Columbus, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - With their spot in the Big Ten Conference Championship Game assured, the seventh-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes now turn their attention to Saturday's regular-season finale against the Michigan Wolverines.
As well as Ohio State has performed this season, Michigan is simply hoping it can record the requisite six wins just to be eligible for bowl consideration, as the team comes in sporting a 5-6 record, 3-4 in conference. The Wolverines dropped a 23-16 decision at home to Maryland last weekend, saddling the team with a 3-5 mark since opening the campaign at 2-1.
There is speculation that UM head coach Brady Hoke could be on his way out, but a huge win over the school's most hated rival could grant him a stay.
Ohio State is in the midst another successful campaign under head coach Urban Meyer, the team sitting at 10-1 overall, which includes a perfect 7-0 league ledger. The Buckeyes are riding a nine-game win streak, with their latest triumph coming in a 42-27 decision against visiting Indiana last Saturday. It was the 23rd consecutive Big Ten regular-season victory for OSU (conference record), which will face the winner of Saturday afternoon's clash between Wisconsin and Minnesota in the league's title tilt.
Ohio State has won three straight division crowns, and will be appearing in its second consecutive conference championship game.
This bout marks the 111th meeting between these two storied programs, and the series is all even at 45-45-4. Michigan came oh so close to upsetting the Buckeyes last season inside the Big House, as a failed two-point conversion to win the game left the team with a 42-41 defeat.
Michigan tallied nearly 400 yards of total offense, Michigan let a third- quarter lead slip away as it dropped a seven-point decision to Maryland in last week's home finale. The Wolverines used a potent rushing attack to keep the Terrapins back on their heels, as Drake Johnson ran for 94 yards and Devin Gardner added 82 and a score, the team averaging 6.5 ypc. Gardner threw for only 106 yards in completing 13-of-24 passes, and he failed to connect on a scoring strike while being intercepted once and sacked twice.
As for the UM defense, it did a solid job for much of the contest, yielding only 312 total yards, including a mere 167 through the air. Unfortunately, the Wolverines failed to come up with a turnover and made only four plays in the Maryland backfield. Joe Bolden and Jake Ryan were quite active though, logging 14 tackles apiece. As for the rest of the unit, no one had more than five.
While certainly not happy to lose the final home game to one of the Big Ten's newest members, Hoke is trying to be positive as he looks ahead to this week's clash with the Buckeyes.
"Obviously, we're really, really disappointed. Disappointed because of our seniors, the 12 guys who are graduating, 12 guys who are playing their last games." He continued, "Obviously we've got the greatest rivalry game, in my opinion, in college football coming up, and that's what we're going to focus on."
For the season, Michigan's effectiveness both on offense (bad) and defense (good) have been at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Wolverines are scoring roughly the same number of points as they allow (20.3 ppg to 20.6 ppg), while generating 329.5 ypg and surrendering only 301.8 ypg.
While Gardner (152-of-251, 1,663 yards, eight TDs, 14 INTs) has struggled in the passing game, the team's rushing attack has been solid in that De'Veon Smith and Derrick Green have combined for 986 yards and nine TDs, while the unit as a whole averages just shy of five yards per carry. Devin Funchess leads the receivers with 55 catches for 625 yards and four TDs.
As for the standout performers on the defensive side of the ball, Ryan is at the top of the list with 104 tackles, while Bolden is close behind with 94. No other player has more than 44 stops, and the Wolverines have been credited with only 10 takeaways all season.
Jalin Marshall scored four straight touchdowns in the second half of last Saturday's bout with Indiana, propelling Ohio State to its 10th win of the season, and securing the Big Ten East Division title in the process. Marshall, who returned a punt 54 yards for a score, as well as catching three scoring strikes from J.T. Barrett, finished with five grabs for 95 yards, just off the pace set by leading rusher and receiver Ezekiel Elliott (107 yards, TD rushing; seven receptions, 39 yards). Barrett finished the game 25-of-35 for 302 yards, four TDs and two INTs, while adding 78 yards on 20 rush attempts.
Joshua Perry logged 14 tackles, of which two were sacks, to spearhead the Buckeyes' defensive stand. All told, the Hoosiers churned out 281 yards on the ground (7.8 ypc), of which star RB Tevin Coleman was responsible for 228 and three TDs, but only 114 yards through the air. Both teams recorded three sacks in the contest, and Indiana was held to just 4-of-16 success on third-down conversion attempts.
Ohio State is the Big Ten's top scoring team (44.3 ppg), and it ranks second in total offense (511.4 ypg). With Barrett calling the shots, the Buckeyes sit third in both rushing (259.6 ypg) and passing (251.7 ypg), displaying the kind of balance a coach like Meyer absolutely loves to see. Barrett has made the most of his fortuitous chance to start for the Buckeyes this season, hitting 64.8 percent of his passes for more than 2,600 yards, 33 TDs and 10 INTs. He (849 yards, nine TDs) is also the club's second-leading ground gainer behind Elliott (1,061 yards, eight TDs). Spreading the wealth is one of the keys to OSU's success in the air, as nine players have logged double-digit catches, none more than the 37 Michael Thomas has. Thomas and Devin Smith have a combined 1,215 yards and 16 TDs.
Perry continues to set the standard for the Ohio State defense, as his 99 tackles are 37 more than his closest teammate, and he has three sacks and an INT to his credit as well. Joey Bosa is a QB's worst nightmare, as he has a league-leading 11.5 sacks, while Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell and Doran Grant each have three picks, part of OSU's Big Ten-best 17 interceptions on the year.
Meyer spoke after the IU game about what the win meant to his team.
"The good thing is we won the championship. Division championship. It will give us a ticket to the championship game. And then we can all focus on our rival."