It’s the game.
No, not “the game.” The Game.
The 17th-ranked Michigan Wolverines (9-2, 5-2 in Big Ten) are playing host to the arch-rival Ohio State Buckeyes (6-5, 3-4) at the Big House in the teams’ 108th all-time meeting.
And despite the coaching turmoil in Columbus with Urban Meyer reportedly set to be named the new Buckeyes’ head man as early as Sunday…and new Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s attempt to end the Wolverines’ seven-game skid against the hated team from Ohio and secure a big-time bowl matchup…hey, there’s an actual game being played out on the field.
After two hard-fought quarters, here are four things Michigan must do to stay in the game against Ohio State.
1. Contain and Pressure Braxton Miller
Many see the Buckeyes’ freshman quarterback as a younger, less experienced, yet perhaps more talented version of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. He’s a dynamic athlete with a great arm who can run the ball, but he’s had trouble with both his accuracy and decision-making when he throws, completing just 48 percent of his passes coming into today’s matchup with the Wolverines.
The more Greg Mattison and his defense can keep Miller between the tackles and get some pressure on him from their front seven, the harder it’s going to be for the Buckeyes’ young signal-caller.
The Wolverines have already sacked Miller and forced a holding call in the end zone, so they’ve been fairly successful to this point. But they’ll have to stay focused, because Miller, like Robinson, is capable of breaking off a huge run at any moment (see: Miller’s 24-yard scramble to convert an important third-down play on Ohio State’s field-goal drive early in the second quarter; see: Miller’s 19-yard touchdown run).
2. Stuff the Ohio State Run
Did you know that Army and Navy are the only worse passing teams in Division I-A than Ohio State?
Did you know that there are single players who have more catches than Ohio State does as a team?
So how is Ohio State going to try to move the ball? Well, probably on the ground.
If Michigan is able to contain the rushing of Miller and Boom Herron and force Miller to throw the ball, they’re likely to force him into mistakes. They haven’t stuffed them yet, but they’ll need to in the second half.
3. Get the Running Game Going
Remember last week when the Wolverines spanked Nebraska by rushing for 238 yards total, 138 of them by Fitz Toussaint, who added two scores for good measure?
Yeah, that was awesome.
Yes, Denard has already scampered for a 41-yard score, but offensive coordinator Al Borges needs to keep mixing up the play-calling and get the Wolverines moving on the ground.
Of course, that’s also dependent on the offensive line opening up the proper holes and the runners finding them.
4. Dominate the Offensive Trenches
Last week against Nebraska, the Michigan front five absolutely dominated the Huskers' front seven, opening up monster-truck-sized holes for Robinson, Toussaint and others.
They’ve done pretty well so far against the Buckeyes, but that domination needs to continue for Michigan to run the ball effectively and for Denard to have the time he needs to make good decisions and throw the ball.
5. Win the Turnover Battle
Michigan, for the first time in years against Ohio State, is the better team. The Wolverines should win this game.
But they can definitely lose it.
How? By turning the ball over.
Denard Robinson has struggled much of the season with bad decisions, bad throws and bad interceptions, though he’s been less sloppy in recent weeks. He’s also put the ball on the ground twice, turning it over once after getting popped on a third-down run. That fumble led to the go-ahead score for Ohio.
Borges’s play-calling has been relatively conservative to this point, which is wise. But as long as Denard can avoid those bad throws and avoid giving the Buckeyes easy scoring chances, the Wolverines should win The Game for the first time in seven years.