Buckeyes can salvage season with win at Michigan
The Buckeyes limp into Ann Arbor this week, as underdogs against a team that has not beaten them in almost 3,000 days. Michigan, trending upward under new head coach Brady Hoke, is favored to have its way with Ohio State for the first time since 2003.
Ohio State (6-5, 3-4) is in danger of suffering a fifth loss in the Big Ten for the first time since the 1999 season, which is also the last time the Buckeyes ended the regular season with three straight losses. A tumble against Michigan would give the 2011 Buckeyes that fate.
"Obviously, we've had some adversity, and maybe the season hasn't gone how we envisioned it at the start," Ohio State senior linebacker Andrew Sweat said. "But as competitors you get up for every game. I think competing is what gets your energy up for every game. I think as a competitor you just move on daily."
Ohio State coach Luke Fickell, who was charged with steering this program through the choppy waters left in the wake of the NCAA investigation and the departure of disgraced former head coach Jim Tressel, seemed almost relieved to have Michigan week arrive.
Fickell, whose future with the Buckeyes is very much in doubt after the five losses, has been doing his best to dodge inquiries related to the tsunami of speculation about former head coach Urban Meyer being poised to coach Ohio State next season. Michigan has given Fickell some cover.
"It's been about Michigan. It will be about Michigan," Fickell said as his team prepared to face the Wolverines (9-2, 5-2). "It will be about one another. Those are the things we talk about. Everything else is out of our control. We kind of had that focus from the beginning of the year."
Fickell insisted that his team's struggles this season, the pending ruling by the NCAA infractions committee that could hammer the program, and the rumors about Meyer already being offered the job will not take his attention for a moment.
"No. No. This is who we are. This is what we want to be about," Fickell said. "To me, that's where the power is, is when you can look at the guy next to you and believe in one another and fight for one another. Everybody's got different things they play for, but ultimately deep down you gotta care about one another and play for one another."
The Buckeyes will travel to Ann Arbor with a single purpose, Fickell said.
"It's still the Ohio State--Michigan game, still the greatest rivalry in all sports," Fickell said. "We wouldn't attack it any other way. That's what is remembered. We understand that. We know that. When you come here, you know what it's about."
--Ohio State has won the last seven games against Michigan on the field. The 2010 win was vacated in the wake of the tattoo and memorabilia scandal.
--The Buckeyes have lost four Big Ten games this season, by a total of 19 points -- an average of 4.7 points per defeat.
--Just three weeks ago, Ohio State was 3-2 in the Big Ten and in contention for the Leaders Division title and a berth in the conference's first title game. Two straight losses have eliminated Ohio State from title contention.
SERIES HISTORY: Michigan leads Ohio State 57-43-6 (last meeting, 2010, 37-7 Ohio State, since vacated)
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: It is week 12 of the season and the Buckeyes are still searching for some kind of consistent passing game. The return of senior WR DeVier Posey from 10 games worth of suspensions helped a bit last week against Penn State, but Ohio State averages just 114 passing yards per game, right near the bottom nationally. Although the meetings with Michigan have not historically been passing competitions, the Buckeyes need some balance to keep the Wolverines from loading up against the run.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Ohio State gets to match up with Michigan QB Denard Robinson, who brings a lot of momentum into the game after a couple recent strong performances. "He poses a lot of problems," Ohio State coach Luke Fickell said. "Anytime the quarterback's got the ability to keep plays alive, running the football, it makes you struggle a little bit on defense with some things you can do and the chances you can take." If the Buckeyes can limit Robinson's impact plays, they have a much better chance of being successful in Ann Arbor.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Those 110 guys that are sitting in that room that have been through what they've been through, been through the ups, been through the downs, that's what it's all about, those guys looking around, that's what they play for. " -- Ohio State coach Luke Fickell on the real importance of the Michigan game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 26 -- The Buckeyes need a win to avoid a six-loss season, and make it eight straight victories against the Wolverines on the field.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Ohio State will need to force Michigan QB Denard Robinson into mistakes to have the upper hand here, since that is what made the difference in Michigan's losses to Michigan State and Iowa. "Turnovers. I think in both the Michigan State and Iowa games, the thing is they battled and battled and got turnovers down in the red zone, and made some plays," Ohio State coach Luke Fickell said.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
LB Ryan Shazier -- Earned Big Ten Conference freshman of the week honors for his 15-tackle performance against Penn State in his first career start.
RB Dan Herron -- Rushed for 358 yards and three touchdowns in his three previous games against Michigan.
TE Jake Stoneburner -- Caught his seventh touchdown pass of the season in the loss to Penn State. A former wide receiver, Stoneburner creates difficult match-up problems with his speed and athleticism.
--LB Andrew Seat, the Buckeyes' leading tackler, sustained a concussion in the loss at Purdue and missed the Penn State game last week. Sweat is listed as questionable for the season finale against Michigan.
--LB Ryan Shazier, a freshman from Florida, has replaced Sweat in the Ohio State lineup and made 15 tackles in his debut as a starter last week against Penn State.
--WR DeVier Posey, who missed the first 10 games of the season serving two NCAA suspensions, started against Penn State and led the Buckeyes with four receptions for 66 yards.
--RB Jaamal Berry remains suspended over his arrest and alleged involvement in a recent fight outside a downtown Columbus bar.
--WR Verlon Reed was lost for the season after tearing his ACL in the loss to Michigan State.
--DE Nathan Williams, who injured his knee in the season-opener against Akron, has had two surgeries and missed the remainder of the season.
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