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 Ohio State must do to stay in the game against Michigan:
1. Keep Braxton Miller Comfortable
Many see the Buckeyes’ freshman quarterback as a younger, more inexperienced 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 the offensive game plan caters to Miller’s skills, the more he can continue to get his feet under him with short, easy passes.
2. Keep the Crowd Out of the Game
Following Braxton Miller’s 54-yard touchdown bomb to a wide open Corey Brown, you’d never heard 110,000-plus fans so quiet. No surprise there.
But if Miller and the Buckeyes' offense are able to put together some long, sustained drives and the defense is able to keep Denard Robinson and company in check, the Michigan Stadium crowd will get more and more frustrated.
3. Get Boom Herron Rolling
Yes, tailback Dan Herron missed the first six games of the season due to suspension. But the punishing senior has averaged over 111 yards a game on the ground and is capable of being a real workhorse.
So how does a player like that get just 28 yards so far in a game of this magnitude?
Yes, Michigan’s front seven has played fairly well to this point, but Herron needs to get the ball more, which will eat up clock and take some of the pressure off the freshman quarterback.
4. Keep the Play-Calling Aggressive
We’ve seen a largely different offensive attack thus far from the Ohio State offense.
Throwing the ball on first down? Not relying on the run to set up the pass? Showing confidence in Miller getting the ball downfield?
As an aside, 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.
But the aggressive play-calling has kept the Michigan defense on its heels, and Miller, while not being perfect, hasn’t made any mistakes. The more the offense can move that ball in non-traditional ways—non-traditional, at least, for the Buckeyes—the more successful they’re going to be in keeping the Wolverines' defense guessing.
5. Focus Their Emotions on the Field
Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell has had a rough go from the beginning. Named to replace disgraced former leader Jim Tressel on May 30, Fickell has had a lot of success with a very much rebuilding Buckeyes roster.
Now six months later, Fickell appears to be on the verge of being replaced by another huge coaching name, Urban Meyer, who rumors suggest could be named the new Buckeyes coach as early as Sunday.
Forget Fickell, whose lame-duck emotions must be all over the place. But the Ohio State players are probably feeling some combination of confusion, uncertainty and a lack of control throughout this silliness.
What they can control, though, is how they play out on the field. And if they focus those emotions on getting their jobs done on the field and giving their all for their current coach, that’s the most productive thing they can do.
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