Creature Vs. Creature: Michigan's Room for Error is Very Small
Here it is, the game that they call The Game. Two powerhouse Big-10 rivals renew their annual battle of wills.
We have programs that share hated respect for each other, each knowing that when they line up across from each other, it's going to be a war.
Renewed is the thought that the Big-10 Championship goes through Ann Arbor or Columbus every year on one weekend in November...Wait.
It's not this year?
Technically, it sort of is with a share of the title on the line for Ohio State, but this year, we don't have the magnitude of year's past games have.
The talk is surrounding marquee matchups like Texas Tech's test in Norman against the Sooners or the super important Mountain West game that tests Utah's undefeated season against rival BYU.
The Game is still rather intriguing, but not really important. This comes in a year that the Iron Bowl might be just as much of an afterthought.
I do know a group of people that don't share that sentiment though, aside from ESPN who seemingly doesn't know Michigan has been god-awful, despite their constant reminders about how Michigan has lost the most games in their storied history.
The fans of course. Michigan fans might be aware of the inevitable, but when the calendar showed the date November 16th, I'm pretty sure most of them got a little bit of hope. Hey, maybe we can make something out of this awful year.
Of course, Ohio State and their fans would love nothing more than to continue their streak and do something they haven't done in the history of the rivalry. Win five times in a row and give two senior classes an undefeated mark against the Maize and Blue.
So do tell, does Michigan actually have a chance, or will this truly be an afterthought?
Michigan will win if...
They say their prayers the night before.
I promise that this will be one of the mandatory jokes towards the inferior talent of Michigan.
But seriously now, does anyone in their right-mind think that Michigan can win this game based off talent and effort?
No, they won't and they need something more than that.
They'll need a little bit of good old fashioned luck and fortune.
Things certainly would be a easier for Michigan if they can get some lucky breaks, or rather some bad weather that can help aid the defense in defending the Ohio State passing attack.
Michigan actually already has a little bit of luck on their side and it has to do with statistics.
See Michigan's total offense is definitely the worst in the conference. Fortunately their passing game isn’t the worst in the Big-10 statistically. That title goes to the Buckeyes. However they've been considerably better with Terrelle Pryor, who leads all Big-10 quarterbacks in passing efficiency.
Luck, fortune, good bounces and the hope Ohio State makes some mistakes that you can take advantage of. I can see we already are off to a fabulous start for the Wolverines.
Michigan plays an all-around complete game, limits mistakes, and executes the right game plan as perfectly as they can.
Sounds like a mission statement and sadly the previous key was a joke and this one was not.
Michigan is in one of those positions as an overall team where they need to play just about as flawless as possible against teams not named Ohio State or Penn State.
That means when it comes to even thinking about pulling the mega-upset, the offense, defense, and most importantly, special teams, all need to play near perfect football.
Offensively they need to lean heavily on their stable of running backs, the healthy ones that is, to take the pressure off of starter Nick Sheridan.
Oh and they have to keep the ball out of the hands of Nick Sheridan. Thanks for the reminder.
Sheridan will no doubt have to make some throws, which he might or might not be able to do. What does that tell you at this point in the season when you don't know what to expect from your starter?
Sam McGuffie, if healthy, Brandon Minor, if healthy, and Carlos Brown, once again, if healthy, all need to be involved early. Michigan has to find the hot hand in the backfield and ride their performance the best they can.
A little bit of Justin Feagin might not be the worst idea in the world as well.
Defensively, the Wolverines need to flex the muscle that they've shown in a few games this year. We know what they are capable of if they play tough, but they also can't be hung out to try in the field position battle.
Brandon Graham will need to pressure Pryor as best he can and the Terrence Taylor led rush defense will need to limit the impact of Chris Wells. Let's be honest, you can't really stop him outright, you just need to minimize the damage.
However, the most important key to a Michigan win would have to be special teams. Zoltan Mesko is the best punter in the conference, both numbers-wise and in talent. Michigan will almost definitely punt the ball and he needs to be a weapon by not giving the Buckeye's an extra inch of field position.
They also have to be smart with the football. I'm looking at you Martavious Odoms, don't turn the football over! A few good returns wouldn't hurt either. The return game might be one of the few facets of the game that Michigan is better than Ohio State at.
Why is that?
Simply put, they've had plenty of practice.
They play with nothing to lose.
Yes that mean's getting tricky.
Let's see some of that Rich Rodriguez crafty play calling. You have nothing to lose at this point so you are going to have to take some chances at some point in this game.
Be smart about when you do it, but you must take a few risky chances.
If that means a few reverses or some weird half-back pass with Carlos Brown. So be it, but you better do it at some point.
Michigan will lose if...
They commit more than one turnover.
I think this is rather obvious.
If they turn the ball over and put their defense in bad spots, then they don't stand a chance at even making it a close game.
They might have a margin of error of one if they create a turnover, but other than that they have to protect the football. That means Odoms can't fumble the kickoffs or punts and Nick Sheridan can't throw picks.
Aww, who am I kidding?
Nick, you are taking a beating in this one my friend, and if you prove me wrong I'll kiss your feet.
The offense doesn't run the option effectively.
That doesn't necessarily mean gaining large chunks of yards. It means at least not losing yardage by failed reads by the signal caller.
I'm not sure if Nick Sheridan will go streaking by James Laurinaitis like he did at several points in this season, but he needs to be able to get a few runs to stay out of third and long.
I'll skip the last Sheridan insult and say that the Wolverines need to control their offense. People can complain about it and why it's being run without the proper talent, but that's the hand you are dealt.
Due to the weather, we might see more power running, but the option will be used at points in this game and it doesn't need to be largely successful, just not disastrously bad.
The X Factor
That would be none other than the man with the second most sacks and forced fumbles in the conference, Brandon Graham.
In order to create points, the Michigan defense might need to help out the offense. Scratch that, they will most definitely have to help out the offense.
That means causing turnovers and giving the offense easier opportunities to put points on the board.
Brandon Graham has to be the man to do that. Pryor might be tough to catch at times, but it wouldn't hurt to catch him off-guard.
Special mention to John Thompson, who has caused four turnovers of his own this year. He'll also have the task of trying to keep Pryor in the pocket.
This will either be a massacre or a hard fought game till the final whistle. It could get ugly early if the Wolverines don't come out and play defense early or if they try and get too crazy on offense.
They most definitely must take risks, but if they do it early and it backfires, then as we saw with South Carolina against Florida, it will get bad.
The Michigan defense has the ability to keep their team in the game if the offense doesn't put them in bad spots. But the offense doesn't have the ability to win the game if they are called upon.
That in the end will probably be Michigan's doom. They could keep it close, but they won't win this game
It tells you something that the "Will win if" part of this article is longer than the "Will lose if" part. Michigan has to do a lot to win, but not that much to lose.
Best case scenario is they win the game. Positive scenario, they keep it within two scores.
Michigan 13, Ohio State 24
For the Ohio State perspective, read Kristofer Green's article.
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