No. 19 Michigan at Ohio State
Saturday, 12:00 p.m., ABC
Line: Ohio State -3.5
The Big Game may not be quite up to the magnitude of 2006's historic No. 1 vs. No. 2, but any time Michigan and Ohio State get together it is worth paying attention to. This year's edition of the storied Big Ten rivalry brings a unique twist to the series, with Ohio State looking to cap an undefeated season with no chance of playing for a Big Ten championship or in a bowl game. Michigan would love to hand their rivals the first loss of the season, but the Wolverines could also be playing for a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, next week in Indianapolis against Wisconsin, if things work out in their favor Friday.
If Nebraska should happen to slip up at Iowa Friday, a Michigan win would send the Wolverines to the Big Ten championship game. To do so against the undefeated Buckeyes would make it all that much sweeter.
For Michigan to win: Michigan's offense needs to be in sync early with so many variables going on. With no Fitzgerald Toussaint at running back it is likely Brady Hoke will call on Robinson to handle some running duties with Devin Gardner again leading the offense at quarterback, and sophomore running back Thomas Rawls could be given some handoffs as well. The Wolverines have generally been slow to start in terms of scoring this season, averaging just 4.7 points per first quarter this season (88th in the nation).
For Ohio State to win: Braxton Miller will lead the Buckeyes, but try to make sure he doesn't have to be Superman in the process. Don't get me wrong, Miller is more than capable of putting on the red cape if and when needed, but Ohio State would be in better shape if they can get running back Carlos Hyde in rhythm and receivers Corey Brown and Devin Smith are mixing it up against Michigan's Big Ten leading pass defense. The big key in this game might be the special teams, which appears to be a clear advantage for the Buckeyes.
Michigan's special teams defense ranks 115th in the nation in opponent field goals per game. The Wolverines have allowed 21 touchdowns this season, second fewest in the Big Ten (five were allowed to Alabama in week one), which means teams are having to settle for field goals more often. Ohio State has attempted just six field goals this season, converting on four. The Buckeyes also lead the Big Ten in punt return touchdowns, with three. Michigan has punted just 37 times this season, fewest in the Big Ten, so opportunities to change the momentum of the game could be rare for the Buckeyes. Taking advantage of any opportunity presented could be critical.
Key Player, Michigan: We're going to keep this one simple. It is Denard Robinson for Michigan. Robinson is the leading passer and rusher for Michigan and last week Brady Hoke showed a few new wrinkles by using Robinson's legs in a variety of ways not just restricted to under center. Robinson started the game at running back, with Devin Gardner leading the offense at quarterback (quite successfully as well). Robinson led the ground game with 98 rushing yards and even caught a pair of passes for 24 yards. If nothing else, it gives Luke Fickell something to think about this week in game-planning the defensive schemes. Robinson was not going to win this game with his passing in all likelihood, but being able to have him add some versatility to the Michigan offense, if used properly, could make for an interesting match-up against a defense that has at times shown to be vulnerable (although lately Ohio State's defense has been playing well)
Key Player: Ohio State: This is the Braxton Miller show for a reason. He is everything Denard Robinson has been for Michigan, but better. He has more passing yards, a higher completion percentage, more touchdowns and fewer interceptions and he has just as much of a chance to break loose on a big run as Robinson. Miller may still have some room to grow as a passer, as most sophomores will, which makes next season look a little extra scary when you start to look at Ohio State in 2013. This being the final game of the season for the Buckeyes though, we should expect to see a solid performance from Ohio State's quarterback.
Miller will be facing the top pass defense in the Big Ten, with Michigan holding opponents to 1,673 passing yards and just 11 touchdowns, but the Wolverines have just seven interceptions this year, second fewest in the conference.
Key Stat: Michigan has not won a game in The horseshoe since 2000, and the Wolverines have won in Columbus just three times dating back to 1990. In their last two trips to Columbus, Michigan has been outscored by a combined 79-14. And you wonder why Ohio State fans would have supported an extended tenure of Rich Rodriguez.
Kevin McGuire is the national college football writer for Examiner.com and host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast.
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