Michigan vs. Ohio State Primer

Going to the game…a tailgate… maybe just the day with watching with friends on TV? Don't be caught off guard with what happens on the field, Saturday. Know your opponent with the Ohio State Buckeye Primer.

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 (9-2) (5-2) vs. Ohio State (6-5) (3-4)

Michigan Schedule:
(W) Western MI 34-10
(W) Notre Dame 35-31
(W) Eastern MI 31-3
(W) San Diego State 28-7
(W) Minnesota 58-0
(W) at Northwestern 41-21
(L) at Michigan State 14-28
(W) Purdue 36-14
(L) at Iowa 16-24
(W) at Illinois 31-14
(W) Nebraska 45-17

Ohio Sate Schedule:
(W) Akron 42-0
(W) Toledo 27-22
(L) at Miami (FL) 6-24
(W) Colorado 37-17
(L) Michigan State 7-10
(L) at Nebraska 27-34
(W) at Illinois 17-7
(W) Wisconsin 33-29
(W) Indiana 34-20
(L) at Purdue 23-26
(L) Penn State 14-20

Ohio State Players to Watch:
QB Braxton Miller (Fr. #5) Emerging QB that has a knack for making a big play
RB Dan Herron (Sr. #1) Has rushed for 358 yards and three TDs in three career games vs. Michigan
WR DeVier Posey (Sr. #8) Played his first game last week after being suspended for 10 games
DT John Simon (Jr. #54) Best defensive player
LB Ryan Shazier (Fr. #10) OSU’s version of Jake Ryan. Made 15 tackles in his first start last week.

For a team to have gone to six consecutive BCS bowl games, the Ohio State fan base are primarily jacked about two things, basketball season and Urban Meyer. If current head coach Luke Fickell was starring in his own movie it would be called “Ex-Coach Walking”.

The day Jim Tressell was shown the door many didn’t expect Fickell to keep the job, but after losing to Purdue, the whispers about the chances of Urban Meyer being offered and taking the job has grown into shouts and almost giddiness in Columbus. Meyer, who has been issuing denials, was pulled from this week’s telecast in Ann Arbor for what could be a conflict of interest. If it wasn’t it would be now. Why would the Wolverine coaches give Meyer any inside information in the television meetings.  

In fairness to Fickell and the team, the decision will likely happen after the Michigan game, but it’s essentially a done deal already. It probably won’t be official Saturday at 3:30 but it could happen just days or even hours after the game, perhaps before Fickell gets off the bus in Columbus.

There are reports that Fickell will be allowed to remain on the staff. When asked Wednesday he didn’t confirm or deny.

"It’s not about that,” said Fickell. “I’m going to have enough respect for this football game to make sure it’s about this football game.”

We’ll see if Kirk Herbstreet breaks the news and whether his sources are accurate. Fairly or unfairly, the referendum on Fickell has come at a season when there were heavy eligibility losses on the defense and with suspensions to key players on the offense.

While the fans are ready to turn the page, the players have one last chance to put a positive spin on a disappointing season. They, especially the seniors, don’t want to be the ones that lost to Michigan.

"You don't want to be the ones to break the streak," Center Mike Brewster (Sr. #50) said. "I've already been on the team that's not going to win the Big Ten championship for the first time in quite a while. If I can do anything to make this season right, it would be good to go ahead and continue the streak."

The Wolverines are more than a touchdown favorite. The Columbus Dispatch has taken down “Days since a Michigan win over Ohio State” total to a countdown in minutes to the next game. OSU has won 66 games in the previous six years, but may finish with only six wins this season. Everyone knows there’s scarlet in the water. A loss to Michigan would be a fitting humiliating end to their season, sans a bowl game, which could happen if the NCAA rules that Buckeyes should be ineligible for a bowl game this season.

Season in Review-OSU Quarterbacks
Over the summer, the talking heads discussed the “us vs. the world” mentality that would serve as Buckeyes motivation to excel beyond expectations. Predictions of a 4-1 start without the ‘Tat 5’ and how they would seamlessly work the starters into the line-up at Nebraska on their return seems almost funny now. The Buckeyes started 3-3 and almost lost at home to Toledo. Some of the suspensions grew to six and one grew to ten games.

The biggest problem Ohio State had early on was at quarterback. 5th Year Senior Joe Bauserman (#14) was Todd Boeckman reincarnated. Bauserman was selected over the highly regarded freshman, Braxton Miller (#5). Bauserman, a caretaker quarterback was chosen because his age (25) and maturity combined with an inexperienced group of wide receivers would diminish the chances of mind numbing mistakes that could happen with a gifted freshman quarterback. Like Boeckman in 2008, who lost his starting role to Terrelle Pryor during a degrading loss to USC, Bauserman lost his job to Miller in similar fashion during the Miami game. Bauserman was 2-14 for 13 yards. There was an internet graphic of Bauserman’s pass chart showing that all his passes were thrown in the stands. As it’s hardly fair to judge Fickell without his full complement of players, the same could be said for Bauserman, who didn’t have an experienced receiver to throw to or his starting tailback to fall back to. Nevertheless, Bauserman was going to be phased out over the next few games.

As the suspended players started to gradually return and Miller started getting experience, the Buckeyes fortunes started to change. They won three conference games in a row, starting at Illinois at the commencement of the Illini’s slide. Miller threw only four passes, but his only completion was for a touchdown. Many laughed at the win, saying he was going to have to do more against Wisconsin.

Against the Badgers, Miller threw for just 89 yards on seven completions, but his last pass will likely be Ohio State’s most memorable play of the season, a 40 yard touchdown pass while running for his life that was released as he was running past the line of scrimmage for the game winning touchdown with 20 seconds left.

Continuing his flair for the dramatic at Purdue, Miller on 4th down, trailing by six and with less than a minute to go, retreated from the pocket, stepped over a fallen lineman and nearly slipped as he threw across his body to a teammate Jordan Hall (Jr. #7)for a 13 yard touchdown pass. It was very reminiscent of Craig Krenzel’s 38 yard pass to Michael Jenkins on 4th and 1 at Purdue in 2002. The Buckeyes seemed destined for an improbable comeback that would put them in a previously unthinkable position to win the Leaders Division after starting conference play 0-2. However, the extra point was blocked and Ohio State would eventually lose in overtime.
The distractions over the loss and what it meant to the coaching staff may have had a direct effect on their surprising Senior-Day loss to Penn State that eliminated their chance to win the division. It was the third consecutive game that the Buckeyes fell behind 10-0 to start the game.

This team use to win games by making a play in the crucial moments, and this year, it’s the other team making them. Whether it’s a blocked extra point at Purdue, an interception against Michigan State or a fumble against Nebraska, Ohio State has more moments that cost them games than like the ones that gave them victory over Wisconsin.

Going into the season, OSU hadn’t lost a November game since being #1 and losing at home to Illinois in 2007. They’re going to try not to lose three in row.

Ohio State’s Offense vs. Michigan’s Defense
The return of running back Dan “Boom” Herron (Sr. #1) against Illinois in game seven provided confidence for an offense that needed someone to lead. Herron is averaging 111 yards per game in his return and that would put him third in the conference, though he isn’t listed. He’s an imposing back who has scored a touchdown in each Michigan game he’s played and has rushed for a total of 358 against the Wolverines.

“His passion, his emotion is what really we need,” says Fickell. “We have a few guys back that can do a very good job carrying the football. But I don't know if there's a whole lot of people that bring the same passion and will that Boom does.”

Hall and Carlos Hyde (So. #34) are capable reserves. Hall also doubles as a kick returner and scored on a Michigan kickoff for 85 yards last year. The two have combined for 933 yards rushing and eight touchdowns on a team that’s #3 in rushing in conference games only.

Tight end Jake Stoneburner (Jr. #11) has seven of the team’s 14 touchdown passes and in DeVier Posey’s (Sr. #8) season debut last week, he led the team with 4 catches and 66 yards. Posey is a physical receiver who was desperately needed during the season.

Miller though stirs the proverbial drink. He can play poorly most of the game but clearly has the ability to come through when needed most. While it would be easy to say he could be the next Pryor, Buckeye insiders feel he’s more like Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith. If he had not gotten hurt in the 2nd half of the Nebraska game, he alone could have held off the Huskers. Bauserman was 1-10 for 13 yards in Miller’s place.

Miller topped 100 yards rushing for the second time in three games. He now leads the Buckeye rushers with 595 yards on the season. His weakness is the passing game however, and the lack of quality receivers up until last week hasn’t helped. OSU ranks 118 out of 120 in passing offense. Despite how dangerous he is and that Buckeye fans are wide-eyed about the future, Miller hasn’t been able to overcome the inevitable true freshman mistakes. Miller is trying to learn when to stay in the pocket and when to take off for the first down with mixed results.

The Ohio State offense isn’t at all complicated or imaginative. They give the running backs a chance to move the chains on 1st and 2nd down and then ask Miller to make a play if there’s a third down. We’ll see if Posey’s return will allow Buckeye coaches to become more creative. When facing tough defenses, the Buckeyes haven’t fared well. They have a combined 38 points against Michigan State, Illinois and Penn State. They rank 84th in scoring this season.

The Michigan defense has relied on turnovers as a part of their success and because of that, you can’t guarantee that same fortune will come about. OSU has lost the ball only 12 times this season; only Wisconsin has fared better. Michigan is astounding on 3rd down defense allowing opponents to covert a Big Ten’s best 28.6% of the time in conference play. The Buckeyes 3rd down conversion rate are in the middle of the pack converting slightly less than 40%.

Michigan’s defensive front has been dominating over the past pair of games. They are dominating at the point of attack and stopping running backs cold on 3rd and short all season. Seniors Mike Martin (#68) and Ryan Van Bergen (#53) have been given the green light to change their calls and the coaching staff trusts them to do so, which simply means they recognize trends from film study and are aware what possibilities can occur when you make a change at the line of scrimmage.

If Michigan can slow down the rushing game and contain Miller’s scrambles, it will force Ohio State to pass. Getting OSU to that point will be a win for the Michigan defense and halfway to victory.

Ohio State’s Defense vs. Michigan’s Offense
Whereas Michigan’s defense has been outstanding this season, Ohio State has a reputation for being even better. They’ve been ranked in the top six in scoring defense in each of the last six seasons. This season, they’ve slipped a bit but they are 14th. There were a lot of senior losses headed into the year and defensive coordinator Jim Heacock is most troubled by the consistency of the defense.

“We've had some good quarters and some bad quarters and good halves and bad halves and just haven't been able to put together a complete game the way we like to,” says Heacock.

The team is missing a lot of tackles and they are allowing teams to sustain long drives. They have one player they can count on for certain and that’s DT John Simon (Jr. #54). He should be 1st team All Big Ten despite good players like MSU’s Jerel Worthy or Penn State’s Devon Still. He knows how to break containment and it should be another great battle for Michigan center David Molk (Sr. #50). But he’s been alone for the most part this season. Of all the losses on defense, Heacock says losing Nathan Williams to a season ending knee injury after the first game was the most disappointing.

“I think losing Nate Williams probably hurt us schematically as much as anybody, just because we had high hopes for him to be the opposite side of Johnny Simon and felt like we'd have two guys that could get off the edge and could give us some pretty good pass rush.”
Williams would have been a senior starter on a defense that needs leadership. Only one senior is expected to start Saturday. Linebacker Andrew Sweat (#42) would be another but he is questionable to return after suffering a concussion midway through the Purdue game. Ohio State has been fortunate to find out that his replacement has played some good football.

Ryan Shazier (Fr. #10) was all over the Purdue backfield in the 2nd half, and in his first start against Penn State last week, Shazier led the team in tackles with 15. For his effort he was the conference’s Freshman of the Week. He’s their version of Jake Ryan (RdFr. #90). He doesn’t necessarily go where he’s supposed to, but he makes plays. You would never describe either player as tentative and he’ll be chasing Denard Robinson (Jr. #16) and Fitzgerald Touissant (So. #28) around all game. If Miller is the future of the OSU offense, Shazier is quickly becoming the future of the Buckeye defense.

“It's nice to have a guy of his caliber and his speed and acceleration and explosiveness in the game, that he can get to the ball and gives you a chance,” says Heacock. “If you know Denard's going to run and you feel like he's got a chance to at least get in his face and slow him down.”

The Michigan offense brought their “A” game last week against Nebraska. It’s never perfect when you have to punt and take a few three-and-outs, but with Fitz having another 100 yds rushing and Robinson showing that he could throw the ball deep for two completions, it helps prevent the Buckeye defense selling out on the run and daring Robinson to pass.

Robinson last week looked like the true dual threat QB Michigan defenses have seen over the past decade. He found the happy medium between hanging in the pocket long enough (too long vs. Iowa) and taking off immediately after the snap (Robinson’s freshman and sophomore years).

If Robinson can remember that feeling of knowing and if offensive coordinator gets in a good rhythm of calling the right plays the Michigan offense should be able to score enough points to do their part in beating Ohio State for the first time in eight years.

Most Likely Wolverine to Have a Career Game:  Ryan Van Bergen
Van Bergen is playing at perhaps highest level. He has 3.5 sacks and five tackles-for-loss in his last two games after having only one sack and five tackles-for-loss in the previous nine games this season.

Most Likely Fighting Buckeye You’ll Remember After the Game is Over: Braxton Miller
Miller will remind you of Robinson at times. You don’t want to see the Buckeyes down by seven or less and with the ball in the game’s final few minutes.


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