Michigan balance poses challenge

Michigan is a team that brings excellent offensive balance, and the Buckeye defense will have a big challenge in trying to contain it.

When it comes to balanced offenses, no team in the country is more well-rounded than Michigan.

The Wolverines are ranked 26th nationally in both rushing offense (188 yards per game; 3rd in the Big Ten) and passing offense (270.1; 2nd in the Big Ten).

In total offense, they are ranked No. 14 nationally and No. 2 in the conference (458.1).

"I think the teams that give you the most problems are those teams that are balanced," Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. "And Michigan's got great balance."

The Wolverines are led by quarterback John Navarre (6-6, 230, Sr.), tailback Chris Perry (6-1, 220, Sr.), a trio of excellent receivers and, as usual, a good offensive line.

Navarre took a lot of heat from UM fans his first two years as a starter, but has flourished this season with 2,782 passing yards (58.7 completion percentage), 21 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.

He also gets to throw to possibly the best group of receivers to ever play at UM together.

Braylon Edwards (6-3, 206, Jr.) has 68 receptions for 901 yards and 12 touchdowns, Jason Avant (6-1, 206, So.) has 42-706-2 and Steve Breaston (6-1, 170, Fr.) has 27-360-3.

"Navarre is a great quarterback and they have a bunch of great receivers," OSU linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "It's no secret why they're so good."

But the key to the Wolverines success this season has been the play of Perry.

He leads the Big Ten with 1,435 rushing yards (5.1 per carry) and has added 15 touchdowns, second-most in the conference.

He has also added 27 receptions for 360 yards and three additional TDs.

"When you've got the league's leading rusher and you've got – I don't know if Navarre is leading passer, but he's got to be in the top two or three – along with great skill at receiver positions, and they throw the ball to their tight ends and their backs as well, it's not like you can say, ‘Well, let's match up on these three guys, and we won't worry about the rest,' because they're capable in all those areas, which gives you a lot more problems," Tressel said.

As Ohio State's defense always does, it will look to slow down Perry and the rushing attack first.

"He's a good runner," OSU defensive tackle Darrion Scott said. "He runs hard and he knows how to get through the holes. He can also go out and catch the screen and that's what makes him good. He's a very balanced back. He can run the ball, then he can catch the ball as well. I don't think we've seen a back that's more balanced than Chris Perry is."

Hawk has also been impressed with the UM running game.

"We know coming into this game that Chris Perry is a great running back and they have a great offensive line and they're going to want to run the ball," he said. "Last year, they tried to run the ball and they had some success doing that. So, as a defense, we're looking forward to playing them and having them run the ball on us."

Michigan's offensive line is always big and talented and this year is no different. The Wolverines have four returning starters from last year, so they are used to going up against OSU and the best defensive line in the country.

The O-line includes: LT Adam Stenavich (6-5, 302, So.), LG David Baas (6-5, 320, Jr.), C David Pearson (6-3, 290, Sr.), RG Matt Lentz (6-6, 305, So.) and RT Tony Pape (6-6, 305, Sr.).

Bass and Pape were named first-team All-Big Ten last year. Stenavich is the only first-year starter.

"Very talented up front," Tressel said. "They do a good job of handling blitz and they've got experience pass protection-wise, and they just do a good job with what they do, and I think their evolution as an offensive team has been excellent."

The rest of Michigan's starters include TE Tim Massaqoui (6-4, 250, So.) and fullback Brian Thompson (6-2, 235, So.). Massaquoi has 14 receptions for 194 yards and one TD; Thompson has 12-77-0.

As you can see, the Wolverines do a good job of spreading things around. They mix up their passing plays very well, but the staple of their offense for years as been the screen pass.

The Buckeyes know this, but stopping UM's screens and the rest of its short passing game will be a chore.

Last year in "The Game," Michigan gave up on the run fairly early, but moved the ball almost at will between the 20's with short passes.

The Wolverines were also excellent on third down conversions, something that cannot happen this year if OSU is to emerge with a victory.

Tressel knows this will be by far the toughest test of the year for his talented defense.

"I think Michigan is as explosive on the offensive side of things as any team in the country," he said. "Their trio of receivers is very talented. One of the best running backs in the country, a veteran quarterback who has, I don't know exactly how many games he's won, but I usually like to measure quarterbacks on the games that they've won, and he's won a bunch as a starter at the University of Michigan. And then the veteran offensive line."

Tressel often says that he wants OSU's offense to average about 200 rushing yards and 250 passing yards each game. Therefore, Michigan is basically the model of what Tress wants.

"That's where you'd like to be," he said. "And I think that gives you a little snapshot of why they're so difficult to defend, when you rush for that much and you're able to throw it so effectively, and they can strike with the big play. I think they've done a great job of taking command of some games by striking with big plays, and then their defense has done a great job of creating field position and creating turnovers at opportune times. And that's why they're one of the top teams."


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