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 Michigan vs. Ohio State 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 (5-6) vs Ohio State (9-2)
Ohio State is going for an unprecedented 6th straight victory over Michigan

Michigan Schedule:
(W) Western Michigan 31-7
(W) Notre Dame 38-34
(W) Eastern Michigan 45-17
(W) Indiana 36-33
(L) at Michigan State 26-20 OT
(L) at Iowa 30-28
(W) Delaware State 63-6
(L) Penn State 35-10
(L) at Illinois 38-13

(L) Purdue 38-36
(L) at Wisconsin 45-24

Ohio Sate Schedule:
(W) Navy 31-27
(L) USC 18-15
(W) at Toledo 38-0
(W) Illinois 30-0
(W) at Indiana 33-14
(W) Wisconsin 31-13
(L) at Purdue 26-18
(W)  Minnesota 38-7
(W) New Mexico State 45-0
(W) at Penn State 24-7
(W) Iowa 27-24 (OT)

Ohio State Players to Watch:
QB Terrell Pryor (So. #2) Team's leading rusher(633 yds); 22 TD's (7 rushing)
RB Dan Herron (So. #1) Had a 49 yd touchdown run last year against the Wolverines
RB Brandon Saine (Jr. #3) 610 yds rushing; could be used in the Wildcat
LB Ross Holman (Jr. #51) Leads team in int's (4) and tackles (84);
DE Cameron Heyward (Jr. #97) Leads team in sacks (5);
SS Kurt Coleman (Sr. #4) 3 Int's; 3 Fumble Recoveries; 1 TD

Some things are not right with the world. The Ohio State Buckeyes have just won their 5th straight Big Ten Title and are now seeking to make it an outright one with a victory Saturday. The Wolverines are nearly a two touchdown underdog against their rival, but if that spread holds, some might consider it an accomplishment to keep it that close.

The Wolverines lost to the Buckeyes last season in a forgettable 42-7 game in Columbus. Brandon Minor (Sr. #4) scored on a 1 yard TD run late in the first half to make it 14-7, but in a now familiar fashion, Ohio State scored 28 2nd half points that included a 49 yard TD run from Buckeye then-freshman Dan Herron (#1) against a Michigan defense that couldn't get off the field.

Ohio State did most of its damage on big plays. In addition to Herron, Beanie Wells scored on a 59 yard TD run and Terrelle Pryor (So. #2) threw a 53 yard touchdown pass. However, the freshman was limited in comparison to many of his other games. The Wolverine defense held Pryor to minus 7 yards on eight carries. He was 5-13 for 120 yards with an interception and sacked three times. The Buckeyes didn't need him as they rushed for 232 yards.

The Buckeyes did need Pryor to step-up in 2009. With the team returning five on offense, and three of those being lineman, Ohio State had to reload especially at the skill positions. Gone were Wells, the Brian's, Hartline and Robiskie, and unlike last year, Pryor was expected to succeed. He was chosen by the media as the Conference's Preseason Player of the Year. While it isn't brought out by the overall numbers, Ohio State's offense did struggle at times and many saw Pryor as the reason why it did.

Terelle Pryor

In their two losses this season, Ohio State scored a total of 33 points. In the first half against Purdue, the offense had four first downs and three turnovers, and got too far behind in the scoreboard to come back. Even in a win against Wisconsin, The Buckeyes offense managed just eight first downs and scored just ten points, while the defense and special teams came up with 21 points.

The Purdue loss resulted in a lot of criticism and self-inspection. It was arguably the worst loss in the Jim Tressel era. It was their first loss to an unranked team since 2004. Even worse, it was the first time the Buckeyes were defeated by a team with a five game losing streak since 1987, a year that resulted in the firing of Head Coach Earl Bruce.

Analysts thought "Tressel-ball" needed to change. They thought the bar has been set and that bar couldn't be exceeded and that bar couldn't be hurdled. For the first time there were grumblings about even wanting Tressel replaced, but at the very least give up his conservative philosophy and play-calling to someone who can make the offense explode. It was even joked that Charlie Weiss would make a great offensive coordinator.

As an offshoot to the complaints about Tressel was his use of Pryor and how Pryor's development appeared to be stifled under Tressel. Ohio State's offense is a pro-style one that features elements of the spread. One of the reasons Pryor chose Ohio State was that he thought their offense would enable him to better succeed at getting to the NFL.

However, Pryor didn't seem to be improving as a drop-back passer. His mechanics still needed work. He wasn't taking good care of the ball either by passing it or even holding on to it. His old High School coach Ray Reitz questioned Pryor's choices.

"There is no question that Rich Rodriguez's offense, for example, would be more apt to suit Terrelle's skills," Reitz said. "But Ohio State sold him on the idea that they would prepare him for the NFL and that they don't run 'zone-read' in the NFL. Jim Tressel is a great coach. But I can tell you there is more to Terrelle Pryor than what we've been seeing."

Michigan fans started believing that they would rather have Tate Forcier (Fr. #5) and Denard Robinson (Fr. #16) right now amidst a Big 10 losing streak and concluding that Pryor may even turn out to be a bust. The vultures were circling around Columbus.

Thankfully, Ohio State could play a game the next week and found Minnesota to beat up on. Pryor threw two touchdown passes greater than 57 yards as they routed the Golden Gophers 38-7. While Pryor made some big plays, the Buckeyes thought that his desire to always make the big play was a bigger part of his problems in the offense. The other was health as their top two running backs had been battling staying healthy and staying on the field. The Buckeyes have since turned things around with exclamations points with a win against Penn State in Happy Valley and winning the Big 10 title last week over Iowa.

Last Week
Many thought Iowa would be no match for Ohio State after they lost their starting quarterback, Ricky Stanzi, to an ankle injury the previous week. The Buckeyes started pulling away early in the fourth quarter and grabbed a 24-10 lead. However, Iowa would rally to score two touchdowns of their own to tie things up at 24-24.

Even more surprising then Iowa giving Ohio State a competitive game in Columbus, was Iowa taking Tressel-ball to a whole new level. After the rally and a defensive stand, the Hawkeyes were at their own 33 yard line with 52 seconds and timeouts left. Iowa chose to run up the middle for one play then decided to play for overtime by taking a knee. A sack and an interception in Iowa's first possession gift wrapped the game and the Big Ten Title for Ohio State.

This Saturday
The Buckeye rushing attack seems to be at its best right now. Since the Purdue loss, the Buckeyes are averaging 242 rushing yards per game in Conference games. Add the New Mexico State game and that average goes to 259 ypg. In contrast, Wisconsin, who leads the Big 10 in rushing, is averaging nearly 212 ypg in Conference games only and the Wolverines are only averaging 125 on the ground.

A big key for the Michigan defense, other than the obvious, is to limit if not shutdown the big rushing plays Ohio State has enjoyed this season and has flourished under in the Michigan games.

  • In 2008: rushing touchdowns of 59 and 49 yds
  • In 2007: rushing touchdown of 62 yds
  • In 2006: rushing touchdowns of 56 and 52 yds

A new wrinkle the Buckeyes might show is their version of the Wildcat. With the running backs being as healthy as they have been all season, Ohio State is gradually showing it. It started with a couple of attempts against Penn State two weeks ago. Last week at Iowa they ran it more often and Dan Herron scored his 11 yard touchdown run from it. Even more curious is whether they will throw from it. Pryor caught a touchdown pass from Todd Boeckman in the Fiesta Bowl.

Jim Tressel

WR DeVier Posey (So. #8) threw for a touchdown pass in the New Mexico State game. Whether they use it or not, it's guaranteed Michigan is spending time working how to defend it. Posey leads the team in yards (689) and catches (47) and his height (6'3) will make it a challenge for Michigan's corners, Donovan Warren (Jr. #6) and Troy Woolfolk (Jr. #29).

The tackles haven't been the healthiest and that's another big key for the Wolverines. Brandon Graham (Sr. #55), who leads the nation in tackles-for-loss (21), will have to take advantage of the situation. DT Mike Martin (So. #68) and DE Ryan Van Bergen (So. #53) each had great games this week, and will have to continue to play that way to give Michigan a chance defensively.

Michigan announced that Minor will not be playing in his final Ohio State game. The senior, who really has been the catalyst for the Wolverines offense in the 2nd half of the season, will be sorely missed. Expect running back by committee in this one. Robinson may see more direct snaps under center in order to go run, and Vincent Smith (Fr. #2), who had a touchdown this week, shows that despite being compact (5'6"), he gets every inch he can before going down.
Forcier had one of his better games last week against Wisconsin going 20-26 for 188 yds and 2 touchdowns. Michigan was 6-11 on 3rd down conversions in the 1st half with many of them being 3rd and long.

"I love the competitiveness of Tate Forcier," said Tressel. "The guy loves to compete. There's no question about it. If he's got a pulse, he's going to compete and so that's -- I would think nothing else but for him to feel and say that because that's the way he plays. He backs it up with his play."

Though a freshman from California, Forcier is no stranger to the rivalry, with his older brother Jason, once a part of the team. Without Minor, Forcier is going to have to grow up in a hurry to help pull of this upset.

In order to win, the Wolverines, defensively, will have to put pressure on Pryor and make him pass in 3rd and long, not give up the big play, and force a few turnovers. Offensively, Forcier will have to have results as big as his confidence, not turn over the ball, and make a big play or two. If they can accomplish all of those things, that upset would be more legendary than the 1969 game.


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