Michigan Feels Urgency In The Game

Two teams will enter Michigan Stadium on Saturday -- No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan. But only one will emerge as the outright Big Ten champion. That is among the various storylines as OSU prepares to travel to Michigan to face the Wolverines and QB John Navarre in the 100th edition of The Game. OSU will be after its third straight win in the fabled series. Click this link for a look at the Michigan perspective on this match-up as well notes on The Game.

They say it is the number one rivalry in college football. They call it The Game.

And this year, The Game means everything to Ohio State and Michigan.

An outright Big Ten championship will be on the line as the fourth-ranked Buckeyes visit the fifth-rated Wolverines Saturday (noon, ABC national telecast).

In addition to conference glory, the winner is assured of nothing less than a Rose Bowl bid. Ohio State, in fact, can all but cinch a berth in the national championship game at the Sugar Bowl with a victory.

And we haven't even mentioned the fact that it will be the 100th rendition of this time honored classic or that an NCAA record crowd well in excess of 111,000 is expected to see it at The Big House.

Put it all in a blender and it amounts to one huge game.

"Any time you have a game that means as much as this game means to so many people, a game that down through history has included so many great players, so many great coaches and so many great games, that has so much impact on the tradition of college football, it's very, very special," said UM coach Lloyd Carr.

"In my experience, it seems like every year, somebody has the championship on the line. In many cases, both teams do. Certainly, when both teams have a lot at stake, it adds a lot to it. It's one of those games that has great meaning regardless of what's at stake."

This year's game may actually have more meaning for Michigan (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) than Ohio State (10-1, 6-1). Careers of coaches and players on both sides of The Game are largely determined by their success in this rivalry. To that end, Michigan may be feeling the heat.

Ohio State has won both meetings with Michigan under third-year coach Jim Tressel, effectively blunting a 2-10-1 slide against UM in the 13-year tenure of Tressel's predecessor John Cooper.

Carr is still a respectable 5-3 against the Scarlet and Gray, but it is clear that this is one game he definitely intends to win.

"Everybody is motivated in a different way," Carr said. "But the key to winning, the key to getting the job done, is preparing for what you're going to see on Saturday.

"All those external things, and all those things that are written about, they make great stories. But what you're trying to do is get focused in on those things on Saturday afternoon that will help you win."

Carr said there is something special about The Game, where everybody's intentions are apparent.

"There's nothing quite like the coaches, the noise, looking into your players' eyes, knowing the preparation and all the hard work and effort they have put into the season, and now you get the opportunity to play in the greatest game," Carr said.

"The coaches, the guys across the field that you're coaching against, knowing they want to win every bit as bad as you do. That team across the field, they want to win as badly as you do. There's nothing quite like it."

Prior to the season, this match-up looked for sure that it would have national championship implications. OSU, the defending national championship team, was ranked second in the AP poll behind Oklahoma. Michigan was rated fourth.

Michigan began the season like a house on fire, outscoring Central Michigan, Houston and Notre Dame by a combined total of 133-10. But a 31-27 upset loss at Oregon Sept. 20 dropped UM all the way down to 11th in the AP poll.

Two weeks later, Iowa knocked off Michigan 30-27. Things then went from bad to worse six days later at Minnesota, where the Wolverines were staring down the barrel of a XX-XX deficit in the fourth quarter.

But Carr and his staff circled the troops and they pulled off one of the great comebacks in school history to win 38-35 and keep hopes of a Big Ten championship alive.

That was the first of five straight wins UM has reeled off to end the regular season.

"Offensively, we have played very well throughout the course of the season," Carr said. "Certainly, the first three quarters of the Minnesota game would be an exception. I think we've played well throughout the season, from the beginning. We've not always been as successful as we've wanted to be, but we've played well."

On the flip side, Ohio State dropped a 17-10 decision at Wisconsin Oct. 11. But the Buckeyes have responded by winning five straight of their own, a string capped by a dramatic 16-13 overtime win over Purdue this past Saturday.

"When you have a great kicking game and you have a great defense, you're going to be in every game," Carr said of OSU. "When you can play great defense, you're going to be in every games. That's why they're good."

Carr said OSU's recent success against UM and the Buckeyes' status as the reigning national champions should not factor in this Saturday's game.

"I don't think anything that happened last year has anything to do with this game," Carr said. "They are a great football team. They are Ohio State, and Michigan-Ohio State is the greatest rivalry in college football. I don't think you need any more than that."

One Balanced Attack

In a game fraught with great match-ups, one to watch will be the Michigan offense against the Ohio State defense.

UM is ranked 26th nationally in both rushing offense and passing offense and comes in 14th in total offense (458.1 yards per game). Something will have to give as Ohio State is ranked sixth nationally in total defense (275.3 yards per game), including No. 1 in the country against the run (50.6 ypg).

"I think we're probably going to have to throw every down," Carr joked. "You'll probably see no backs in the backfield, just throw it. That's a problem. But that's the game, trying to find out a way to win and a way to, offensively, have some success."

Of course, Michigan will pin many of its hopes on the passing arm of senior quarterback John Navarre. He has made two previous starts against the Buckeyes, each with disastrous results.

He threw four interceptions in OSU's 26-20 win at Ann Arbor two years ago. Then, he had two turnovers in the final 2:02 last year, thwarting UM's comeback bid in a 14-9 loss that sent Ohio State to the Fiesta Bowl.

But Navarre is now a third-year starter and has enjoyed a fine senior campaign. He stands second in the Big Ten in passing yardage per game (252.9). He has completed 222 of 378 passes (58.7 percent) for 2,782 yards and 21 touchdowns against eight interceptions.

"The quarterback is not out there by himself," Carr said. "The problem is he is going to take all the blame if you lose, and that's just the way it goes. But the truth is everyone around him has to play well, too.

"I don't think there is any game that defines any football player as a person. Your character defines you as a person. As a football team, you are going to have a legacy. Both teams have people with outstanding character, and somebody's going to win and somebody's going to lose. Somebody's going to leave a legacy they are excited about and somebody's going to have to deal with the other side of that coin. That's what sport is all about."

Navarre is just 218 yards shy of becoming UM's first 3,000-yard passer in a single season. He already owns six UM career passing marks and seven season marks. He is also 19-2 as a starter in Michigan Stadium.

"I think John's had an outstanding season," Carr said. "I think he's had an outstanding career. Any time you get to be a starting quarterback at Michigan as a sophomore, you're going to have some ups and downs. But I think he's grown. I think he's matured. I think he's an outstanding leader."

He has three of the Big Ten's top receivers to throw to in junior Braylon Edwards (68 catches, 901 yards, 12 touchdowns), sophomore Jason Avant (42 catches, 706 yards, two TDs) and sophomore Steve Breaston (27 catches, 360 yards, three TDs).

Avant comes into the game after making a stunning one-handed touchdown catch in UM's 41-10 pounding of Northwestern last week.

"I have seen Avant make catches like that in practice, so I was not amazed," Carr said. "He has great concentration. He is fearless."

Senior tailback Chris Perry provides balance to the UM attack. He is ranked third nationally at 130.5 yards per game. This All-American candidate has 1,435 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. He carried the mail in a critical 27-20 win at Michigan State, toting the ball for 219 yards on a school-record 51 carries.

He had 53 yards on six carries against OSU two years ago, then had 76 yards on 28 attempts last year in Columbus.

"Hopefully we can play well and give them a competitive game," Perry said after the NU win.

Senior Kevin Dudley starts at fullback, while senior Andy Mignery and junior Tim Massaquoi share time at tight end.

UM boasts one of the nation's top offensive lines, led by fifth-year senior Tony Pape (6-6, 311) at right tackle. He is joined by junior Adam Stenavich (6-5, 310) at left tackle, senior David Baas (6-5, 323) at left guard, fifth-year senior Dave Pearson (6-3, 297) at center and junior Matt Lentz (6-6, 304) at right guard.

Kicker Garrett Rivas has hit 9 of 11 field goals this year with a long of 47 yards.

The return game is in great hands with Breaston (14.8 average, two TDs) handling punts and Breaston (19.7 average) and Jeremy LeSueur (20.6 average) working on kicks.

Getting Defensive

Michigan's defense is nothing to scoff at, ranking seventh nationally in yardage allowed (279.1 ypg) and eighth in scoring (15.5 points per game).

"Our defense, as a whole, has played very well throughout the course of the season, again, with the exception of a period there in the Minnesota game," Carr said. "Certainly, this game, with their speed and athleticism, will be our greatest challenge."

The Wolverines start three seniors -- including two fifth years -- and a junior on the defensive front.

The ends are senior Larry Stevens (6-3, 257), who has eight tackles-for-loss and four sacks, and junior Pat Massey (6-8, 274), who has eight TFLs and two sack.

The tackles are each fifth-year seniors in Norman Heuer (6-5, 288) and Grant Bowman (6-1, 288). Bowman has 10 TFLs and two sacks this year.

Junior Pierre Woods (6-5, 232) starts at outside linebacker, where he is second on the team in tackles with 56. The inside linebackers are junior Lawrence Reid (6-1, 219) and fifth-year senior Carl Diggs (6-1, 242). Reid leads UM with 69 tackles, while Diggs is third with 48.

"Lawrence Reid is a tremendous young man, a guy that's made a great contribution and had a great season," Carr said. "He's an outstanding athlete, very smart, and he's a very unassuming kid."

In the secondary, junior Marlin Jackson made a smooth transition from cornerback to safety this season, although he has missed some time due to a leg injury. He is fifth on the team with 42 tackles.

Junior Ernest Shazor starts at the other safety and is tied for third on the team with 48 tackles. The corners are LeSueur, a fifth-year senior, and junior Markus Curry. They each have two interceptions this year.

Freshman Leon Hall (team-high three interceptions) and sophomore Willis Barringer have filled in admirably at times as well.

"If you had told me we would go into this stretch of the season without Marlin and having some other injuries, I would never have guessed we'd have been able to play this well in the secondary," Carr said. "I think it's a tribute to the young guys who have stepped up."

Senior Adam Finley has averaged 39.5 yards per punt this year. The punting game has been an Achilles' heel for UM, which has had three punts blocked this season.

Also Notable

* Michigan holds a 56-37-6 all-time lead in the series. Ohio State would have to win the next 19 straight games -- a string that would stretch to 2021 -- in order to even the series.

But, since 1952, the series is dead even at 24-24-2.

UM enjoys a 29-17-4 advantage in Ann Arbor.

* Ohio State has won three of the last five meetings, including the last two.

Two years ago, Craig Krenzel, a Sterling Heights, Mich., native replaced the suspended Steve Bellasari at quarterback and made his first career start in the 26-20 win at Ann Arbor.

OSU denied Michigan a piece of the Big Ten championship and a Bowl Championship Series berth with the win that day as Krenzel completed 11 of 18 passes for 118 yards and an interception. Tailback Jonathan Wells had 129 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries as OSU built a 23-0 halftime lead and held on for dear life.

Navarre was 21 of 47 passing for 206 yards with two touchdowns (each to Marquise Walker) and four interceptions.

The win snapped a 14-year, six-game losing skid in Ann Arbor for OSU, which had not won there since taking a 23-20 decision in Earle Bruce's last game as the OSU head coach in 1987.

Last year, OSU rallied for its landmark 14-9 win as freshman tailback Maurice Clarett had 119 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. OSU took the lead on Maurice Hall's 5-yard touchdown run with 4:55 left, then again held on for dear life as Navarre twice drove the Wolverines into OSU territory before turning the ball over.

UM lost possession at the OSU 36-yard line with 2:02 left when Darrion Scott hit Navarre to force a fumble and Will Smith recovered it. Then, after OSU was unable to run the time out, nickel back Will Allen intercepted a Navarre pass at the goal line on the final play after he had led UM on a 56-yard drive to the OSU 24 in the final minute.

* OSU will be fighting for a third straight win over UM for the first time since winning four straight from 1960-63. OSU also won three straight over UM on just two other occasions -- 1919-21 and 1934-37.

The Buckeyes last won in consecutive trips to Ann Arbor in 1979 (18-15, Buckeye Block Party win) and 1981 (14-9, Vaughn Broadnax block springs Art Schlichter as OSU wins Big Ten title).

* Michigan is the standard bearer when it comes to Big Ten football championships with 40. UM last won the title in 2000, sharing it with Purdue and Northwestern. UM's 1997 Big Ten title was its 15th and most recent outright conference title.

Ohio State will be vying for its 30th Big Ten title. Of course, OSU split the crown with Iowa last year. OSU has captured 15 outright titles, but none since 1984.

A win would give Ohio State its fifth conference title in 11 seasons. Michigan has won at least a piece of the conference crown in nine of the last 17 years, including three in the last 10 seasons.

* This marks the 12th time since The Game was moved to the end of the season in 1935 that the teams will play an "either/or" game where the winner gets at least a share of the conference title and the loser does not.

Michigan holds a 6-5 advantage in such games, including the last two (1990 and 2000).

* Michigan has 13 Ohio natives on its roster, including five starters (Mignery from Hamilton, Bowman from Columbus DeSales, Massey from Cleveland St. Ignatius, Woods from Cleveland Glenville and Reid from Pickerington).

Last year, UM signed two of Ohio's top prospects in linebackers Prescott Burgess from Warren Harding and Shawn Crable from Massillon Washington. Burgess has seen action in 10 games this year as a backup, while Crable is redshirting.

* ABC will bring longtime college football voice Keith Jackson, who mainly covers West Coast games, back to the Midwest for a rare appearance for this top-five match-up.

The Game will be televised live for the 48th time. This marks the 37th straight year it will be televised, including 17 years in a row by ABC.

* This marks the ninth time The Game will match two top-five teams since the inception of the AP poll in 1936.

OSU has a record of 5-2-1 in such games, although UM has won the last two (1977 and 1997).

* Michigan will be facing a top-10 team for the third time in four games, with wins over No. 10 Purdue and No. 9 Michigan State.

UM is 4-2 against ranked teams this year. OSU is 5-1 against ranked teams this season.

OSU will be attempting to win a third straight game against a ranked team for just the second time in school history. That last time it happened was 1995 with wins over Notre Dame, Penn State and Wisconsin.

* Carr has built a strong 13-3 record against top-10 opponents since taking over for Gary Moeller before the 1995 season.

Carr's UM teams won their first nine games against top-10 ranked teams, including wins over then-No. 2 Ohio State in both 1995 and 1996.

* Tressel boasts a 13-3 record against ranked teams in his third year at Ohio State.

* ESPN's College GameDay will make its third appearance at an OSU game this year, following the Washington and Purdue games in Columbus this year.

It will be GameDay's eighth appearance in Ann Arbor since 1994. UM has a 6-1 record in such games. The GameDay crew was in Ann Arbor earlier this year for the Notre Dame game.

* For a complete look at the Game Data for OSU-Michigan, including depth charts, a game breakdown and one man's opinion on how it might go, click this link.

Click here for Game Data page.

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