Bitter rivals meet at the Horseshoe in Columbus on Saturday afternoon, as the 20th-ranked Michigan Wolverines come calling on the fourth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
Michigan is 8-3 on the year. and 6-1 in Big Ten Conference play. The Wolverines will have a shot at the Legends Division crown should Nebraska lose at Iowa on Friday. In that case, they would still need to beat the Buckeyes to win the division and earn a spot in the Big Ten title tilt. Michigan has won three straight since suffering its lone league setback at Nebraska (23-9) on Oct. 20, that outcome giving the Cornhuskers the advantage should both teams finish with identical conference marks.
At 11-0, Ohio State is one of only two undefeated teams left in the FBS -- No. 1 Notre Dame being the other -- and the team has sewn up the Leaders Division title. However, due to NCAA sanctions, the Buckeyes are ineligible to play for the Big Ten championship or go to a bowl game, so with that information in tow they enter this fray seeking a perfect season in what would of course be deemed a monumental achievement considering the situation and the fact that they've done it in the first year of a new coaching regime. It can be argued with some validity that Urban Meyer is the best coach in the country, and a win over its most hared rival would cement this Ohio State team as one of the best in school history.
Michigan beat Ohio State in Ann Arbor last year, 40-34, to take a 58-44-6 lead in the all-time series. Despite that loss, the Buckeyes have had the upper hand in recent years, winning eight of the last 10 meetings.
The Wolverines had their way in all facets of the game last Saturday against visiting Iowa, as they steamrolled the Hawkeyes in a 42-17 final. QB Devin Gardner was responsible for six TDs (three passing, three rushing) -- making him the first UM quarterback to account for six TDs in a game since Steve Smith turned the trick back in 1983 -- and the junior threw for a career-high 314 yards. Usual starting QB Denard Robinson saw action in the contest as well, but did so as both a RB (team-high 98 yards) and WR (two rec., 24 yards). WR Jeremy Gallon was the team's leading pass catcher with five grabs for 133 yards.
When the dust had settled, Michigan has amassed 513 yards of total offense, 313 of which came in the first half, and the Wolverines moved the chains on 9- of-12 third-down opportunities.
The Wolverines will be without RB Fitz Toussaint (130 carries, 514 yards, five TDs) for the remainder the season after he suffered a broken leg against Iowa.
Defensively, the Maize and Blue allowed 309 total yards and got a dozen tackles from freshman LB James Ross III, nine of which were unassisted, and the team as a whole was credited with eight TFL, but only two sacks. The Hawkeyes did not turn the ball over.
Prior to getting hurt against Nebraska last month, Robinson was enjoying a solid, if unspectacular year under center, as he has thrown for 1,319 yards with nine TDs and the same number of interceptions. With him though, it's more about playmaking ability, and he demonstrates that on virtually every snap as he is Michigan's leading rusher with 1,044 yards and six TDs. Gallon heads the receiving corps with 34 grabs for 617 yards, but he has found the end zone just twice.
Michigan averages 30.8 ppg while allowing just 18.1 ppg. The Wolverines have been equally proficient when it comes to defending both modes of attack (151.4 ypg rushing, 152.1 ypg passing), while demonstrating balance on offense (194.5 ypg rushing, 200.5 ypg passing).
Jake Ryan and Kenny Demens lead the UM defense with 75 and 72 tackles, respectively. A glaring lack of big plays certainly hasn't helped the unit, as the Wolverines have logged just 15 sacks and 15 turnovers.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke was asked recently if playing an undefeated Ohio State team gives his team any extra motivation.
"It doesn't, to be honest with you. We're playing for a championship still. If you need anything to get amped up more or whatever for this football game, then you don't know college football and you don't understand the importance of this great rivalry."
Despite the fact that their season comes to an end after this bout, the Buckeyes are feeling awfully good about themselves knowing they are on the brink of something pretty special -- that of course being a perfect regular season.
RB Carlos Hyde was the star of the OSU offense in last week's 21-14 overtime win at Wisconsin, as he rushed for 87 yards and two TDs, and it was a good thing too as QB Braxton Miller accounted for only 145 total yards (97 passing, 48 rushing).
The Buckeyes allowed Wisconsin RB Montee Ball to amass 191 yards and score the 78th TD of his career (tying the NCAA's all-time record), but permitted just 154 passing yards while logging four sacks, all by DL John Simon. LB Ryan Shazier continued to make his case for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as he tallied 12 tackles, three for negative yardage, forced a fumble and broke up a pass.
Ohio State is putting up 38.2 ppg while yielding 23.0 ppg, and the team averages roughly 60 yards per game more than it allows (426.3 to 366.9).
Like Robinson for Michigan, Miller is not only OSU's starter at QB (.568 completion percentage, 1,850 yards, 14 TDs, six interceptions), but also its leading rusher (207 carries, 1,214 yards, 13 TDs). Hyde has run for 824 yards and 16 scores, while the team's top receiver is Corey Brown with his 52 catches for 574 yards and two TDs. Actually, Devin Smith has done more with far fewer receptions, turning 28 grabs into 555 yards and six scores.
Shazier has 110 tackles on the year, which is 44 more than his closest teammate, and Simon has nine sacks and 14.5 TFL. Travis Howard leads the secondary with four picks.
Meyer is obviously pleased with the way his team has performed this year despite the hardship of knowing its season would be ending when other's would be spending the holiday season preparing for a bowl game.
"I'm honored to be the coach of an 11-0 Ohio State Buckeye team, especially one that's very deserving."