Saturday, Noon, Michigan Stadium
What more needs to be said about facing Michigan than has already been noted? Buckeye fans are already quite familiar with players like quarterback Chad Henne and tailback Mike Hart, who – if they can see the field – will each be facing Ohio State for the fourth time on Saturday.
So what can The Essentials do to preview a team most Buckeye fans are already quite familiar with? Well, by compiling some of the best info to preview the Wolverines that has come out this week, and by mixing it with some of the lesser known details that will still be important come Saturday.
Heavy Mallett: When Michigan signed Ryan Mallett, a Texas product who was Scout's No. 2 quarterback a year ago, they were expecting to get their quarterback of the future who would learn for a year under Henne before taking over once the senior graduated after this year.
Instead, the Wolverines received a player who has basically been a part-time starter, given how often Henne has missed games because of injury troubles. What they have gotten from the true freshman has been the occasional brilliant play – like a 97-yard touchdown to Mario Manningham a week ago against Wisconsin – mixed with consistent inconsistency – like his final 11-for-36 line from a week ago.
On the whole, Mallett is 60 of 138 (43.5 percent) for 884 yards, seven touchdowns and five picks. He has started against Notre Dame, Penn State and Minnesota and played all but two series last week against the Badgers.
"I don't think you could be in more fires than he's been in," U-M head coach Lloyd Carr said. "He's grown a lot. He's like any freshman. He's got a lot of things to learn. He's done some great things and he's learned from some mistakes, and it's all part of the process that you go through that you go through to play that position."
No matter who takes the field on Saturday, Ohio State expects Michigan to still be Michigan when it comes to play calling.
"They're still a similar football team, and they still do the same things they do," linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "They like to run the ball, and they've got quarterbacks who make smart decisions, both quarterbacks. Henne has done great things since he's been there four years, and Mallett you can tell is no different."
No Long Shot: Getting players to talk about Michigan left tackle Jake Long is one of the more fun things a writer can do. No player OSU has played this year conjures up such vivid adjectives as the massive 6-7, 315-pound senior who is a sure-fire All-American come season's end.
"I like to say he's beasty," Freeman said. "He's a big guy, and you see him dominating a lot of people on film. You see why he's so highly touted and such a high draft pick coming up. He's a great player, and I think he's really athletic for how big he is. That's something you don't see in guys that are that big, and it presents a huge challenge for our D-line and anybody blitzing."
Long will be making his 29th straight start come Saturday, and Hart knows he's had the luxury of running behind a fantastic player during the last three years.
"We laugh at it all the time, because he destroys people," Hart said. "Either that defensive end or that linebacker, the whole game he's going to destroy them. And you know, it takes the will out of them. It takes the will out of those players at the end of the game when he's driving them 15 or 20 yards down the field on every play."
Kraus No ‘B' Squad Leader: A year ago, Michigan's Adam Kraus, now a senior, was a first-team All-Big Ten selection at guard.
He was performing well again there this season, while Justin Boren, a sophomore from Pickerington, Ohio, started the first eight games at center. However, Mallett and Boren had trouble linking up on center exchanges, necessitating a move. The obvious solution? Just flip flop the two.
"I think Adam has done such a good job when he's been in there, and I think Justin played guard all last season, so it's been an easy change," Carr said. "Really initially the reason we made the change is because of Ryan. But I think Adam Kraus has done a great job this fall and is having a great season. You know, he's everything you want, a great leader and tough as nails."
Kraus has 33 career starts.
Hart Not Backfield's Only Vital Organ: Given how much time Hart has missed on the year – he has played in only one of the last four games, that being against Michigan State Nov. 3 – his backups have had plenty of chances to shine. And sophomores Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor have done just that.
Minor has 89 carries on the year for 387 yards (a 4.3-yard average) and a touchdown, while the 6-0, 209-pound Brown had 75 rushes for 382 yards (5.1) and four touchdowns.
"When you can have (young guys who don't miss a beat), it shows how hard they are and how much they care about this team," Hart said. "Sometimes you have guys, that maybe they'll be second or third string and they're like, I'm not going to play until next year so I don't have to do this, I don't have to do that. When they're out here doing everything they can to help this team out it helps us, as you can see when someone does get injured."
During the three games Hart has missed, Brown has two 100-yard games and Minor has another.
Mathews Plays Hardball: Mention the names Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington in Columbus, and most people would have very little trouble telling you that the two are wideouts for Michigan. Mention Greg Mathews, and some people might wonder if you're referring to the MSNBC host.
However, the 6-3, 207-pounder is actually a sophomore wideout at U-M and has filled that role admirable. Mathews has both good size and speed and has 31 grabs for 299 yards and three touchdowns after getting the chance to play sporadically a season ago when the above duo was joined by Steve Breaston.
"I think he had the great advantage to play a significant role a year ago as a freshman," Carr said. "It was very clear when he came in that he was one of those guys that had excellent ability; he's got great hands, he's got great size, he's very tough, and he's very smart.
"I think Greg is so consistent, he is so reliable that to me that's always the hallmark of the outstanding players. They're not up and down. He hasn't missed a play this season I don't think. So he's tough and he's a competitive guy, loves to play."
Mathews has three or more catches in six of Michigan's 11 games on the season.
U-M Quick Hitters:
- A record 13 true freshmen have played this season for Michigan: cornerback Zion Babb, safety Artis Chambers, wideout Toney Clemons, linebacker Marell Evans, fullback Vince Helmuth, receiver Junior Hemingway, Mallett, running back Jim Potempa, corner James Rogers, defensive tackle Renaldo Sagesse, cornerback Donovan Warren, tight end Martell Webb and cornerback Troy Woolfolk.
- Field-goal kicking was an Achilles' heel for the Wolverines early in the season. Junior Jason Gingell missed 3 of 9 chances, including the possible game-winner against Appalachian State at the start of the year that was blocked. From there, Michigan turned to classmate K.C. Lopata, and all the Farmington, Mich., native has done is make all eight of his attempts with a long of 42.
- Safeties Brandent Englemon and Jamar Adams have combined for more tackles (144) than linebackers Obi Ezeh and Chris Graham (127). The other linebacker, senior captain Shawn Crable, has 74 tackles but has split time at defensive end.