Buckeye Offense Could Get Defensive

This weekend, Ohio State's defense will get a shot at trying to stop Michigan's high-powered offense. But when it comes to keeping the Wolverines in check, the Buckeyes might rely on their own offense to do some of the work.

With the top total offense in the Big Ten visiting Columbus this weekend, Ohio State will shift some of the responsibility for stopping that unit to the No. 2 total offense in the conference.

That would be their own. As the Buckeyes prepare to host Michigan this Saturday, taking care of the football and putting together time-consuming drives could go nearly as far toward keeping the Wolverines out of the end zone as the efforts of the OSU defense.

"We look so much at offense and defense being two separate things when in reality they affect each other more than a lot of people think," senior OSU wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said. "We want to do as much as we can to help our defense out. If that means keeping the ball so that their offense is off the field like an Oregon or an explosive offense like Michigan, that's what we're going to try to do."

In a 26-17 victory against the Ducks in last season's Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes held the ball for 41:37. It was the second-highest total for an Oregon opponent, eclipsed by Boise State's 42:32 mark in a season-opening 18-9 victory against the Ducks.

That season, Oregon averaged 412.0 yards per game. Through 11 games this year, Michigan is fifth in the nation with an average of 514.6 yards per offense.

"Nobody's really slowed them down yet," OSU senior defensive tackle Dexter Larimore said. "They've just been putting points on the board; they've been running all over the place."

The Buckeyes, however, have not been far behind from a production standpoint. OSU's average of 446.2 yards per contest ranks 18th in the nation, and their average time of possession per game – 32:37 – is seventh-best in the country.

As they seek to keep Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and his teammates off the scoreboard, they will be well-served to simply hold onto the ball themselves.

"Whenever you have a high-powered offense like (the Wolverines) do and like Oregon did in the Rose Bowl, it's important for the offense to keep the ball, keep it out of their offense's hands and put up points," senior left guard Justin Boren said. "We just know we have to do our job and we can't make mistakes, can't turn the ball over and just play our game."

In a 48-28 loss to Wisconsin last week, the Wolverines found themselves in a 24-0 halftime hole. In powering their way to the lead, the Badgers maintained possession for 20:53 and picked up 50 or more yards on five of their six possessions.

However, not having the football for long does not necessarily mean that the Wolverines are not being productive. Of the 55 touchdowns scored by Michigan this season, 23 have taken less than two minutes and 12 have taken less than one minute. In a 67-65 triple-overtime win Nov. 6 against Illinois, the Wolverines took less than four minutes to score each of their eight touchdowns.

"The interesting thing about Michigan or Oregon is the least of what they worry about is time of possession because they score so fast," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. "So I don't know that the time of possession thing is that critical. Now, would I like to keep the ball 43 minutes? I'll take that in a heartbeat, but we've got to win each play. We've got to win each series."

Michigan is the only team in the nation with two players to have two or more plays of at least 70 yards: wideout Roy Roundtree has three and Robinson has two. Robinson also ranks first in the Big Ten and is tied for seventh in the nation with 48 plays of at least 10 yards. The longest play OSU has allowed from scrimmage this season was a 42-yard rush by Miami (Fla.) running back Damien Berry.

OSU senior safety Jermale Hines said the defensive plan starts with trying to stop Robinson.

"We are going to just go out there and play the way we have been playing, (and) that is physical and fast and relentless," he said. "(He's) a running quarterback, a guy that you can't account for every play. You just have to be aware."

Last season, the Buckeyes earned a 21-10 victory at Michigan Stadium primarily thanks to their ground attack. OSU rushed for 251 yards while holding possession for 32:56, a number aided by the fact that the Wolverines turned the ball over five times.

Boren said that past success does not guarantee future results, meaning the Buckeyes are not only thinking about trying to run the football against the Wolverines. Through 11 games, this year's Michigan defense has already set program records for most points allowed (369) as well as yardage surrendered (4,897).

Michigan's rushing defense ranks ninth in the conference at 181.3 yards allowed per contest while its passing is dead last in the Big Ten with an average allowance of 263.9 yards. That second figure is good for 111th in the nation.

Whether they have to move the ball through the air or on the ground, Sanzenbacher said he is confident in the team's ability to do so.

"Obviously the offense always wants to win the time of possession battle secondary to scoring points but you want to hold onto the ball, you want to have long drives," Sanzenbacher said. "It's always a goal of ours but maybe more so this week.

"I think it's a lot on our part as an offense to keep their offense off the field just as much as it is our defense to stop them. Obviously we have all the faith in the world in our defense. They've come up huge for us all season but we want to try to help them out as much as we can."

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