Ten Pressing Questions: Ready For The Game?

We share Ten Pressing Questions on Ohio State's rivalry game with Michigan (1 p.m., ABC). One of those questions deals with OSU tailback Antonio Pittman and his ability to approach or eclipse the coveted 100-yard mark on the ground against the Wolverines. Click here for more.

As we all count down the hours until kickoff for Saturday's game between No. 9 Ohio State and No. 17 Michigan (1 p.m., ABC), I came up with my usual game day theme, Ten Pressing Questions, to think about what we may look for during Saturday's big game.

How big a game is this? We'll let OSU linebacker A.J. Hawk clue you in.

"It's great to be a part of something like this," Hawk said. "It is a physical game. You have two teams like this that face off every year. You know teams are going to try and run the ball and the teams are going to play hard and physical. That's why it's such a great rivalry. There is so much hype leading up to the game and then it's usually such a great game.

"You go at it for 60 minutes and whoever is standing at the end will win. It's going to be great. That's why you come to Ohio State, to play in big games like this. To end it at Michigan could be a good way to end it if we play well. We want to have a good start and see what happens."

As always, I'll come back on Sunday with my thoughts on how each of these questions were answered during my Sunday Morning Quarterback column.

Without any further adieu, here we go:

1. Which Troy Smith will show up for the Buckeyes? -- Smith burned Michigan for 386 yards total offense in last year's 37-21 win over the Wolverines in Columbus. He has also thrown for 200 or more yards in four of OSU's last five games.

You know Michigan will come after him with rush linebacker LaMarr Woodley, certainly, assigned to try and make Smith's day a miserable one. If he is tentative and has problems finding open receivers, that could be a bad sign for the Buckeyes.

"He had an unbelievable Michigan game – one of the greatest of all time," said OSU center Nick Mangold. "But it's a new year and a new team. We are excited to have him and (Antonio) Pittman and Tone (Santonio Holmes) making the catches he has. It's a different team, but it is excited to have that kind of weapon on your team."

2. Can Antonio Pittman approach or eclipse the 100-yard mark? -- Pittman has been just about everything Jim Tressel could have hoped for at tailback. He has taken about 80 percent of the snaps at that position this year and gone over the 1,100-yard mark for the year.

He's hit the 100-yard mark six times in 10 games this year. Obviously, if he can approach the century mark in this game, it will help OSU maintain control of the football and field position.

3. Will Ted Ginn Jr. and/or Santonio Holmes get loose and make a big play on offense? -- Holmes has three touchdown catches in two games against Michigan, while Ginn had a long punt return touchdown against UM last year. UM's eager defensive backs will be doing their best all day to knock these two off-stride. It will be interesting to see if the Buckeyes can continue to get these two involved in the action.

4. Can the Buckeyes avoid costly mistakes? -- Through the years, OSU's losses in The Big House have been predicated on turnovers. Michigan feasted off interceptions, in particular, in taking key wins over OSU in 1993, 1995 and 1997. Smith has kept those costly mistakes to a minimum after a rocky start. His interception last week against Northwestern was just his second in five games.

A turnover in a game like this – particularly allowing the UM-partisan crowd of over 110,000 to get into a frenzy – could prove lethal.

5. Will Ohio State contain Michigan tailback Mike Hart? -- Hart has been in and out of the lineup. He did not play last week against Indiana, presumably so he would be full-go for Ohio State.

He provides a spark for the UM offense, which operates in a true comfort zone at Michigan Stadium. It will be on the OSU front seven to keep Hart from getting into the second level, where he is so dangerous. I have a feeling Hawk and Anthony Schlegel, among others, will be tracking Hart all day long.

"I think he's a special back because he can catch the ball out of the backfield and make people miss," Schlegel said. "Then, he can run inside extremely well for his size. In the Penn State game, he was dragging guys with him. He's an all-around great back."

Defensive tackle Marcus Green added, "To me, it's the rushing totals. We keep the rushing totals down and we'll be pretty successful. That and third-down percentage. If we can get off the field on third down, the defense that can get off the field on third down will usually win."

6. Can the Buckeyes get pressure on Michigan QB Chad Henne and force some mistakes? -- OSU leads the Big Ten with 38 quarterback sacks this year. Much of the pressure has come from Hawk and Bobby Carpenter, whose move from linebacker to defensive end in nickel situations has been a true stroke of genius.

But Michigan excels in pocket protection for its flame throwing quarterback Henne. The Buckeyes will need to puncture that pocket and make some negative plays on Henne – or, even better, pressure him into some bad throws and possible interceptions.

7. How will the OSU secondary handle UM's talented receivers? -- It has been shown that UM's Jason Avant, Mario Manningham and Steve Breaston can break open a game at a moment's notice. Henne, when he gets hot, can be a tough one to hold down.

The OSU secondary has overcome some injuries and with Ashton Youboty, Tyler Everett and Malcolm Jenkins at the corners and Nate Salley, Donte Whitner and Brandon Mitchell at the safeties the Buckeyes go six men deep on the last line of defense. All of them may be needed to come through if the Buckeyes are able to contain the UM passing attack.

8. Can OSU pull out a tight game in The Big House? -- OSU has won its last two road games at Indiana and Minnesota. Prior to that the recent road record wasn't anything to write home about.

Moreover, OSU has won in Ann Arbor once in eight tries since 1987. But Hawk hopes OSU can find the right recipe this time around.

"You have to find a happy medium between being out of control and being focused on the game," Hawk said. "As people saw the last time we went there (a 35-21 loss in 2003), I don't think we were ready to play and we got down early. It's tough to come from behind on the road like that against a great Michigan team.

"We showed the tape of that game and you show the younger guys. We didn't look like we had looked the rest of that year. We have to come out and make sure we keep this thing rolling and play like we have.

"People need to realize on this team how tough it is to go into a place like Michigan and win. If you let them get on you early and you get down, it's tough to come back. They can get momentum going. They have a great stadium, great fans. It's tough to play on the road because all you have are the 70 guys with you. We know that's tough. That last game didn't turn out the way we would have liked. It was a tough loss, but it was a learning experience as well."

9. Will Josh Huston come through if the game is on the line? -- Huston is a sparking 18 of 21 on field goals for the year. But we have not seen him in a pressure-filled last-minute situation yet. That opportunity could come in this game.

10. Is Ohio State truly a Big Ten championship caliber team? -- The Buckeyes can prove that by winning the game. They would clinch at least a share of the Big Ten title. And, if Penn State somehow loses to Michigan State, OSU gets a Big Ten championship with a win or a loss against Michigan.

Of course, a conference championship would seem somewhat hollow if it came in spite of a loss in The Game. Even worse, OSU would have dropped games to each of the teams it would be tied with, Penn State and Michigan. And even more worse, Michigan would be the Big Ten's automatic BCS representative.

OSU would be the automatic BCS rep with a win and a Penn State loss. Even if PSU wins, OSU can make a strong case for an at-large bid (likely to the Fiesta Bowl or maybe the Orange Bowl) with a win. A loss would probably put OSU in the Outback Bowl.

But all of that speculation and hand wringing pales in comparison to the real stakes for this game.

"Being the way the tradition is, this is what you live and die for," Holmes said. "You want to play against teams like this. You want to be in the biggest rivalry. You want to be in the spotlight. And you don't want to be on the losing end."

Hey, enjoy the 102nd rendition of The Game and we'll see you on the other side.

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