Buckeyes Preparing For The Best

There is something to be said about wanting to prove oneself against the best the competition has to offer. This weekend, the Buckeyes will face Michigan with an outright Big Ten title on the line and they are hoping -- you read that right -- that Chad Henne and Mike Hart will be in uniform and ready to go.

When Chad Henne and Mike Hart opted to return for their senior seasons at Michigan, one of the reasons given was that they wanted to beat Ohio State.

A noble goal, considering that the two were 0-3 to that point against the Buckeyes.

But now, as the two teams prepare to play for an outright Big Ten title on Saturday, the status of the two key cogs in the Michigan lineup remains in doubt.

As the two have suffered through injury-plagued senior seasons, U-M head coach Lloyd Carr told reporters on Monday that he will not know whether Henne and Hart will be able to play until sometime on Saturday when the rivals will meet for the 104th time.

"We'll have to see on Saturday," Carr said on Monday. The next day on the Big Ten teleconference, he said, "If you look at the history of this season as far as those two kids and their injuries, it's really been a decision made very, very late in the week each week, and I don't see that changing."

Hart, who has been battling a right high ankle sprain, went through pregame warm-ups one week ago against Wisconsin was but held out of the game after Carr did not like how he looked. According to the Ann Arbor News, Henne is battling a slightly separated throwing shoulder.

"It's difficult because it slides back and forth and clicks in and out," Henne said before the UW game. "It's definitely a painful injury."

The two started as true freshmen in 2004 and helped lead the Wolverines to a Big Ten championship. In Henne's place, true freshman Ryan Mallett has been thrown to the fire and responded with respectable numbers.

In 10 games, Mallett has completed 60 of 138 passes for 884 yards and seven touchdowns against five interceptions. Behind Hart, the duo of Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor has combined for 828 yards and five touchdowns on 164 carries – an average of just more than five yards per carry. Hart is averaging 5.5 yards per carry in eight games of action.

Despite the uncertainty of which players they might be lining up against this weekend, the Buckeyes said the approach this week does not change.

"Even if Henne's not in the game they still run the same plays and if Hart's not in the game they still run the same plays," junior linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "We expect them to be in the game. I think you prepare for a scheme, not necessarily a certain player, and that's something we've got to be preparing for."

Although OSU fans might be hoping not to see Henne or Hart in uniform on Saturday, the Buckeyes themselves seem to feel the opposite.

Despite the animosity between the two rivals, there is a certain degree of respect afforded to the players on the other side of the line of scrimmage. OSU junior linebacker James Laurinaitis said he hopes the two can play because they deserve it after the careers they have had to this point.

Freeman said that a true competitor only wants the best from his opponent.

"I think being a competitor you want to play against the best because that shows you how good you are," he said. "We want to play against the best that we can, and if we stop them then we'll feel better about ourselves.

"We want the best. That's something we're ready for."

In three games against OSU, Henne has completed 73 of 125 passes (58.4 percent) for 818 yards and five touchdowns against two interceptions. Hart, who was injured and held to 15 yards on nine carries as a sophomore, has rushed for 218 yards and four touchdowns on 50 carries.

During last season's showdown in Columbus, both had their best days in the rivalry game. Hart carried the ball 23 times for 142 yards and three touchdowns, while Henne was 21 of 35 for 367 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.

OSU junior defensive end Vernon Gholston said he expects to see the two on the field on Saturday regardless of injury.

"I definitely couldn't (see them not playing)," he said. "If the situation comes up where they couldn't play, they're at least going to try. I'm sure the competitor that Mike Hart is, he and Chad Henne as well, they're going to try to play."

Stay tuned.

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