Michigan Wolverines: Travis Howard

Michigan-Ohio State pregame ponderables

November, 24, 2012
11/24/12
10:58
AM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Hello from the Horseshoe, where one of the best rivalries in sports is about to kick off with some extra meaning.

Nebraska's win against Iowa took a little bit of drama away from the proceedings, as Michigan now cannot make the Big Ten title game. In another situation, you might wonder how that would affect a team's motivation. But not this one. The records don't really matter in The Game.

But one record does matter to Ohio State: 12-0. The Buckeyes are one win away from perfection, and while they can't go bowling, finishing up the season with a victory against the Wolverines would be better than just about any bowl victory.

We've got some perfect Big Ten late November weather here, with temperatures in the low 30s and a light snow. The snow isn't sticking, so it shouldn't have too much impact on the game, except maybe adding some moisture to challenge ball carriers. I still expect Brady Hoke to come out in short sleeves.

It just doesn't get much better than this rivalry. Some Michigan fans already fired the first shot by writing "Beat Ohio" and a giant "M" in chalk on the south stadium wall this morning.

A key question looming over this game is the health of John Simon. Reports surfaced Friday that Ohio State's star defensive end is injured and might not play. We have confirmed that Simon is a game-time decision with a knee issue. It's hard to imagine the senior not trying to go on senior day if there's any way his body can be held together. But if he's missing or at far less than 100 percent, that's a big loss for a Buckeyes defense going against an explosive Michigan attack led by Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson.

Both teams have had some trouble stopping spread offenses and containing the perimeter on defense this season. Both offenses will look to exploit that weakness. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has been a little more cautious with his running style since suffering an injury against Purdue, trying to stay healthy for the rest of the season. But there is no more season to worry about after today, and the Michigan game is where Buckeyes players build their legacies, so I'd expect the sophomore star to play with abandon this afternoon.

But will Miller be able to throw effectively against a Michigan team that leads the nation in defending the pass? The Wolverines have not allowed anybody to pass for 200 yards this season.

Speaking of passing games, Michigan's has gotten a lot better since Gardner took over the quarterback job. But receivers Jeremy Gallon and Roy Roundtree will face a good challenge today, going up against certain first-team All-Big Ten selection Bradley Roby and teammate Travis Howard. The Buckeyes' cornerbacks have been ball-hawks, and should give Gardner more of a test than Minnesota, Northwestern and Iowa did.

There are great matchups all over the field, as you'd expect, and another great one on the sidelines between Hoke and Urban Meyer. Can't wait to get this one started.
The "Inside the Game" position preview series concludes with a look at the Michigan and Ohio State secondaries.

Like many of the other position groups discussed by Austin Ward of BuckeyesNation and Michael Rothstein of WolverineNation, a peek into the secondaries of Michigan and Ohio State reveals a lot of similarities between the schools.


Ohio State
Ward:
No infusion of new talent is necessary for Ohio State.

All the Buckeyes need is a deep pool of veteran defensive backs to take another step forward, and throwing the ball against them could be one of the tougher challenges in the Big Ten.

Bradley Roby is shaping up as an emerging star at cornerback, and while Travis Howard and Doran Grant could battle for the right to start opposite him, the Buckeyes figure to be fine with either of them or backup Adam Griffin on the field.

C.J. Barnett might be poised to breakout as well at safety, though there’s plenty of experienced depth alongside him at the back of the defense. A pair of juniors in Christian Bryant and Corey Brown and senior Orhian Johnson provide plenty of options for defensive backs coach Everett Withers, who brings a proven track record of creating turnovers with him to Ohio State.

The Buckeyes picked off 13 passes last season, with Johnson and Roby tied for the team lead with three apiece. But both of those numbers will have to improve for Withers to be happy at the end of the season, and there is more than enough know-how and ability to make that happen.

Rothstein: What once was a group of players thought to have little talent and no experience has turned into this: the best unit on Michigan’s entire roster.

A few holdovers from the disastrous 2009 and 2010 seasons for the Michigan secondary remain on the roster in key positions, including starting cornerback J.T. Floyd and safety Jordan Kovacs, both of whom were thrown into unenviable positions as young players in a 3-3-5 defense few inside the Michigan program were familiar with.

But they learned and went from questionable players to two of the more reliable players anywhere on the Michigan roster. Joining them in the likely starting defensive backfield are safety Thomas Gordon and sophomore cornerback Blake Countess.

All four started at least half of Michigan’s games a season ago.

The four are just the front line of an incredibly deep secondary with both experience -- nickel back Courtney Avery -- and a youthful push, including highly touted freshman safety Jarrod Wilson and sophomore cornerback Delonte Hollowell, who stood out on special teams as a freshman.

There could be trouble if Kovacs were to be injured, but otherwise this is Michigan’s most dependable position group.

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