Will Shoelace be a difference maker? - Leon Halip
The Game. It doesn't get any bigger than this. Which Buckeye will step up? Which Wolverine will counter punch? If Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer collide, will a supermassive black hole spawn?
Ohio State is 11-0. We thought last week might be the team's biggest test of the season, and Wisconsin certainly proved up to the task. Now returning home, Ohio State faces perhaps their greatest challenge of all; no not necessarily their nemesis from the Mitten (though Michigan is completely game to play spoiler, particularly with them having been eliminated from the Big Ten title game picture by Nebraska earlier today), but the sheer pressure of sealing the deal and completing an unbeaten regular season. Even with the rock steady Jim Tressel at the helm, Ohio State fans would likely be uneasy going into this one. Urban Meyer's big game track record though has to be at least somewhat steadying. Still, given the night before Christmas + New Year's Eve + Fourth of July + BOOM of the whole affair, it's going to be awfully tough to sleep easy tonight. All that aside, what should we expect from this one?
1) Braxton Miller will have a solid game, but won't match last year's 325 yard (235 passing, 100 on the ground, 3 TDs to 1 INT) performance against the Wolverines. Miller had a prolific debutante ball against the Wolverines a year prior in A^2, but repeating those kind of numbers against a defense as stout as Michigan's is certainly no easy task. Fool Greg Mattison once, shame on you. Fool him twice... Well you're not going to fool him again. Mattison has the added benefit of familiarity (high level schematically anyways) of what Meyer brings to the table. For all the likely to be Heisman finalists' attributes, it's hard to envision a scenario where he goes off for 300+ two consecutive years in a row. The Buckeyes will need to rely on a combination of Miller and tailbacks Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith to keep things balanced.
2) Christian Bryant will play a penalty free game. Along with fellow starting safety C.J. Barnett, the two safeties had their best game as a unit of the season last week against Wisconsin. Some of this comes with repetition, improved football intelligence, and maturity, but they probably also benefitted from Wisconsin not exactly providing a stellar down the field passing threat. With Michigan entering this one as only the 97th best passing offense in the country, it's hard to imagine Bryant being thrown behind/over all that often during the afternoon.
3) After being shutout against Wisconsin, Corey Brown will have at least three catches against the Wolverines' secondary. The receiver formerly known as Philly found a way to impact last Saturday late afternoon's affair on the special teams side of things, but was completely shut out in the box score from a receiving stand point. Brown's too talented for that to occur two weeks in a row. Whether J.T. Floyd or Raymon Taylor is slotted opposite of Brown, look for him to make some moves and get off the snide. Buckeyes offensive coordinator Tom Herman and Meyer could also potentially leverage Brown out of double option formations or on reverses.
4) Denard Robinson will be the Wolverines' leading rusher. Not exactly living on the edge here, but after taking some hits earlier in the year with respect to our accuracy on these, we elected to play it safe. With Fitz Toussaint sidelined indefinitely, it'll be up to Denard to keep the offensive train running on time for the Wolverines. Whether it's out of the quarterback position, in a more wildcat-esque look on direct snaps, or on handoffs or reverses, expect Robinson to have a disproportionate amount of touches relative to his teammates.
5) If Devin Gardner doesn't play 2/3 of the snaps at quarterback or more, Michigan will lose. There's been talk in the last 24 hours that Robinson's "dead arm" injury is as close to 100% healed as its been since he first suffered it over a month ago. Even if he's able to throw the ball to his full of his abilities, that's still not to say that Devin Gardner isn't a better option at the quarterback position. In addition to Gardner's increased accuracy, it's possible (if not probable) that Robinson would have a bit of rust after not having thrown with much regularity these past three contests. Gardner's won the confidence of the other 10 starters on offense and while it seems all but guaranteed the two will be leveraged in trick formations/wrinkles that Michigan has yet to break out all season, Gardner at quarterback and Robinson at more of a tailback type role gives the Wolverines their best chance to win.
So what's on your radar for the week? Who makes or breaks this one either way this week? Let us know in the comments below.