5 Questions: Michigan at Ohio State

Grabbing an early lead could be key for the Wolverines to pull an upset. Preventing that, stopping the run, playing poised and getting healthy are also key areas this week in the 105th edition of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. And what about those new strategies the Buckeyes always seem to come up with?

1. Can the Michigan get an early lead?

The two times an unranked team has won this game this decade, Ohio State in 2001 and '04, the underdog drew first blood. Playing from ahead is often easier than trying to catch up, especially for teams like the Buckeyes and Wolverines that run the ball much better than they throw it.

OSU head coach Jim Tressel acknowledged as much when asked about his team's 26-21 victory in his first time leading the Buckeyes in The Game.

"I think what we did is we went out and caused a couple turnovers early and we got a little lead and hit a fourth-and-one for a homerun and all of a sudden, we were having a chance to win," Tressel said.

2. Have the Buckeyes figured out how to stop the shotgun sweep?

Illinois was able to gash the Ohio State defense repeatedly by handing to a running back and sending him around end last Saturday, something Michigan likes to do with regularity.

"The first thing is you have to try to stop the run," OSU linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "If you watch the film, they've got a lot of running backs. They're all talented and they do a good job. That's' the first thing we need to do as a team and then just try to play sound football, do our job and cut off gaps and try to prevent them from getting a lot of yards."

With defensive end Thaddeus Gibson hobbled lately by a sprained ankle and the lightest of the Ohio State defensive linemen anyway, this could continue to be a source of concern.

3. Which key players will be out?

As one would expect after 11 games of football, there are a number of wounded players on both sides of the rivalry. While safety Jermale Hines is the only player Tressel said Monday he was concerned might miss the game, linebacker Marcus Freeman, tackle Todd Denlinger and Gibson are all defensive players who have been nursing injuries in recent weeks.

On the offensive side of the ball, Chris Wells has not seemed to favor his right foot at all recently but tweaked a hamstring against the Fighting Illini. Although all indications are he is fine, those can be nagging injuries that can flair up again, particularly on cold days.

Michigan has a slew of players on the injured list, including quarterback Stephen Threet and offensive tackle Steve Schilling. Running back Brandon Minor, who missed last week with a shoulder injury, is expected to play.

4. Can Terrelle Pryor play within himself and make big plays?

Pryor has rarely turned the ball over this season, but two of his miscues came against Penn State in the only game Ohio State has lost since he took over the starting spot. That was also the biggest game Pryor has started.

He will no doubt be careful with the ball, but if he is tentative, he could prevent the Buckeyes from making the big plays the offense has thrived on the past two weeks.

On the other hand, he has just the same types of skills recent Wolverine killers such as Vince Young, Troy Smith and Dennis Dixon possessed, so if he can unleash his athleticism, Michigan might be helpless to stop him.

Every player's first time to play in the Ohio State-Michigan game is going to be an emotional experience. For the most part, Pryor has shown maturity beyond his years this season, but sometimes the Michigan game can cause the unexpected.

"I'm confident Terrelle can handle it or (fellow freshmen) Michael Brewster in the middle making calls or Nathan Williams coming off the edge as long as they're focused on what they need to focus on," Tressel said.

5. Will trickery play any part in determining a winner?

Every year, Jim Tressel seems to come up with something unique for Michigan.

In 2002, there was the wheel-route pass from Craig Krenzel to Maurice Clarett. That play set up an option pitch from Krenzel to Maurice Hall for the game-winning touchdown.

In 2004, Branden Joe was unveiled as the power back we'd all heard he would be since the beginning of the season. The senior fullback rushed 14 times for 52 yards in Ohio State's upset of No. 7 Michigan after he entered the contest with 23 carries for 53 yards in the season's first 10 games.

In 2005, Andree Tyree got the surprise call as a power-blocking third tight end, helping to ramp up the running game.

A year after that, Ted Ginn Jr. caught a long touchdown pass after lining up at tight end in what otherwise looked like a power personnel grouping on a second-and-short.

And Michigan, it stands to reason, could have some surprises this year given the team's status as underdog with nothing to lose.

"I think it's tough to prepare for trick plays because if you're waiting for trick plays they're going to get you with what they regularly do," Freeman said. "You've just got to play sound football. It might come. Why not throw a trick play in there? It's about winning the game and if that's going to help you then do it."

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