BSB Notebook: Ohio State-Michigan

This week we take a look at one cliche that has some merit, the potential for a couple of freshman to play key roles for the Buckeyes and Luke Fickell's impressions of the job he has done so far.

The phrase, "Throw out the records," long ago became a cliche regarding regularly played rivalries, but there is some merit to the suggestion when it comes to Ohio State and Michigan.

The higher-ranked team has lost eight times since 1993, although the most-recent upset was unranked Ohio State's 37-21 win against No. 7 Michigan in 2004.

This year the Buckeyes head to Ann Arbor unranked to face the 16th-ranked Wolverines, but head coach Luke Fickell said his team does not necessarily feel like an underdog.

"That's just underdogs are sometimes, those are just maybe the media's way or the Vegas way of saying what they expect," Fickell said. "In a rivalry like this, a lot of those things go out of the window and records go out of the window, and a lot of things are going to be scrapped. There's going to be unbelievable passion on both sides of the football because of what this means. I think those are the things that obviously overtake a lot of those."

If anyone should know about the potential for upsets in the series, it would be Fickell. The worse-ranked team won all four of the editions of The Game in which he played from '93-96.

"Obviously when I was in school I was on the opposite side of some of those, so to speak, underdog upsettings, but it still comes down to the passion of the game, the will for the game, and that will be defined on Saturday," he said before accidentally making a statement that sounded like a play on words regarding Michigan's first-year head coach, Brady Hoke.

"We believe we've got a great football team. We believe we haven't performed as well as we could in the last several weeks, but that's what Saturday is for. We're going to continue to attack it that way and play with confidence and not think we've got to do something hokey or crazy to win this football game," he said before pausing to add, "No pun intended."

Youngsters Key?
Ohio State's chances to win might tied most closely with a pair of freshmen on Saturday.

First-year quarterback Braxton Miller leads an offense that has struggled to find any consistency this year against a resurgent Michigan defense that is ranked 102 spots higher nationally in points allowed this season compared to a year ago.

That could be cause for concern for a head coach, but Fickell expressed confidence in Miller. "I think that Braxton will continue to do what he's done," the coach said. "He's a competitor, and sometimes the best thing you can be as a young guy and not realize exactly the magnitude of some different things."

As an example, he pointed to the 15-tackle performance by freshman linebacker Ryan Shazier in Ohio State's 20-13 loss to Penn State last week. Shazier was making his first start in place of injured senior Andrew Sweat.

"I think that was kind of obvious this past week with Ryan Shazier going in as a linebacker, obviously at a different position, but sometimes them young guys, they're almost oblivious to the different things that are out there and around there to them," Fickell said. "So hopefully that's the way he continues to attack it. It's still a football game. He knows what the pressures and we've talked about it. But when you're a competitor, that's what you look forward to."

While Miller will be tasked with making big plays against a swarming group of Wolverine defenders, Shazier will have to help contain quicksilver quarterback Denard Robinson of Michigan.

"You know, he's got he's got the ability to get to him, and he's got the ability to make a play in space against him, which some players don't," defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "There's just some guys just don't move well enough that they can get that done. So I think I don't think there's any question 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. And 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"

Looking Back Later
Fickell has called for his players to be "men of action" all season, and he has tried to lead by example in that regard. As such, he claims not to have had a chance to look back on what has transpired in the first 11 games of the year. That is despite the possibility his last game at the helm of Ohio State is on the horizon.

"I don't think this is the time to reflect," he said. "From the time I've had a chance to step into this role I've not had a chance to step back and even think a whole lot about it. That's kind of the way I attacked it from day one.

"I figured that after the season when you had some time to actually relax a little bit and reflect, you'll do that. That doesn't mean I haven't taken notes on every situation and every decision that I've made, good or bad, but to sit back and reflect on what it's meant to me, that's not what it's about right now. It's about Ohio State. It's about Michigan. It's about the greatest rivalry in all of sports."

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