint has been Michigan's workhorse all year long. He's carried the ball 22-plus times on four occasions this year, and he's scored 11 touchdowns to lead the Wolverines. 

If he gets going, then Ohio State will be in danger of being upset at home. Conversely, if he's shut down, then the Buckeyes will almost surely win. 

 

Michigan: Devin Gardner Must Play His Best Game of the Year

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The wild card in this game is Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner. 

Touted as a potential Heisman Trophy favorite before the season began, 2013 has been a bitter season for Gardner, who has struggled as the leader of Michigan's offense. 

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He's struggled with accuracy issues all year long, completing just 58.7 percent of his passes, throwing 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. As a runner, Gardner has also been stymied, and he's averaged just three yards per carry.

A huge game on Saturday would turn his frown upside down, though, and it could also spur Michigan to a huge upset over its Big Ten rival. 

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

 

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