Saturday, November 30, 2013
Five things: Ohio State at Michigan
By Austin Ward
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- We look at critical areas and key players, as No. 3 Ohio State heads to Michigan for The Game in hopes of keeping pace in the BCS standings and trying to wrap up another perfect regular season (ABC, noon).
Carlos Hyde and the Buckeyes rank No. 6 in the nation in rushing (314.7 ypg). Michigan is No. 14 in run defense (116.4 ypg).
Miller moment: The Wolverines haven't had much to rely on consistently, but one area where they've largely succeeded this season is slowing down opponents on the ground. They're likely going to do everything they can to keep Carlos Hyde, Braxton Miller and the nation's sixth-best rushing attack from beating them, and against a veteran offensive line and those dynamic runners, that's likely going to take an extra defender or two in the box. That approach helped hold the Buckeyes to 26 points in 2012, but Miller is a different quarterback than he was as a sophomore. He may need to prove it with his arm a few times to keep the Wolverines honest. The junior might also find his way back in the Heisman Trophy conversation if the combination of his right arm and his legs put up more big numbers in yet another win.
Silver bullet: All the Buckeyes had to do was let Ryan Shazier off his chain. Since turning the junior linebacker loose more often as a blitzer and finding different spots to line him up closer to the line of scrimmage, Shazier has been an absolute nightmare for opposing offenses, which can't seem to keep him out of the backfield. Over the past four games, Shazier has piled up an eye-popping 11.5 tackles for loss, but that doesn't even completely capture how disruptive he's been. Shazier has to be accounted for on every play, and that's opening up opportunities elsewhere for defensive linemen like Noah Spence, Michael Bennett and Joey Bosa to wreak some havoc. Those Buckeyes will be drooling after watching film all week of a Michigan offensive line that has given up more tackles for loss than any team in the country.
Pickin' the blues: A streak that has lasted all season for the Ohio State secondary finally came to an end last week, and that isn't likely to sit well with star cornerback Bradley Roby or veteran safety C.J. Barnett. The Buckeyes had been under fire from their own coaching staff for issues in defending the pass, but until Indiana made it through the matchup last week without throwing an interception, the playmakers in the backend had nabbed at least one INT in every game this season. Injury concerns last week for Doran Grant, Armani Reeves and the season-ending ankle injury that cut Christian Bryant's year short stretched Ohio State mighty thin in the secondary. It should be closer to full strength and should have a good shot at starting a new streak against Devin Gardner and his 11 interceptions this season.
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Gold standard: There are two more guaranteed games for the Buckeyes, including one with seemingly much more on the line next week against Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. And it might be tempting to look ahead to what figures to be a tougher test against a different team "up north," particularly with a trophy on the line. But Urban Meyer might appreciate and understand the value of rivalries better than any coach in the country, and his 21-3 record in those games suggests he's had no problem getting the attention of his team leading up to the matchups. The Wolverines will no doubt want to wreck Ohio State's perfect season so it will be critical for Meyer to have his bunch locked in at the Big House instead of eyeing a trip to Indianapolis.
Full house: The Wolverines may load the box, and Miller might make them pay with his improved accuracy and decision-making throwing the football, but either way the Buckeyes aren't likely to abandon their rushing attack. The combination of Hyde and Miller alone is usually enough to give a defense headaches, but the Buckeyes might have tipped their hand a bit last week against the Hoosiers that one counter to a stacked line of scrimmage will be throwing an extra rusher into the backfield and dialing up the option attack. Dontre Wilson was much more active last week and is slowly seeing his workload increase as the season progresses. In the spring, the Buckeyes toyed with the idea of a full-house backfield in a "Diamond" formation that featured a dizzying array of speed and power. It hasn't shown up yet in the regular season, but that might be a useful weapon over the next two weeks, starting with a Michigan defense that goes into The Game ranked No. 14 in the nation against the rush.