One of college football's fiercest rivalries will come alive once again this Saturday in Ann Arbor, as Ohio State visits No. 17 Michigan.
Ohio State had climbed into the Big Ten race with three straight wins that began in mid-October, but Luke Fickell's club has lost two heart-breakers in a row to fall off the pace. Following a 26-23 overtime loss to Purdue, the Buckeyes dropped a 20-14 decision to Penn State last weekend in Columbus in a defensive battle that featured no scoring in the second half.
"The most important thing, this is Michigan week. That's where we're focused," said Fickell at his weekly press conference. "That's what we want to talk about. That's what we want our guys to understand about. It's always been about a one-game season regardless of the records."
Michigan, meanwhile, lost a chance to play in the Big Ten title tilt last week when Michigan State won the Legends Division. But the Wolverines still have much to play for on Saturday against its hated rival, as it can finish off a 10-win regular season. Michigan has won two straight, including last weekend's 45-17 rout of Nebraska.
Michigan owns a 57-44-6 edge in the all-time series with Ohio State, but the Buckeyes have won the last seven meetings.
Ohio State's Braxton Miller completed 7-of-17 passes for 83 yards and one touchdown against Penn State's vaunted defense last week, and the Buckeyes had to earn every yard they picked up on the ground. Miller ran 18 times for 105 yards and one touchdown, while Dan Herron ran 18 times for 76 yards. OSU lost two fumbles in the setback.
Miller leads the team in rushing (59.0 ypg), and he has two 105-yard rushing performances in the last two weeks. Getting Herron going on the ground is key; after sitting out the first part of the season serving a suspension, Herron has returned to post 559 yards in five games, and has scored two touchdowns this season.
Ohio State's defense played well against Penn State's passing attack, holding quarterback Matt McGloin to 10-of-18 passing for a mere 88 yards. The Penn State rushing attack garnered 239 yards and was a catalyst in the win. On the year, Ohio State ranks 16th in the country in total defense (318.0) and is 14th in scoring defense (19 ppg). The rush defense ranks fifth in the Big Ten in allowing 130.1 yards per game. Andrew Sweat leads the team in tackles, posting 6.8 stops per game. Sweat is questionable for Saturday's game after suffering an injury last week.
Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson was named the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Week after a stellar performance against Nebraska, where he threw for 180 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another 83 yards and two more scores. Michigan totaled 238 yards rushing as a team, and got a big day out of Fitzgerald Toussaint, who rushed 29 times for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
Robinson ranks 33rd in the country in total offense, and has thrown for 1,889 yards and 15 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. He has rushed for 993 yards and another 14 scores.
"He poses a lot of problems," said Fickell of Michigan's talented signal caller. "Anytime the quarterback's got the ability to keep plays alive, running the football, it makes you struggle a little bit on defense with some things you can do and the chances you can take."
Toussaint averages 89.1 yards rushing per game, and complements Robinson well out of the backfield; he has rushed for 192 and 138 yards the two games, respectively. Junior Hemingway averages 2.7 catches for 53.7 yards per game.
The Michigan defense answered the call last weekend against the Huskers, holding Nebraska's star backfield tandem of Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead to 49 and 36 yards, respectively. Martinez completed just 9-of-23 passes for 122 yards and one touchdown for Nebraska, which converted just 3-of-13 on third down. Michigan is 14th in the nation in total defense, allowing 312.6 yards per game, and is sixth in scoring defense, giving up 15.6 points per game. Kenny Demens leads the team with 7.0 tackles per game.