Photo courtesy of MCT
For the first time in several years, Ohio State comes into “The Game” as underdogs and with, seemingly, very little to play for. But as former players Eddie George and Desmond Howard said Sunday night, for the OSU-Michigan game, everything goes out the window.
To achieve an upset against the No. 15 Michigan team and hand them their third loss of the season, the Buckeyes will have to play inspired football at the Big House.
The Michigan defense is stronger this year than it has been in several years — improving from 108th nationally in total defense last year to 14th this far in 2011. Most of that is due to the change in defense from a 3-3-5 to a 4-3 or 5-2.
The defense has also proven to be ball-hawks, forcing 26 turnovers for tops in the Big Ten and 11th nationally. The offense cannot afford to turn the ball over this week.
Against the run, the Wolverines give up an average of 128.4 yards-per-game. However, with another 200-plus yards rushing against Penn State last weekend, the Buckeyes have proven they can run on anybody. Senior running back Daniel “Boom” Herron is averaging more than 119 yards and a touchdown per game in his career against “that team up north.” Big players have big games — and Herron is about as big of a player as the Buckeyes have this season.
Being in the final week of the regular season, quarterback Braxton Miller is now closer to a sophomore than a freshman. He is the key to OSU’s other big-time playmaker, senior wide receiver DeVier Posey, getting his hands on the ball. If Miller can play up to or near the same level as Michigan’s Denard Robinson, the Buckeyes will have a chance.
Plain and simple, the defense is much more effective with senior linebacker Andrew Sweat in the lineup. Missing for much of the Purdue game and the entire Penn State game with a concussion, his presence has proven more impactful than he was given credit for early in the season. If Sweat has any choice in the matter, he will be playing against the Wolverines, but Fickell called his chances “questionable.”
Regardless of whether Sweat plays, freshman Ryan Shazier will be in the lineup this week after another big performance that garnered Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said Shazier is going to be an “unbelievable” linebacker, and will need to play above his years again this week to stop the Michigan rushing attack that averages 231.1 yards-per-game.
The key to “The Game” is big plays. The defense needs to make the plays, such as sacks or forcing turnovers, and not surrender them.
Sophomore kicker Drew Basil didn’t have an opportunity to get back on the horse last week against Penn State after missing his first extra point of the season against Purdue. Should “The Game” turn out to be a low-scoring defensive contest, the Buckeyes may be counting on Basil to nail down some important points.
Junior punter Ben Buchanan, having a fantastic and unselfish season, will need finish strong by helping the Buckeyes control the field position battle.
The coverage units have been steady all season long and will need to do so once again this week, though Michigan has less-than-stellar return men.
The coaches on both sidelines are fully aware of what this rivalry means despite the fact that both Brady Hoke of Michigan and Luke Fickell of OSU are first-year coaches.
As a former OSU player, Fickell should know how to fire up the troops and get them to play at the best of their abilities. As he said at his weekly press conference, this is now a one-game season. With questions surrounding his job security, adding OSU’s eighth-straight win in “The Game” and a winning record on the season would be a big positive.