Michigan comes limping into Columbus carrying the weight of being the first eight-loss team in the school's storied history. Although it would seem they are nearly 24 hours away from becoming the first nine-loss team in school history, upsets happen weekly in college football, and it's time to take a look at the recipe that could bring victory to Rich Rodriguez and his Michigan team.
First, understand that Michigan has earned the underdog role in this game, mainly because they are a bad football team. There is really nothing this team does particularly well to inspire much hope for a victory on Saturday, but there is a chance they could win if they follow this five-step playbook to perfection.
Key #1- Rich Rodriguez MUST out-coach Jim Tressel. Rodriguez better have already started this task earlier this week. His mission all week will be to have his team arrive in Columbus KNOWING, not hoping, it will win. For a team appearing to lack any confidence, this will not be easy, but neither will be winning this game. Rodriguez also has to be able to keep the game close, and avoid an early Buckeye blowout. Rodriguez has to have his team enter the fourth quarter still in the game, with a chance to shock the world. At that point he has to hope his team's confidence will have grown, while the Buckeyes might be feeling doubt. At that point Rodriguez will need to pull something out of his hat, be it a fake punt, onside kick, or something out of character, to grab the victory. Rodriguez cannot just match Tressel in the coaching department; rather he needs a clear knockout.
Key#2- Michigan absolutely MUST win the kicking game, and to do that they will need to be flawless in their coverage. They also cannot afford to miss any field goals, and their punting game must be able to pin Ohio State deep in its own end of the field continuously. The Wolverines must have either a punt or a kick return for a score. Scoring against the Buckeye defense will be nearly impossible for the Wolverine offense, so any chance to influence the outcome via the return game must be taken advantage of. Michigan needs a decisive win in the special teams area, not a stalemate.
Key #3- The Michigan defense, thought to be a strength coming into the season, must force a minimum of three turnovers. The Wolverines will have to gamble by putting eight or nine men in the box all game long, and force Terrelle Pryor to beat them with his arm. They have to make stopping Chris Wells the most important part of their defensive strategy, while putting all the pressure on Pryor to win the game for Ohio State. They have to hope the freshman quarterback plays like a freshman to have any chance of winning. Michigan must employ single coverage on every receiver, and if those individual battles are lost, they have to hope the pass rush gets to Pryor, or he is inaccurate throwing the football. They must make Terrelle Pryor feel the entire weight of this game on his shoulders, while eliminating Wells from the picture.
Key #4- The Michigan offense cannot be expected to put 30 points on the scoreboard, but they must have the ability to make first downs and win the field position battle. If the defense can force Ohio State into turnovers in their end of the field, the Wolverine offense MUST respond with points. It is unrealistic to expect Nick Sheridan to march all over the Buckeye defense, but he must have a zero turnover performance and he has to avoid a lot of three-and-outs. Ohio State will likely concentrate on stopping the Michigan running game, so Sheridan might have some opportunities in the short passing game, and he must take advantage of them. Sheridan will not be able to throw for 300 yards in this game, but 150 yards and no interceptions might be enough to win the game. Sheridan must be able to scramble for yardage and avoid negative plays with his feet. The objective for the Michigan offense is to be in as many third-and-short situations as possible, and convert a high percentage of them.
Key #5- Michigan will need some luck, and it appears Mother Nature will be cooperating by bringing bad weather. The Wolverines need the ghost of Shawn Springs to make a Buckeye defensive back slip in pass coverage. They need the ghost of Bo Schembechler to inspire the team, and show them how a first-year Wolverine coach can pull off a major upset. Simply put, if Ohio State plays to their capabilities, then Michigan will lose. Michigan needs to play their best game of the year, while hoping the Buckeyes are off their stride.
Can Michigan achieve these above mentioned key's to victory and defeat Ohio State this Saturday in Columbus? Yes, they can, if everything goes according to plan and the stars align perfectly, but that's not likely to happen.
I do expect the Wolverines to play hard, and play well, but in the end they will lose a close, hard-fought game to Ohio State. I think the game will be low-scoring, and much closer than the point spread would indicate, but there's just no way Jim Tressel, and an inspired group of seniors, will lose this game. I'm calling it Ohio State 20 Michigan 9. And you can Take That to the Bank!!!!