A lot is on the line for both teams in their traditional Thanksgiving-weekend rivalry game. The Wolverines need a win and a Nebraska loss on Friday against Iowa to earn a berth in the Big Ten Championship game. The unbeaten Buckeyes are ineligible for both the Big Ten Championship game and a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions, so beating archrival Michigan would be the highlight of their season.
The Ohio State Offense: The Buckeyes may be unbeaten, but last week’s game with Wisconsin may have given the Michigan coaching staff some ideas about how to beat their arch nemesis. Ohio State scored just two touchdowns, both by RB Carlos Hyde, and racked up just 236 yards of offense. Hyde is clearly the hot hand on the Buckeyes offense at present, with over 650 rushing yards and 14 TDs in the team’s last six games. Given that the team’s passing offense ranks 102nd nationally, establishing the run is going to be crucial, whether with Hyde or QB Braxton Miller. Miller is the team’s leading rusher with 1,214 yards, to go along with his 14 TDs and 6 INTs.
The Ohio State Defense: The Buckeyes’ D went through a rough patch mid-season, but that’s in the rearview mirror at this point. They’ve allowed just over 20 points per game in their last four games, and that includes road games at Penn State and Wisconsin. They have a big job this week slowing down a Michigan offense that has two very capable quarterbacks and may very well have both of them on the field at once for at least some snaps. Denard Robinson is likely to be much more of a threat to run than pass, having sustained an elbow injury three weeks ago, but Devin Gardner is a true dual-threat. Both will have to be contained, probably by putting extra men in the box.
The Michigan Offense: Michigan suffered a big loss on offense last week when junior running back Fitz Toussaint went down with what appeared to be a broken leg. Needless to say, his season is over. However, the emergence of former wide receiver Devin Gardner as a quarterback and Denard Robinson as a slash QB/RB/WR mitigate the loss of Toussaint substantially. Gardner is clearly the more accurate passer of the two, but Robinson may be the most dangerous scrambler in the college game. The Wolverines have a tough, talented line as junior tackle Taylor Lewan could be a high NFL draft pick in the spring- and freshman tight end Devin Funchess has emerged as a receiving threat as well as a solid blocker. Wide receiver Jeremy Gallon could be in line for another big day after a career-high 133 yards against Iowa. Sophomore Thomas Rawls will get the start at Running back for the injured Touissant.
The Michigan Defense: Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has high expectations for his players. It’s not a flashy defense and they are not ranked near the top in sacks or Interceptions- but they do stop the run extremely well, and are 17th in the country in points allowed. Sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan has emerged as the go-to guy in the front seven. In the backfield, watch for senior safety Jordan Kovacs, a former walk-on who will look to make a statement in his last chance to play in this rivalry game.
Prediction: This is the first game I’ve previewed all year where I really don’t have a gut feeling about what’s going to go down, other than that I expect it to be close. I’ll take a shot in the dark, Michigan 23 Ohio State 20
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