Friday, November 26, 2010

OHIO STATE-MICHIGAN PREVIEW: 'THE GAME' HAS A WHOLE LOT AT STAKE

COLUMBUS — Ohio State has won six straight games against arch-rival Michigan, and are heavy favorites to make it seven when the two take the field at Ohio Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

With a victory, the eighth-ranked Buckeyes (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) would win at least a share of their record-tying sixth straight Big Ten title, and more than likely earn a ninth trip to a BCS bowl game — also a record.

It would seem that the Buckeyes have a whole lot to lose this Saturday.

"Nobody wants to be the team that ends the streak, I mean, that's obvious," OSU senior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said. "Not saying that the streak is the only thing motivating us to (win). Obviously, it's senior day, it's our last chance to play in the stadium and it's a huge game. It's a huge rivalry, so we have that motivation to play well."

Michigan (7-4, 3-4 Big Ten) also has a ton to play for this Saturday in Columbus. Sure, they have no chance of copping a Big Ten championship, and they have already become bowl eligible for the first time since 2007, so it would appear that this game isn't as important to the Wolverines as it is the Buckeyes.

Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez says that's quite the contrary.

"Saying that (the Buckeyes) have more at stake than us, when you look at it from a bowl perspective and Big Ten championship, sure," Rodriguez said. "To say it's less important, no ... never."

This game actually means quite a bit to Michigan. For one, no player on the roster has ever beaten Ohio State. In fact, a good amount of them were in middle school the last time the Wolverines tasted victory against the Buckeyes (in 2003). A win on Saturday would no doubt be a major boost for the program, which has been on a downward spiral ever since Lloyd Carr's retirement in 2007.

A win would mean even more for Rodriguez, who has logged a substandard 15-20 overall record in his three seasons at Michigan, including a horrid 6-17 campaign in the Big Ten. He is also 0-2 against arch-rival Ohio State, losing by an average score of 32-9.

"I know it's going to be intense," OSU senior linebacker Brian Rolle said. "I was just thinking earlier that Coach Rich Rodriguez is probably telling them that this is the game — they have to win this game, it's a must-win.

"They've been dominated, they know in the back of their mind that they've played us the last couple years and it hasn't gone their way. Their seniors are going to want to ruin our senior day. They want to win this game for Rich Rodriguez, so they can keep him at Michigan, as well."

Now we could break down endless match-ups and critique for hours how each team can win this game, but that would be a major waste of time.

This game is going to come down to one thing and one thing only — can the Big Ten's best defense (Ohio State) slow down the conference's top offense (Michigan)?

Michigan's offense has been light's out this season, averaging 515 yards and nearly 37 points per game — and it all begins with sophomore sensation, quarterback Denard Robinson.

"I think the lowest they've scored is 17," OSU senior defensive end Cameron Heyward said. "Denard Robinson is a heck of a player. He's running up and down on defenses and having a lot of success.

"He's doing great things and their offensive line is very sound and they've got a lot of play-makers. It will be tough to stop them."

Robinson has accounted for more than 3,700 total yards and 30 touchdowns, including an FBS quarterback-record 1,538 yards on the ground.

"He's got great quickness. He's tough. He's got a grasp of what they're doing," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said of Robinson. "You can tell he studies everything really well. That's what has won him the job over the course of time is the fact that he dove in and competed and thoroughly gained a command of what they want to do, and he does it with great ability.

"He's got a live arm. He's hard to get on the ground. He's just a great player. A great, great player."

As masterful as Robinson has been this season, the defense he'll be facing on Saturday is going to be arguably the best he's seen. The Buckeyes' defense is tops in the Big Ten, surrendering less than 250 total yards per game, with only 86.4 coming on the ground.

"Their corners (Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence) as a pair are probably the best group in our league," Rodriguez said of the Buckeyes' defense. "I think their linebackers are as good as anybody. We had a hard time with their linebackers last year, especially Rolle."

Rodriguez said that Rolle is the quintessential Buckeye linebacker.

"A lot of people don't talk about Brian Rolle, he's a great football player," Rodriguez said. "He's not a good one, but a great one. That's why they're an outstanding football team. That's why they are always competing for a national championship."

Ohio State middle linebacker Brian Rolle. (The Buckeye Times/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)
Bottom Line

Michigan's offense has scored 56 touchdowns this season — an average of five per game. Ohio State's defense has given up just 15 touchdowns — an average of one per game. Obviously something has to give.

Let's meet in the middle and say Michigan will score three touchdowns on Saturday. That total just isn't going to be enough to stop the Buckeyes' streak.

Why you ask?

Well, because Michigan's defense is the worst in the Big Ten, giving up 45 touchdowns and 445 yards per game. Ohio State's offense is ranked second in the Big Ten, recording 55 touchdowns and 446 yards per contest.

They say "numbers don't lie." If that's truly the case, the Buckeyes are going to put up at least 35 on the board against the Wolverines.

Add in the fact that Ohio State's kicking game — led by senior place kicker Devin Barclay — is far superior to Michigan's unit (which has made just four field goals all season long) and you've got the recipe for another Buckeye rout.

Lee's Call: OSU 48-21