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Breaking down #9 Ohio State at #17 Michigan
Break down Ohio State vs. Michigan
Known simply in Columbus, Ann Arbor and everywhere in between as “The Game”, Ohio State and Michigan meet again in the regular season finale for both teams. And, as is usually the case, the stakes are very high.
The Buckeyes can only claim a share of the Big 10 crown and will be guaranteed a spot in one of the BCS’s big games with a win. The Wolverines, who were thought to have been reduced to a pure spoiler role, have climbed back into the conference race. The turning point of the Wolverines’ season must have been when Chad Henne threw a touchdown pass on the final play of the game against Penn State to knock them out of the undefeated ranks a month ago.
If that pass is incomplete, Michigan falls to 3-4 and this week’s game, while still their biggest of the year, would be more about Wolverines pride than aspiration.
They not only need to emerge victorious on Saturday, but would also need in-state rival Michigan State to pull off an unlikely upset against Penn State later in the afternoon to grab a chunk of the conference honors.
Both teams come into this game playing their best football of the season, Ohio State’s offense has racked up 40 points over the past four games, after quarterback Troy Smith struggled to lead the attack, only to look nearly flawless after his grip on the starting job. slipped away. Thanks to this, everyone around him improved.
Michigan, on the other hand, moved the ball better behind sophomore signalman Henne, and that maligned defense even stops the opposition with regularity. The wins over Iowa, Northwest, and Indiana are nice (only the IU win was uncompetitive), but remember, Ohio State DESTROYED those three teams by a combined score of 120-23.
Both teams will want to establish the running game, and they have the back to do so, Antonio Pittman of Ohio State and the combination of Jason Hart and Kevin Grady of Michigan. I’m giving the Buckeyes the lead, as Smith is also a ground threat, while Henne is your classic passer. If the Wolverines are forced into second and third and long, Henne and a sometimes shaky offensive line will have added pressure on them (literally) and those Ohio State linebackers led by AJ Hawk could feast on him all day.
Last year with essentially the same lineups, Smith went wild for 145 yards and a score and threw for two more in the Buckeyes’ 37-21 win at Columbus. Michigan linebackers and safeties will sometimes have to blitz it to force quick decisions, which leaves one-on-one coverage against a trio of talented receivers.
The Wolverines secondary has been their defensive force all year, and they will be tested here. With Smith becoming a better passer, coach Jim Tressel gave him more downfield opportunities to Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn.
I give Ohio State a small overall advantage on offense because I think Henne has improved since his early-season woes. He can do damage with his receivers, Jason Avant and Steve Breaston, but he will need more time to throw than I think he will get on Saturday.
But the Buckeyes’ biggest advantage lies on defense, where they physically beat teams and wore them down in the second half.
On special teams, both teams have dangerous returning men. Ginn and Breaston can both change the game in seconds. Both coverage teams will be under fire, and bettors would be best advised to steer clear of these guys, even out of bounds if they can without a shan king.
The home crowd probably gives the Wolverines their only edge, but I still don’t think that’s enough. Notre Dame and Minnesota both emerged victorious from Michigan Stadium, and the Buckeyes are better overall than either team. History tells us that Michigan controlled this series at The Big House, but Ohio State wins this one with a brutal display on D.
Ohio State 24 Michigan 13
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