Michigan got drilled 42-7 in 2008 in the first meeting with Ohio State for a Rich Rodriguez coached bunch of Wolverines. It was 21-10 Ohio State last year -- closer and more respectable, but weather likely played a bigger role in keeping the score down than Rodriguez did.
As he approaches his third meeting with Ohio State, Rodriguez is in a very precarious place. The dominant issue is not that the hated Buckeyes have won six straight in this series, although that adds to the pressure on the Michigan side. The theme now concerns how this year's version of "The Game" will impact the future of Rodriguez at Michigan.
Although he has the Wolverines at 7-4 and preparing to play in a bowl for the first time since the 2007 season, how he fares against the Buckeyes in his third meeting with them could determine his fate. Not many expect the defensively limited Wolverines to beat Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes, but Rodriguez will need to keep it respectable. If he allows his team to be embarrassed again on the national stage, his long-term employment at Michigan becomes more precarious.
--No one on the Michigan roster has experienced a win over rival Ohio State, since the Buckeyes have won six straight games in the series.
--Sophomore QB Denard Robinson set an NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a season after gaining 121 yards on the ground against Wisconsin. Robinson has 1,538 rushing yards this season, breaking the record held by Air Force's Beau Morgan (1,494 yards in 1996).
--Michigan's last win in the rivalry series with Ohio State was in 2003 when the Wolverines were victorious by a 35-21 count in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines haven't won in Columbus since 2000, a 38-26 victory.
--LB Kenny Demens, who moved into a starting role in midseason, will play a critical role in trying to stop Ohio State's running game. Demens had a career-high 13 tackles in the recent loss to rush-heavy Wisconsin.
SERIES HISTORY: Michigan leads Ohio State 57-43-6 (last meeting, 2009, 21-10 Ohio State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Wolverines sent a shockwave across the college football landscape when they unveiled an offense revolving around the incredible skills of QB Denard Robinson, and for the first half of the season, Robinson essentially went crazy on opposing defenses. However, Big Ten teams have been catching up on how to slow Robinson, so Michigan's fate in this game is linked to how well it develops other options. The Wolverines' running backs and receivers need to make a major impact to give Michigan a chance to win.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This often maligned collection of players has been abused by a number of teams as it has worked through the Big Ten schedule, and there is no indication Michigan has come up with any magic formula to roll out against Ohio State. The key here is slowing the Buckeyes' running game so QB Terrelle Pryor will be forced out of his comfort zone. The Wolverines need an other-worldly performance from their defensive line so Pryor never has a chance to get in a rhythm.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They may have more to play for bowl-wise, championship-wise, and maybe they do have more at stake, but to say it's less important ... no ... never. Not Michigan-Ohio State." -- Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, on his team being motivated for the game against Ohio State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 27 -- The Wolverines (7-4, 3-4 Big Ten) go into the most important game of the season without the firepower to match the Buckeyes, so Michigan will have to make up the difference in desire. Pulling off a win in Columbus would take a historic effort by a Michigan team that is still building.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Wolverines have to avoid calamity, and not let a powerful Ohio State team and a rabid collection of fans in Ohio Stadium find a reason to amp up their excitement level. Michigan would enhance its chances considerably if it avoids turnovers, and if it can find the defensive resolve to prevent Ohio State from building a surge of momentum.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Denard Robinson -- The sophomore from Florida had a pair of rushing touchdowns in the recent loss to Wisconsin, giving him 14 on the season. Robinson needs to have an impact with both his arms and his legs for Michigan to give Ohio State a game.
WR Roy Roundtree -- The Ohio native had 114 receiving yards in the Nov. 20 loss to Wisconsin, giving him four games this season with more than 100 yards. Roundtree needs to have some kind of major impact to stretch the field against the Buckeyes and give his offense some room to function.
LB Jonas Mouton -- The Wolverines are faced with tracking down athletic Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor, and Mouton will lead that search party. He leads the Big Ten with 102 total tackles.
OT Perry Dorrestein -- The protection for Michigan QB Denard Robinson and the opening of running lanes for the swift sophomore depends on the guys up front, led by Dorrestein. He's been moved to left tackle, where he is Robinson's primary bodyguard.
--DT Mike Martin is expected to return to the lineup against the Buckeyes after missing the Wisconsin game with persistent ankle injuries.
--WR/KR Darryl Stonum is still nursing an ankle injury but should play against Ohio State.
-- DE Craig Roh, RB Vincent Smith, WR J.R. Hemingway and slot Jeremy Gallon all suffered concussion-type symptoms in the Wisconsin game and are questionable for Ohio State as well.
-- OL Taylor Lewan sat out the Wisconsin game with concussion-type symptoms but will be back for Ohio State.
--OL Perry Dorrestein missed the Penn State and Illinois games due to injury but has returned to the lineup and moved to left tackle after starting the first seven games at right tackle.
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