Well, it's finally here. Michigan week. This is the most important week of the football season for OSU. If the Buckeyes can win this week, it will make all the ups and downs of this season forgotten.
But that's a big if.
OSU is coming off one of the more tumultuous weeks in recent memory, and most folks aren't expecting this team to go up to Michigan and win. We all know what OSU has had to deal with lately, and many folks are fearing the worst.
Maybe we shouldn't be too quick to give up though because this Michigan team, while a better team than OSU at this point, is not a great team by any means. They are having their own struggles right now and are not unbeatable. This team is not as good as the one that came to the Horseshoe last year with all that NFL talent, and with some breaks, OSU might be able to come out on top in this one.
To find out why, one needs to start with the struggling offense. Quarterback John Navarre (above, AP Photo/Duane Burleson) has been up and down this year, and recently, he's been on a downswing. Against Wisconsin, Navarre's stats were not exactly pretty as he went 11 of 23 for 77 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. He was even removed for a series in favor of back-up Jermaine Gonzales. Navarre has heard his share of criticism up in Michigan, and it will continue if he can't get the job done this Saturday.
The UM running game has fallen off quite a bit from last year. Chris Perry was expected to be the man, but he has disappointed a bit this season, running for 403 yards. B.J. Askew has emerged as the leading rusher for UM, with 785 yards and 9 TDs. Askew is a threat to catch passes out of the backfield.
At WR, you will find UM's top player, Marquise Walker. Marquise has emerged as the main man on offense and is being projected as a first-round NFL draft pick. He has 66 catches for 883 yards and 9 TDs this year. UM hasn't gotten as much production out of the other WRs. The TEs Bill Seymour and Bennie Joppru have been inconsistent, but the Wolverines will throw to them. The OL is not what it was last year (they have allowed over 20 sacks to date), but last year's line was exceptional and a drop-off was expected.
Defense is where UM has been getting it done. They lead the Big Ten in many defensive categories, including scoring defense (16.6), rushing defense (83.5), total defense (306.3), and sacks (45). Standouts include LB Larry Foote, who has six sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss, Victor Hobson, Shantee Orr, and Dan Rumishek. The front seven is, of course, the strength, but UM's secondary isn't as highly-rated. Also, some look at the huge game that T.J. Duckett had on UM and conclude that maybe this defense can be run on. Let's hope so since Jonathan Wells will play a big role in OSU's success. The punting and kicking is handled by Hayden Epstein, who has one of the strongest legs in the nation but has missed some makeable kicks this year. He has gone 12-18 in the field goal department and is averaging 39.0 yards per punt.
The Buckeyes need to play perhaps their best game of the season on both sides of the ball to win, but it can be done. The Michigan offense is one that can be contained. It's not a given that OSU will contain them, but if the Buckeye D comes to play, they should be able to keep UM at least within striking distance. But can the OSU offense get enough production to win the game? That is the question. The weight lies heavily on Craig Krenzel, who has gone from being a third-string quarterback just over a week ago to being thrown in the hottest of fires. Coach Tressel has said that even though Bellisari is back on the team, he is fourth-string and it is very unlikely that he will play, so it looks like it falls on Craig. Can he do it?
We'll just have to see. It would be a great story -- the Michigan native going back to his home state to defeat the home team and cost them a Big Ten title and BCS berth. With good protection and good decisions, Craig has the ability to do it. But that is easier said than done going up against this UM defense.
The weight also falls on the big shoulders of Jonathan Wells and the running game. The OSU running game has averaged close to 200 yards a game this year, and if they can approach that mark, it would bode well. Of course, in addition to all this, the offensive line needs to step up and make it happen.
Whatever happens on Saturday, you have to admit that it's not going to be boring. The Buckeyes seemingly have the odds stacked against them, but it could also mean that the stage is set for a legendary, improbable Buckeye win. Most folks don't expect OSU to win. We say they can do it. Will they? We'll find out Saturday. As far as a prediction goes, well, do you actually think we'd pick UM to win? Nah. Even if OSU was 0-10, we'd still have a hard time giving UM the nod. Prediction: OSU 21, UM 20.