Saturday, Nov. 26
Noon ET, ABC
Michigan Stadium; Ann Arbor, Mich.
Ranking: 17th AP, 16th coaches, 16th Harris, 15th BCS
Head coach: Brady Hoke, 9-2, first year (56-53 overall)
2010 record: 7-6 (3-5 Big Ten, tied for seventh place)
Series mark: Michigan leads 57-44-6
School location: Ann Arbor, Mich.
Colors: Maize and Blue
Stadium: Michigan Stadium
Fight song: "Hail to the Victors"
There are a number of reasons why Michigan has had a bounceback season under first-year head coach Brady Hoke.
The obvious answer is that the team's defense has taken major steps under Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, but there is more it than that.
For one, the team has matured into a veteran unit. There are 11 players on the squad who have started 26 or more games in their careers, including four defenders with 30 or more career starts. That has played into the fact that Michigan is now a team that takes care of the football – a year after being minus-10 in turnover margin thanks to 29 turnovers, the Wolverines are atop the Big Ten with 26 forced turnovers.
While the Michigan offense is still turnover-prone – the team has committed 20 turnovers, including 14 interceptions thrown by quarterback Denard Robinson –the fact that the team is still ahead of the game in turnover margin means more opportunities for the offense and less pressure on the defense.
Add in the fact that Robinson, last year's Chicago Tribune Big Ten MVP, still runs one of the most dangerous offenses in the league and the Wolverines are a much more complete football team than at any point in the past few seasons.
"I don't know if it means anything until we see how they play this week, how we prepare and how we go out there and play," he said. "We hope to get better every week. That's part of what we believe in as a staff. We hope we get better every day and improve from a fundamental side and technique to demeanor that we want to play the games with. So you can't answer that question until probably about four o'clock on Saturday afternoon."
Hoke has also put an emphasis on the Ohio State game. A native of Kettering, Ohio, who was an assistant at U-M before running programs at Ball State and San Diego State, Hoke has installed a countdown clock to the OSU game in the team's facility and has put an emphasis on the rivalry that was missing under previous coach Rich Rodriguez.
"You want to motivate your players on a daily basis," he said of the clock. "It's just a reminder. It goes back to the great rivalry that this game is. There is a clock for the great rivalry when we play Michigan State. So those two games have always held a significance in Michigan football history, and they will continue to."
All of the statistics in this preview are from all 11 games of the Michigan season. The stats are recognized by the school and the Big Ten, but the NCAA does not recognize the statistics from the opening win against Western Michigan that was ended in the third quarter because of lightning because the teams did not complete three quarters of play.
Offense In A Nutshell
Just as it did a season ago, Michigan has one of the best offenses in the Big Ten. The Wolverines are second in the league behind the Wisconsin juggernaut in scoring with 33.6 points per game and average 421.2 yards per game, good for third in the league. In addition, Michigan has topped 500 yards of offense in three of its first seven conference tilts, and its third-down percentage of 48.6 is third in the league.
Robinson is back for his second year at the controls, but the offense isn't quite as based on his skills as it was a season ago when he ran for an NCAA quarterback record of 1,702 yards. This year, junior has been asked to run more of a pro-style offense with some spread option concepts while some of the pressure has been taken off by the emergence of running back Fitzgerald Toussaint.
On the season, Robinson still leads the team with 182 rushes for 993 yards and 14 touchdowns, while he's completed 119 of 220 passes (54.1 percent) for 1,889 yards, 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He's also been banged up and spelled at times by sophomore Devin Gardner. A five-star prospect coming out of high school last season, Gardner (6-4, 205) has gone 11 for 23 (47.8 percent) for 176 yards, a touchdown and an interception and has run for 53 yards and a score.
"I think both quarterbacks have done a nice job," Hoke said. "I think they're learning in a process and in a system, and I think they both get better every time they take the field."
Toussaint, a sophomore from Youngstown (Ohio) Liberty, has stepped up of late, passing the 100-yard mark in three of four games. He boasts a good combination of speed and strength and has 154 rushes for 891 yards and nine touchdowns on the year. Junior Vincent Smith (5-6, 172) has added 293 yards and two touchdowns on 48 rushes and is a threat in the passing game with 10 catches and two touchdown grabs, while Trotwood (Ohio) Madison product Michael Shaw (6-1, 195) has 31 carries, 199 yards and three scores.
Michigan doesn't have a go-to receiver, but Roy Roundtree, Junior Hemingway and Jeremy Gallon have been the team's most consistent receivers. Hemingway leads the way during his senior season with 30 grabs for 591 yards and a touchdown, and his 19.1-yard average is tops in the Big Ten. Gallon (5-8, 185) is next with 28 grabs, 439 yards and three scores during his sophomore season. Roundtree, a Trotwood-Madison product who was a second-team All-Big Ten choice last year, is a bit off the pace during his junior campaign as he has 17 catches for 337 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior Martavious Odoms (5-8, 173) has five catches on the year, including a touchdown last week, and is nearing full strength after an early arm injury kept him out of the mix early. Sophomore Drew Dileo has added seven catches for 89 yards, while tight end Kevin Koger is a good blocker and can pull in some passes, as the senior from Toledo Whitmer has 17 catches for 195 yards and three scores.
An offensive line that was a liability a few years ago has turned into a strength the past two years. After allowing only 11 sacks last year to lead the Big Ten, Michigan's experienced crew has given up 14 this year to place second. There are two fifth-year senior starters on the line, led by center David Molk, who has 40 career starts and was a first-team All-Big Ten choice last year and was named a midseason All-American this year by Phil Steele, Sporting News and Sports Illustrated. The other fifth-year starter is right tackle Mark Huyge (6-6, 302). In between Molk and Huyge is junior Patrick Omameh, a Columbus DeSales product with 27 consecutive starts. At left guard, sophomore Michael Schofield (6-7, 299) has eight starts and got the call vs. Nebraska, while junior Ricky Barnum has started the other three games. Lastly, the left tackle is fiery sophomore Taylor Lewan, who has cut down on his penchant for taking penalties that he developed a year ago.
QB 16 Denard Robinson, 6-0, 195
RB 28 Fitzgerald Toussaint, 5-10, 195
FB 33 Stephen Hopkins, 6-0, 228
WR 12 Roy Roundtree, 6-0, 177
WR 21 Junior Hemingway, 6-1, 222
TE 86 Kevin Koger, 6-4, 258
LT 77 Taylor Lewan, 6-8, 302
LG 52 Ricky Barnum, 6-3, 292
C 50 David Molk, 6-2, 286
RG 65 Patrick Omameh, 6-4, 300
RT 72 Mark Huyge, 6-6, 302
PK 34 Brendan Gibbons, 6-1, 227
KR 9 Martavious Odoms, 5-8, 173/10 Jeremy Gallon, 5-8, 185
Defense In A Nutshell
To put it bluntly, Michigan's defense was a train wreck a season ago. The Wolverines allowed 35.2 points per game a year ago and kept only four opponents below the 30-point threshold, but this year Mattison's crew has allowed only 15.6 points per game, good for third in the conference. Michigan is also the best team in the league in red-zone defense, giving up points on only 21 of 32 visits (65.6 percent).
"We always have high expectations," Hoke said. "The part of it that you like is – and this is probably more a coach would see than you may – when they come off the field, whether it's good or it's bad, how they banded together, stay together, they listen, and I think Greg and the staff on defense do a tremendous job of making the adjustments that may need to be made."
Hoke has scrapped the 3-3-5 look Rodriguez seemed to favor in favor of a 4-3 under front, and while he cautioned the team is not yet the 1985 Chicago Bears, there have clearly been improvements with his motivated group.
"I think we've exceeded a lot of people's expectations defensively," senior Ryan Van Bergen said. "I think people probably counted us down and out on defense after the performance we gave up previous years and stuff like that. We've been motivated and we've been focused the whole time on being a defense that traditionally has been seen at Michigan – a defense that alums would recognize."
Van Bergen is having a solid senior year, as the end has 34 tackles including a team-best 10 tackles for loss. He also has 4½ sacks and has recovered three fumbles, and last year he had three TFL vs. Ohio State. On the other side, junior Craig Roh has started every game since his freshman year opener, a streak that has reached a team-high 36, and has 29 tackles, eight TFL and four sacks. The top reserve among the ends is sophomore Jibreel Black (6-2, 260), a Cincinnati Wyoming product with 16 tackles and a sack.
Second-team All-Big Ten choice Mike Martin returns at tackle, and the senior is one of the best players at his position in the league. The third-year starter has 48 stops this year including three sacks. Fifth-year senior Will Heininger has added 19 tackles, including four TFL, while junior Will Campbell (6-5, 322), a five-star recruit coming out of high school, has 11 tackles and two sacks.
The leading tackler on the team is middle linebacker Kenny Demens. The junior has made 78 tackles on the year and has 2½ sacks. Michigan starts freshmen at the other two linebacker positions, including true freshman Desmond Morgan. A three-star product of Holland (Mich.) West Ottawa, Morgan has 43 tackles on the year. Redshirt freshman Jake Ryan (6-3, 230) starts on the strong side, and the Cleveland St. Ignatius grad has 27 tackles, 6½ stops behind the line of scrimmage and two fumble recoveries. Junior Brandin Hawthorne (6-0, 214) also plays his fair share and has 42 stops and an interception.
The most experienced member of the secondary is also its leading tackler in junior safety Jordan Kovacs. A former walk-on and now a third-year starter, the strong safety from Oregon (Ohio) Clay has 60 tackles, three sacks, an interception and two forced fumbles despite missing one game with an injury. The other safety spot is shared by senior Troy Woolfolk and sophomore Thomas Gordon. Woolfolk, a converted cornerback who missed all of last year with a leg injury, has 27 tackles, while Gordon has 55 stops, an interception, two forced fumbles and a Big Ten-best four fumble recoveries.
J.T. Floyd has settled in at one cornerback spot, and the junior who has started parts of all three of his seasons has 39 tackles and two interceptions. Backup Courtney Avery (5-11, 173) from Lexington (Ohio) High School has added 23 tackles, a pick and two fumble recoveries in his sophomore campaign. True freshman Blake Countess starts on the other side. A four-star recruit out of Olney (Md.) Our Lady of Good Counsel, Countess has 36 tackles and has defended six passes.
DE 88 Craig Roh, 6-5, 269
DT 68 Mike Martin, 6-2, 304
DT 39 Will Heininger, 6-6, 295
DE 53 Ryan Van Bergen, 6-6, 288
SLB 90 Jake Ryan, 6-3, 230
MLB 25 Kenny Demens, 6-1, 248
WLB 44 Desmond Morgan, 6-1, 220
LCB 18 Blake Countess, 5-10, 176
SS 32 Jordan Kovacs, 6-0, 197
FS 29 Troy Woolfolk, 6-0, 191/30 Thomas Gordon, 5-11, 208
RCB 8 J.T. Floyd, 6-0, 185
P 43 Will Hagerup, 6-4, 210
PR 10 Jeremy Gallon, 5-8, 185/26 Drew Dileo, 5-10, 172
Five Fast Facts
1. Robinson keeps moving up the Michigan history books. Robinson is tied for seventh with Tom Brady (1996-99) in career touchdown passes with 35 and eighth with 4,549 passing yards. In addition, his 3,000 rushing yards and 33 rushing touchdowns are good for ninth and sixth, respectively. The rushing total is also second in career rushing yards for a Big Ten quarterback behind Antwaan Randle El, who had 3,895 for Indiana from 1998-2002.
2. There are a total of 21 Ohioans on the Michigan roster, the second-most of any state. There are 43 home-stat players on the U-M roster.
3. Hoke has gotten off to a 7-0 start at home, the second-best unbeaten run to begin a coaching career at U-M. Fielding Yost holds a fairly untouchable record as he started his tenure at Michigan with 50 straight home wins.
4. Michigan is without wide receiver Darryl Stonum this year, as the senior wideout who caught 49 passes last year has been suspended for the campaign by the school after receiving multiple drunken-driving arrests.
5. Seniors Molk, Koger and Martin are the team's permanent captains this year.
Last Time Out
Ohio State made history times two last Nov. 27 with a 37-7 Senior Day victory over archrival Michigan.
The Buckeyes defeated the Wolverines for the seventh consecutive year – something never before accomplished by OSU during the 107-game series – and at the same time clinched a share of their sixth consecutive Big Ten championship. That equaled the conference record of six straight titles by Ohio State teams between 1972 and 1977.
Meanwhile, it was another low point in the rocky three-year tenure of Rich Rodriguez as Michigan head coach. Not only did Rodriguez became the first coach in program history to lose his first three Ohio State games, the Wolverines were held below double digits on the scoreboard for only the second time in his 36-game tenure. The only other time was a 42-7 loss to Ohio State in 2008.
"I'm so proud of these guys," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. "You can talk about key plays, but our guys fought all day long. Our kids prepared very hard, played very hard, and they deserve everything they have coming to them."
Tressel also has an unprecedented run of success against the Wolverines, moving his personal record to 9-1 against U-M.
"What does all that mean? It's a feeling of accomplishment," Tressel said. "It's a feeling of accomplishment. You enjoy the journey. The thrill of the challenge. It's hard to do. Our guys work. Our players and coaches, they work. And they enjoy it. … The challenge of the chase of the championship is what is fun to me.
"This one is for the 2010 team. Every team is its own team, has its own signature, has its own challenges and high points. These kids were 6-0 and then we dropped one, but they came storming back. We played hard in November and when you play hard in November good things will happen."
After a slow start early in the game, Ohio State flexed its offensive and defensive muscles. The Buckeyes piled up 478 yards of total offense after their first two possessions netted only 13 yards. Meanwhile, the Wolverines totaled 351 yards of offense but only 93 of that came in the second half.
Junior tailback Dan Herron led an OSU rushing attack that was good for 258 yards with 225 of that coming in the second half. Herron, who had five carries for minus-1 yards in the opening 30 minutes, finished with 22 carries for 175 yards and a touchdown and went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season in the process.
Meanwhile, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor turned in a solid performance with 269 yards of total offense. He completed 18 of 27 passes for 220 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, and added another 49 yards on 12 carries. He also became only the third Ohio State quarterback to beat Michigan three times. William "Tippy" Dye (1934-36) and Troy Smith (2004-06) are the others.
Pryor's TD passes went to junior DeVier Posey and senior co-captain Dane Sanzenbacher. Posey finished the game with five catches for 82 yards while Sanzenbacher had three receptions for 71 yards. Senior tailback Brandon Saine had four catches for 11 yards and tight end Jake Stoneburner had three grabs for 33 yards.
As it has been for much of the season, Michigan had its offensive tone set by sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson. He carried the ball 18 times for 105 yards but was held down in the passing game by the Buckeyes. Robinson completed only 8 of 18 passes for 87 yards, and was largely ineffective after appearing to suffer an injury to his non-throwing (left) hand late in the second quarter.
From that point, Robinson alternated snaps with backup QB Tate Forcier, who finished 8 of 15 in the passing department for 82 yards and an interception.
Ohio State got off to an extremely slow start, going three-and-out on its first two offensive series. Meanwhile, the Wolverines were moving up and down the field with Robinson operating out of a mostly simplistic scheme that featured simple handoffs and keepers.
U-M piled up 118 yards of total offense in the first quarter and was driving inside the red zone when OSU defensive back Orhian Johnson caused Robinson to fumble and junior defensive end Nathan Williams corralled the loose football at the 9-yard line.
Three plays later, the Buckeyes got their first big offensive play of the game when Pryor connected with Sanzenbacher for 39 yards. Stoneburner also had 21-yard reception during the drive, which eventually resulted in a 33-yard field goal from senior kicker Devin Barclay on the second play of the second quarter.
That made it 3-0 in favor of the Buckeyes, and they wasted little time adding to that lead. After a three-and-out series by the Wolverines was followed by a short 18-yard punt, OSU took advantage and drove 35 yards of its first touchdown of the game. The Pryor-to-Sanzenbacher connection was responsible for a 7-yard score, and after Barclay added the extra point, the Buckeyes had pushed their advantage to 10-0 with 12:29 left until the half.
Michigan got on the board by taking the ensuing kickoff and driving 80 yards in 11 plays. Robinson was directly responsible for 63 of the yards – 42 rushing and 21 passing – but tailback Michael Shaw did the touchdown honors with a 1-yard run. Redshirt freshman kicker Brendan Gibbons added the PAT, and the Wolverines had cut their deficit to 10-7 at the 8:02 mark of the second quarter.
Any thoughts U-M entertained about a full-scale comeback collapsed only seconds later, however, when Ohio State sophomore Jordan Hall took the ensuing kickoff back 85 yards for a touchdown. Barclay's extra point made it 17-7 with 7:50 remaining.
"That was huge," Tressel said. "They had cut the lead to 10-7 and then about 20 seconds later it was back up to 10."
The Buckeyes made it 24-7 at the 3:06 mark when Pryor scrambled out of the pocket and flipped a short pass to Posey, who turned the play into a 33-yard touchdown.
The lead swelled to 31-7 early in the third quarter after OSU cornerback Travis Howard intercepted Forcier on the first play of the second half. Six plays after Howard's pick, Herron thundered 32 yards through the right side of the line for a touchdown.
As good as that run was, it paled in comparison to the next time Herron touched the ball. He exploded through a small crack in the line and raced 98 yards for a touchdown. The score was wiped out because of a dubious holding call against Sanzenbacher, but the play still went for 89 yards and tied the longest run ever by an Ohio State player. Gene Fekete also went 89 yards during a 59-19 victory over Pittsburgh in 1942.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they couldn't punch the ball into the end zone following the penalty, so Barclay came on for a 36-yard field goal to make it 34-7 with 9:12 remaining in the third quarter. Barclay added another three-pointer – this time from 23 yards – to push the advantage to 37-7 in favor of Ohio State with 1:08 to play in the third period.
Each team had a bona fide scoring opportunity in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines failed to convert a fourth-and-goal at the Ohio State 6 with 8:15 remaining while the Buckeyes took a knee at the U-M 7 at the end of the game.
Defensively, the Buckeyes were led by a quartet of seniors with eight tackles each – cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, and safety Jermale Hines. Homan also forced a fumble, Rolle had two tackles for loss and Hines knocked down three Michigan passes.
Williams was one of three Buckeyes with six tackles. He also had 2½ TFL, broke up two passes and had the team's only sack to go along with his fumble recovery.
For Michigan, sophomore strong safety Jordan Kovacs tied his career high with 17 tackles. He also had an interception that he returned 41 yards at the end of the first half.
With the victory, OSU (11-1, 7-1) shared its sixth straight Big Ten championship with Michigan State and Wisconsin, who beat Penn State and Northwestern, respectively, on the final day of regular-season play.