Each week we scout Michigan's opponent. We'll start with the basics, and then explore some relevant match-ups. For those that want to know more, we'll sprinkle in a mixture of history, reflection, and philosophy for a comprehensive look.
Michigan (7-4) at #8 Ohio State (10-1)
(W) UCONN 30-10
(W) at Notre Dame 28-24
(W) UMASS 42-37
(W) Bowling Green 65-21
(W) at Indiana 42-35
(L) Michigan State 37-17
(L) Iowa 38-28
(L) at Penn State 41-31
(W) Illinois 67-65 3OT
(W) at Purdue 27-16
(L) Wisconsin 48-28
Ohio Sate Schedule:
Ohio State Players to Watch:
There's no drama in Columbus, none whatsoever. The Ohio State Buckeyes didn't have any games decided in overtime. In fact, they played only one game that wasn't decided by double digits. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor (Jr. #2) was only a Heisman trophy candidate in the pre-season. Head Coach Jim Tressel hasn't been fighting for his job. His team is playing well in all phases, but neither the offense nor the defense is historically good or bad. The Buckeyes were #1, but could only deal with that pressure for a week. Finally, much to the chagrin of Michigan fans, there hasn't been an NCAA investigation or scandalous claims by the Columbus Dispatch. In other words, Ohio State, in comparison to Michigan, is in a word, BORING.
Ohio State, however, is 10-1, and is among three teams with a 6-1 conference record heading into the final weekend with Michigan State and Wisconsin. With a win, the Buckeyes will share or outright win their sixth consecutive Big Ten title. It's a feat only matched by Ohio State from 1972-1977. However, to represent the Big Ten in the BCS they much catch Wisconsin in the BCS standings. With only one spot separating the Buckeyes and Badgers, who just beat Michigan by 20 in Ann Arbor, Tressel's team may not "play close to the ‘sweatervest'." Running up the score probably won't work because the voters, when choosing between two teams, will likely look at is the head-to-head record and see that the Badgers won by 13. But what choice does Ohio State have? It's possible that they won't pull any punches, replace any starters, in order to score as often as they can to impress the voters.
Ohio State's Offense
A clue to see their intentions will be much the Buckeyes pass the ball. Ohio State's reputation has been to significantly reduce their passing plays in November. The Buckeyes averaged 17 ppg in November in 2009. You can't argue with the philosophy since OSU is 17-1 in their last 18 November games. So if Terrelle Pryor starts winging it down field to Dane Sanzenbacher (Sr. #12) and DeVier Posey (Jr. #8), you can suspect Tressel is trying to impress the judges.
Pryor was expected to take that next step, that 'Vince Young step' that made Young a Heisman runner-up. In their impressive Rose Bowl victory over Oregon last January, Pryor may have had his all-around best game, using his arm, his feet, and his head. Tressel allowed Pryor more freedom to change the play at the line, and the OSU fans were anxious to see what an unleashed Pryor could do in 2010. He didn't live up to the expectations this season. But it's not like he stinks. Pryor shares the Big 10 lead in touchdown tosses, is completing 65 % of his passes, and last week rushed for his 2000th yard. He could still win the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year. Maybe the expectations were too high for Pryor, but there's disappointment that there wasn't the gigantic leap in his game to put him in the stratosphere of Auburn's Cam Newton or Denard Robinson (So. #16).
As far as receiving targets go, there are only two, Sanzenbacher and Posey. The two have combined for 94 catches this season, but no one else has more than 18, and they're done by running backs. Posey lead the Buckeyes in receiving last year, but the senior, Sanzenbacher, has emerged as the go-to threat this season -- he is ahead of Posey by over 100 yards and has more touchdown grabs (9 to 5). The nine TD's for Sanzenbacher is 2nd best in the Big 10. Rodriguez opined that he's one of the "best receivers in the country."
A couple of years ago, the running back tandem of Dan Herron (Jr. #1) and Brandon Saine (Jr. #3) known as ‘Boom' and ‘Zoom' was supposed to be a formidable duo. Today Boom appears to be a one-man show with rushing support from Pryor. Herron leads the team with 893 yards and 14 of the team's 24 rushing touchdowns. Saine has played in every game but has only 304 yards in limited carries. Tressel tried moving Saine to the slot as the Buckeyes have been trying to find a 3rd receiver to compliment Sanzenbacher and Posey, but Herron has been just as productive there as well. The Buckeyes have just done fine without finding a true #3 target.
The Ohio State offensive line has 132 career starts between them, or slightly more than 26 starts per player. None of them has missed a start this season. Every coach would love this kind of continuity.
In conference play, the Buckeyes have scored only one point less than the Michigan offense.
Ohio State's Defense
The defense has given up only 95 points in conference play compared to 277 by the Wolverines. They lead the Big 10 in all four major defensive categories: scoring, rush defense, pass defense, and total defense. They're also 2nd in the nation, trailing only TCU, by forcing nearly six three-and-outs per game.
The Buckeyes line up with a four-man front. Three of them have started every game. Their leading pass rusher is Cameron Heyward (Sr. #97) who may be a notch below Ryan Kerrigan or J.J. Watt, but who would have been at least a high second round pick in last year's NFL draft had he opted out.
"Heyward is a great player," says Michigan OG Steve Schilling (Sr. #52). "Obviously, he has been playing since he was a freshman. He's a big guy, but he can play on the end and inside. He's real versatile strong and quick. He has the whole package and he'll be a big time NFL prospect."
The son of former NFL RB Craig "Ironhead" Heyward leads the team with 9.5 tackles-for-loss, including a safety, and ran an 80 yard return after an interception. Monday, Rodriguez praised defensive tackle John Simon (So. #54) as "strong as anyone he's seen all year."
The OSU linebackers have been a bit banged up during the course of the season, but they are led by Brian Rolle (Sr. #36) who leads the team in tackles and is 2nd in tackles-for-loss. Rolle breaks up passes and sacks the quarterback. Rolle was named last week's Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week against Iowa. Senior Ross Homan (#51) is another playmaking 'backer who dictates the defense.
In the secondary, the same four guys have started the last nine games. Sense a theme? OSU has been mostly healthy. Rodriguez considers senior cornerbacks Chimidi Chekwa (#5) and Devon Torrence (#1) as the best pair of corners in the conference. They both get challenged by Big Ten quarterbacks but they have combined for 14 passes broken up. Checkwa leads the team with only three interceptions, as much as U-M's James Rodgers (Sr. #18), but 12 other Buckeyes have recorded at least one.
Meanwhile, all three of Michigan's wideouts are on the injury report. Martavious Odoms is out for the year. Junior Hemmingway (Jr. #21) and Darryl Stonum (Jr. #22) are questionable to play. If they're both out, Roy Roundtree (So. #12) may move to outside allowing Kelvin Grady (Jr. #19) to see some deserved playing time.
Overall, this OSU defense leads the Big Ten with 26 takeaways.
Michigan lost to OSU in Ann Arbor last year 21-10. There's some debate as to whether Michigan was in the ball game. Michigan's offense self-destructed as Tate Forcier (So. #5) lost the football in his own end zone on the first series and Heyward came up with the defensive touchdown. It was the first of five turnovers for Michigan with many of them jaw-droppers; they were the types of mistakes you see from a typical freshman quarterback. To be fair, Michigan benefitted from Forcier's street-ball type of play on an 18 yard pass to Vincent Smith (So. #2).
Defensively, Ohio State was held to two touchdowns, despite the turnovers. The debate comes as to whether Ohio State's offense dialed it back a bit by passing the ball only 17 times for 68 yards. The Buckeyes rushed the ball 53 times for 251 yards, they were sacked once by Mike Martin (Jr. #68), and they missed on a fourth down conversion. Though the Buckeyes appeared to struggle on offense, they put it back together once Michigan got to within four early in the 3rd quarter. When their lead was built back up to 11, OSU didn't score again. Ohio State turned to its defense and recorded three interceptions, including one from Torrence.
That is, of course, for one week -- today Michigan has a chance to finish what Iowa couldn't.
ENJOY THE GAME!