Michigan Wolverines vs. Ohio State Buckeyes Complete Game Preview
Last week Michigan (5-6, 3-4 Big Ten) entered the fourth quarter leading 16-9 at home versus Maryland. It appeared that Brady Hoke had his team on track to win its third straight game and clinch a bowl berth. But Maryland (7-4, 4-3) rallied to score two touchdowns and prevailed 23-16.
The loss dropped Michigan below .500 with only one game left to play. Michigan heads to Columbus and needs to beat Ohio State (10-1, 7-0 Big Ten) to go bowling. Michigan’s season will end if Ohio State wins, and Hoke will most likely be fired shortly thereafter. A Michigan victory would extend its season and allow the team valuable practice time it desperately needs to prepare for next season—no matter who the coach is.
Michigan will face a motivated Ohio State team. Coach Urban Meyer needs a big victory to put the Buckeyes in position to make the inaugural College Football Playoff. Winning isn't enough; Ohio State needs to dominate with style and put lots of points on the scoreboard to impress the playoff committee.
A Michigan victory would reignite a rivalry that has grown dormant in recent years (since 2001, OSU is 10-2).
Brady Hoke will need the absolute best that his Michigan Men can muster to have any chance to prevail.
Date: Saturday, November 29, 2014
Time: Noon ET
Place: Ohio Stadium (104,944) Columbus, Ohio
Series vs. Ohio State: Michigan leads series 58-46-6
Radio: Michigan Sports Network, Sirius (113), XM (195)
Spread: Ohio State by 20 via Odds Shark
Live Stats: Gametracker
Last Meeting vs. Ohio State
Last season, after three quarters Michigan trailed Ohio State 35-21 before quarterback Devin Gardner engineered an epic fourth-quarter comeback at Michigan Stadium. Michigan scored 20 fourth-quarter points before failing on a two-point conversion attempt that would have put the Wolverines ahead with 32 seconds to play.
Gardner played with a foot injury that would force him to miss the team's bowl game. The 42-41 loss capped a disappointing 1-4 month of November for Michigan and was the beginning of a collapse that has continued through this season.
*Information according to University of Michigan Wolverine Football game notes.
The video above has highlights from Michigan's 42-41 loss versus Ohio State last season at Michigan Stadium.
Michigan Keys to Victory
Quarterback Time Machine
When he’s healthy Devin Gardner has the physical tools to be a top quarterback, but his decision-making ability is broken. He’s a shadow of the player who dominated Notre Dame and nearly upset Ohio State last season.
Brady Hoke needs Gardner to be the player he once was—a swashbuckling runner with a big arm. Last season Gardner pushed the Buckeyes to the brink. Hoke needs that player back to have any chance to upset Ohio State this season.
Run the Ball
Michigan will need to grind the clock down and keep the Ohio State offense on the bench to have a chance to win. The running game has shown signs of life behind an offensive line that continues to improve. The key will be whether Devin Gardner can scramble for big plays when the receivers are covered.
Both Drake Johnson and De’Veon Smith need to have big games while limiting turnovers. But if the Michigan running attack can’t get on track then Gardner will start passing, and this one could get ugly fast.
Michigan has struggled to make big plays all season. Last game versus Maryland a punt return for a touchdown was called back on a penalty, and a huge defensive stop was negated by a roughing-the-kicker penalty. On offense wide receiver Devin Funchess hasn’t been the deep threat he was last season, and Dennis Norfleet has been ineffective running trick plays.
With its season (and Hoke’s job) on the line Michigan needs big plays on offense, defense and special teams to beat Ohio State.
Ohio State Keys to Victory
Make Gardner Pass
Bad things happen for Michigan when fifth-year senior Devin Gardner passes the ball. Ohio State needs to contain his scrambling ability and force him to air the ball out.
Rev Up the Offense
The Michigan offense has been stuck in neutral since after its season opener versus Appalachian State. If Ohio State can put points up early Michigan won’t be able to keep up. Devin Gardner doesn’t have the accuracy to go downfield on a consistent basis. If Ohio State can impose a brutal offensive tempo, it can wear down the Michigan defense and pull away.
This rivalry can stoke passions that spill over on the field of play. Ohio State needs to be careful to not extend Michigan drives with ill-timed penalties. Bad penalties could also result in Ohio State losing players for future games: Michigan’s season is probably over after this game, while Ohio State needs to play on and can't afford to lose players because of suspensions.
Michigan Players to Watch
Wide Receiver Devin Funchess
Funchess came into the season touted as a potential first-round NFL draft pick but has been all but invisible for many games. A huge performance versus Ohio State could boost his pro prospects if he decides to forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft.
Running Back Drake Johnson
Drake Johnson has emerged as the top option at running back in the wake of Derrick Green’s injury. Brady Hoke needs him to have a career game versus Ohio State. Johnson played in the shadow of Michigan Stadium, and his mother is a Michigan cheerleading coach—he understands how important a victory over Ohio State would be.
Defensive Back Blake Countess
Last season Countess had a great game versus Ohio State, and Michigan needs that type of performance again to beat the Buckeyes. He is struggling to regain last season's form (six interceptions, 169 return yards). Countess finally appears to have recovered from offseason surgery and may be poised to show why he was picked to the wear the No. 2 jersey.
Ohio State Players to Watch
Quarterback J.T. Barrett
J.T. Barrett (190-of-293 for 2,658 yards, 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions) has completely replaced the injured Braxton Miller. In addition to being a dangerous passer he's also the team's second-leading rusher (156 carries for 849 yards, nine touchdowns). Barrett has had a stellar freshman campaign, having been honored with awards either by the Big Ten or nationally after seven of his 10 starts this season.
Running Back Ezekiel Elliott
Ezekiel Elliott (180 carries for 1061 yards and eight touchdowns) complements the Ohio State passing attack. Elliott has five 100-yard games and also is also dangerous out of the backfield with 25 receptions for 201 yards.
Linebacker Joshua Perry
Perry's (99 tackles, 58 solo) role at linebacker is to follow and attack the ball. Perry ranks seventh in the Big Ten with 99 tackles and has three games with 10 tackles or more.
What They’re Saying
Michigan head coach Brady Hoke via mgoblue.com:
[On the rivalry] I think the passion that both Ohio people or Michigan fans bring. There's such great passion, and the atmosphere of this game and the respect that both teams have had for each other…And overall, you always know it's on that last Saturday in November. You can feel the bigness of it; it's a special game.
It's a fun week. That doesn't make sense to some people, probably. But, for both teams, this is truly an honor and a privilege to play in this game or coach in this game. It is the game. It's the greatest rivalry there is.
It's the biggest rivalry in all of sports. The last Saturday in November, going back to your home state, in front of a lot of people that don't like you anymore. It's definitely a meaningful game. You can throw out the records, you can throw out what the point difference is. It's a football game, it's played just like every other football game."
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer via Marcus Hartman of Fox Sports Ohio:
I want the players to take ownership in the program, part ownership in the game. This is not another game. This is The Game. So it is different around here. I want to have some fun with it. Sing the fight song in the locker room after a win against your rival. That's how you have fun.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, per Hartman:
I know I'm kind of going on and on, but it's a huge deal here. And it's something that has always been a huge deal. As long as I can remember, this game is The Game.
Ohio State 31, Michigan 19
Michigan avoids getting blown out, but the rivalry continues to suffer as Ohio State wins again. The hammer and nail aren’t rivals—with Hoke likely on the way out, Michigan’s next coach will need to beat Ohio State for the "The Game" to truly matter again.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand. All season statistics are from the official University of Michigan athletic department website or the official Ohio State website.