Ohio State vs. Michigan: Running Games Will Be Key During Saturday's Rivalry

Tim Keeney@@t_keenContributor INovember 29, 2013

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 05: Fitzgerald Toussaint #28 of the Michigan Wolverines runs eight yards for a first quarter touchdown during the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Michigan Stadium on October 5, 2013 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

The general consensus is that one of the premier rivalries in all of college sports won't look like much of a rivalry at all on Saturday. 

Usually a contest with massive Big Ten or national-championship implications (because of the IMPLICATIONS), Ohio State vs. Michigan is expected to resemble Manny Pacquiao vs. Brandon Rios. The Buckeyes, per Covers.com, are favored by more than two touchdowns, and experts are giving the Wolverines "no shot." 

Sprinkle in the facts that No. 3 OSU is still trying to impress those darn BCS computers by embarrassing opponents and Michigan is an awful 1-3 in its past four, and it's hard to even dream up a scenario where an upset might occur. 

So, how can the Wolverines turn The Game into, you know, a game?

The broad, simple recipe to most upsets, especially when the favorite boasts such an explosive offense (the Buckeyes average 46 points and 524.7 yards per game, both top-10 marks in the country), is to take the air out of the ball, control the time-of-possession battle and force some turnovers.

Brady Hoke seemed to suggest a similar feeling, not exactly expressing confidence in his team's chances should the game turn into a shootout:

Establishing the run game is good way to avoid high-scoring games. 

Of course, that may be easier said than done for the Wolverines, who, according to TeamRankings.com, are averaging a meager 3.2 yards per carry—good (bad) enough for 112th in America.

Still, with Devin Gardner under center and Fitzgerald Toussaint at running back, they certainly have the weapons to break off big plays in the run game. 

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 05:  Fitzgerald Toussaint #28 of the Michigan Wolverines runs for a first down as Derrick Wells #13 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers attempts to make the stop during the third quarter of the game at Michigan Stadium on October 5, 20
Leon Halip/Getty Images

During Michigan's first seven games, Brady Hoke's team went 6-1, averaging 4.12 yards per carry and 181.1 yards per game on the ground. 

In their four November games (1-3 record), they are averaging—you may want to sit down for this. And if you're sitting, you might want to find someone to hold—1.06 YPC and 32.5 yards per contest. Team rushing numbers include quarterback stats, but still. The Wolverines' inability to run the ball has correlated with losses. 

Things aren't about to get any easier, either, as the Buckeyes give up just 2.9 yards per carry (third-lowest mark in America) and will return starting linebacker Curtis Grant on Saturday. 

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 23:  Adolphus Washington #92 of the Ohio State Buckeyes and Noah Spence #8 of the Ohio State Buckeyes gang up to stop D'Angelo Roberts #20 of the Indiana Hoosiers at the line of scrimmage in the third quarter at Ohio Stadium on Nov
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Throwing the ball will undoubtedly be important in opening up the Ohio State defense, but if the Wolverines want to have any chance of scoring an upset, they will have to find a way to move the ball on the ground and remain multi-dimensional. 

Moreover, on the other side of the ball, Michigan is presented with a similar problem.

The Buckeyes, behind Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller, are averaging a nation-best 6.8 yards per rush. They run the ball, per TeamRankings.com, over 61 percent of the time and carve out over 300 yards on the ground per game. 

CHAMPAIGN, IL - NOVEMBER 16: Braxton Miller #5 of the Ohio State Buckeyes is hit by Zane Petty #21 of the Illinois Fighting Illini after running for a first down at Memorial Stadium on November 16, 2013 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Ge
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Defensively, however, the Wolverines have been stout, giving up just 3.2 yards per carry, and have the speed to contain Miller's dual-threat ability. 

If both teams run the ball like they have for most of the season, this one will be as lopsided as most are expecting. But upsets or near-upsets are often the product of teams reversing trends, and for that reason, the ground game holds the key in making this rivalry resemble a rivalry. 


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