Buckeyes Remembering How To Stop Spread

If Michigan brings a puncher's chance into the 106th edition of its rivalry with Ohio State, the knockout will almost certainly have to come from the Wolverine offense. The Buckeyes know that and are preparing to show what they have learned over the years of facing such attacks.

In year two in head coach Rich Rodriguez's spread option offense, Michigan has upped its scoring average more than 11 points and is gaining nearly 101 more yards per game than in 2008, and the reasons why are not hard to determine.

The offensive line is deeper and more experienced, while freshmen quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson bring another dimension to the attack with their running ability.

The Wolverine defense has allowed at least 30 points in five consecutive games against Division I-A competition, so it figures to be up to the offense to keep Michigan in the game.

One would think the Buckeyes might also suffer from a lack of familiarity with the offensive style, too. After facing nine spread teams of one kind or another last season, including Texas in the Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State has run across only three full-time spread teams through 11 games in 2009.

The Buckeyes have not faced a true spread team since they shut out Illinois 30-0 on Sept. 26, but linebacker Austin Spitler said that should not be a hindrance.

"No, we've seen so many in the past," he said.

Meanwhile, Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman invoked the Fighting Illini when asked about the Michigan offense.

"I think this offense is similar to Illinois' in the sense that Tate can make the plays with his arm, but he can also scramble," Coleman said. "So it's going to be a test for us to be able to get some pressure on him with the front four, and we have to be able to cover wide receivers. They have tall wide receivers that are able to make plays. It's going to be a challenge for us across the board to man up against who they have."

Forcier, who made headlines early in the season for leading a come-from-behind victory against Notre Dame and nearly rescuing his team from the dead against Michigan State but has since cooled off, has a fan in Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel.

"I love the competitiveness of Tate Forcier," Tressel said. "The guy loves to play, the guy loves to compete. There's no question about it. If he's got a pulse, he's going to compete."

Forcier enters the contest averaging 165.8 yards passing per game with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions, but Coleman said his running ability is what has made the Michigan offense more dangerous.

"I think last year they didn't have the right style of QB for the offense," Coleman said. "This offense takes a special QB to run and I think Tate is a great fit for them. They put up a lot of points. They know how to score, so it's going to present a lot of obstacles for us to really defend them. It's going to be a challenge for us in all parameters of this game.

"I think you have to gameplan a little differently, of course, because you have to be able to contain the QB. Last year, (Nick Sheridan) wasn't able to be as elusive as Tate is. But as far as the offensive scheme and what we need to do to defend what they do, I think the defensive gameplan is going stay similar or the same. You definitely have to be conscious of the run from Tate."

But Forcier is not the only threat the Michigan defense can throw out on the field.

Robinson is third on the team with 320 yards rushing and averages 5.4 yards per carry.

He has thrown for 185 yards and two touchdowns with four interceptions, but he has more than twice as many rush attempts (59) on the year as he does passes (27).

"He's very fast and elusive," Coleman said. "And from what I hear he doesn't tie his shoes. It's going to be a challenge. I think we have some guys who can emulate the speed and the style that he runs and plays with, but it's going to be a challenge. We have to have full awareness about what he's doing. I think once we get back and figure out the exact plays that he's running, I think we can narrow it down a little bit better."

After the Buckeyes shut out the Fighting Illini, a reporter asked Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock if he had come up with some ways to slow down that type of offense because it had bedeviled the Buckeyes in the past, but he said there was really not much to reveal about the team's improvement.

"What we always want to do is get four-man pressure," the coach said. "If you can get four-man pressure, it makes life easier for everybody. You don't have to blitz or ask your people in the back end to play a whole ton of man coverage."

While the Wolverines will attack the Buckeyes with a couple of fresh-faced quarterbacks and a gaggle of talented tailbacks including Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown, Ohio State might have an ace or two in the hole with athletic ‘tweener types such as Thaddeus Gibson on the line of scrimmage and Jermale Hines as a linebacker/safety in the team's nickel defense.

"I remember last year (Gibson) ran down a couple of the zones, so it's very beneficial to have that kind of hybrid defensive end right there to run that play there," Coleman said.

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