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Ohio State vs. Michigan: Wolverines That Must Step Up to Pull Shocking Upset

EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 02:  Devin Gardner #98 of the Michigan Wolverines looks to pass against the Michigan State Spartans in the first quarter at Spartan Stadium on November 2, 2013 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIINovember 30, 2013

The unranked Michigan Wolverines have played a shaky stretch of football in November to say the least, losing three of their previous four games in the month.

However, a chance at ultimate redemption awaits on Saturday when they welcome the BCS No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes in what is arguably college football's most heated rivalry.

For Michigan to pull off the improbable upset, spoil Ohio State's undefeated season and hand head coach Urban Meyer his first loss at the helm, the Wolverines need a few talented contributors in particular to step up.

Let's take a look at the players who hold the home team's fate in their hands in this Big Ten rivalry clash.

Note: Team statistics are courtesy of NCAA.com.

 

Devin Gardner, QB

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 05: Devin Gardner #98 of the Michigan Wolverines drops back to pass during the first quarter of the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Michigan Stadium on October 5, 2013 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Gett
Leon Halip/Getty Images

The junior signal-caller started off the season leading a prolific offense, but ever since exploding for 584 yards of total offense against Indiana, Gardner has not been the same.

A big part of Gardner's decline has been protection problems and the lack of a running game to support him, which has had to contribute to his repeated hesitancy in the pocket.

For the Wolverines to have a shot against the Buckeyes, it will take an extraordinary effort from Gardner. While he is dynamic and capable of putting on that kind of performance, the game plan must be geared toward quick reads and getting Gardner on the move.

Gardner has a lively arm and is dangerous with his feet, giving him all the tools to be a difference-maker, but he's been far too passive lately in the process of getting drilled often by both media criticism and opposing defenses.

Head coach Brady Hoke is expecting Gardner to pick up his play and bounce back from the adversity, per Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com:

Protection issues aside, the ball is in Gardner's hands. He must improvise, let his instincts and become the electric playmaker he was at the beginning of 2013 in facing a defense that yields just 4.76 yards per play.

 

Jibreel Black, DT

Nov 9, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines defensive tackle Jibreel Black (55) reacts to a fumble recovery in the second half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Michigan Stadium.  Nebraska won 17-13. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY S
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The stark contrast between Gardner's regression and his counterpart Braxton Miller's progress has been astounding, as Miller made huge strides in his accuracy, decision-making and overall feel for the game.

To get Miller out of his rhythm, it will take players like Black to knock him off his feet and pressure him from up the middle.

Black is tied for third on the team with 2.5 sacks, per CFBStats.com, and is tied for second on the Wolverines in tackles for loss with 7.5.

Even at 278 pounds, he is capable of chasing down plays on the perimeter and taking great pursuit angles. That was on display against Iowa in last week's loss:

The senior Black can grind away in the trenches and stuff the run from the inside as well. That will be key against a physical back like Carlos Hyde, while his ability to chase down the outside runs will help limit Miller on the read-option.

Ohio State is the No. 6 rushing offense in the country, so Black and Co. have to do everything possible to prevent the Buckeyes from having a devastating advantage in time of possession.

 

Derrick Green, RB

ANN ARBOR, MI - AUGUST 31: Derrick Green #27 of the Michigan Wolverines tries to escape the Jason Wilson #14 of the Central Michigan Chippewas during a third quarter run at Michigan Stadium on August 31, 2013 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Sha
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The highly touted freshman has the faculties to function as a bruiser between the tackles. Senior Fitzgerald Toussaint is more of a crafty runner who can't plow over defenders quite like Green can at 220 pounds.

Michigan is averaging a horrendous 32.5 rushing yards per game in the month of November, and to give Gardner any chance of succeeding, the Wolverines must find more balance on offense.

As reported by Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, Brady Hoke is committing to Green as the No. 1 running back for Saturday's game, with an emphasis on a "downhill" running game.

Green has a better chance to shed tackles on power running plays that Michigan will have to find room with to keep Ohio State's offense off the field.

Although part of it can be attributed to a lack of experience and that Toussaint is a senior, Green hasn't been able to get into much of a groove and use his size to wear down the opposition. In the No. 1 role this week, he has his best chance to do just that in his young, promising career.

It may be just the change-up the Wolverines need to get a big win in the Big House to cap off an otherwise disappointing month.

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