This upcoming weekend of college football match ups is more colloquially known as rivalry week, and the B1G conference boasts one of the most long-standing and respected rivalries of all: “The Game,” which pits the Michigan Wolverines against the Ohio State Buckeyes.
A long-standing tradition that is respected by coaches, players and fans alike will have its 110th meeting this year.
Ohio State currently sits at No. 6 in the last College Football Playoff Rankings after clinching the B1G eastern division championship with their win over the Indiana Hoosiers last week. Michigan, on the other hand, is currently one game shy of bowl eligibility and staring down the possibility of crushing the Buckeyes’ vision of playing in the inaugural College Football Playoff, should they be victorious.
Ohio State is currently on a nine-game winning streak, with no signs of slowing down. While they may have given Buckeye fans at large a minor heart palpitation last week against Indiana, coach Urban Meyers pointed out, “Sometimes in college football, things don’t go exactly as scripted…we are still Division champs.”
The Buckeyes boast one of the best offenses in the nation, and are currently ranked 5th in points per game.
A victory for Ohio State seems even more idealistic when you consider the offensive talent it has at its disposal. Freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett has made Braxton Miller a faint memory. Barrett has had a standout season with 2,650 yards, 33 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions.
The Ohio State offense will need to utilize their might with Barrett and employ the skill of running back Ezekiel Elliot, who has 180 carries for 1061 yards and eight touchdowns, as well as the rest of the offense to generate points early and often for the Buckeyes. Michigan will likely have a hard time stopping the Buckeye’s offensive momentum.
But, the main problem with Michigan is that they look nothing like the football team we saw a year ago; the team that trounced Notre Dame and put up amazing point totals in the fourth quarter last season against Ohio State, almost pulling off the upset.
Quarterback Devin Gardner is a cheap imitation at best of the player he was last year. A Michigan victory will require Gardner to play the game of his life, while avoiding the issues that has plagued him this season as much as possible.
Running the ball is the best chance the Wolverines have at generating points (which it will need to do sooner, rather than later) against the Buckeyes. They will also need to do their best to limit the time the Buckeyes offense spends out on the field. Doing this will stifle their inevitable momentum, should the Wolverines have a hard time putting points on the board.
The chances seem slim-to-none that the Wolverines could pull off the upset against the Buckeyes, but as Urban Meyer pointed out, this is college football and anything can happen. A Michigan victory would mark coach Meyer’s first loss in “The Game”, as well as halt any potential playoff hopes we all know he dreams of.
That being said, Meyer will have to carry his team with confidence, but not overtly so. An adrenaline-filled Ohio State, sure of themselves and an easy victory is more likely to make mistakes, even if they pull off the victory. They would do wise to remember that this game could very well end the Wolverine football season, but it will not end their own. They need to play in the way they want the selection committee to take note of, and not lose focus.
If Brady Hoke, however, wants to keep his spot at the helm coaching the Michigan Men, he will need to run a tight ship offense, defense and special teams. His team will need to generate big plays, which have been missing from the Michigan playbook as of late, in order to stifle the incredible momentum that the Buckeyes can build out on the gridiron.
All-in-all this game has the potential to be a great one, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up. It is more than possible for the Wolverines to pull off the upset, but I look for Ohio State to do what Ohio State does best, and narrowly pull off a victory.
*Section Photo credit to Gregory Shamus, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Andrew Weber, USA Today Sports.