Preview: That School Down South

Did you hear there's no more ice at Ohio State? The senior who knew the recipes graduated.

-Aristotle

It's finally here. The game around which most of us plan our entire years is upon us. The Game. No adjectives needed. The best rivalry in college sports. What differentiates Michigan-TSDS (hereafter referred to as "Ohio" because, well, we've always done that) is that it's not just a sports rivalry - it's a battle between pure, sweet goodness and unmitigated, stinking evil. Plain and simple. It's THE MOST IMPORTANT GAME ON THE SCHEDULE. Don't believe me? Ask Brady Hoke:

This game defines seasons. It gets otherwise good coaches fired (John Cooper, you're always welcome in Ann Arbor) and has a history spanning more than a century. For guys like Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Desmond Howard, and so many other greats in the history of the rivalry, it defined their careers. The last Saturday in November, The Game, is simply the best day of the year.

This year, the winds of change are a-blowin', and they've started to fumigate the pile of cheating excrement along the banks of the Olentangy River. Jim Tressel will be watching this game from somewhere other than the Ohio sideline for the first time in the decade after an extensive scandal drove him from his office as ruiner of dreams. Gone, too, is Terrelle Pryor, the former-Rodriguez-target-turned-narcissistic-prat who tormented Michigan for three years. In their steads are the remarkably bland Luke Fickell, of whose soul I have not yet uncovered evidence, and a streaky yet annoying combination of another boring human being, Joe Bauserman, and the erratic Braxton Miller. Returning for The Game after suspensions lasting several games are other key cogs in the Buckeye offense, including shifty-eyed WR DeVier Posey and Boom Herron, a fairly gifted tailback whose moral compass is so completely twisted that it's a wonder he runs the right way.

Michigan, on the other hand, is in the mist of a resurgence, one that only Bo Schembechler himself could have orchestrated from his perch in the heavens, somewhere between the right hand of the Almighty and the rakishly handsome angelic representation of Tom Harmon. New head coach Brady Hoke has the Wolverines sitting on a 9-2 record, with a signature win over rival Notre Dame and a solid B1G debut bringing his Michigan team within a win of a probable BCS bowl bid. But who cares about that? Right now, Hoke just wants to Beat Ohio.

Let's talk football. Keys to the game after The Jump.

When The Good Guys Have The Ball

The surprisingly excellent Ohio blog, Eleven Warriors, calls Denard Robinson "a maniacal dervish of pain and hate". I like this. Let's hope Robinson lives up to his billing and haunts the dreams of illiterate Ohioans for years to come. Too short? Fine. I'll expand.

With the exception of the Notre Dame game, Michigan's success this year has come when the pressure has been off of Denard to make throws or run to a great extent. Michigan is clicking on all cylinders when their newly minted workhorse running back, Fitzgerald Toussaint, is hitting gaps and running people over. Watch the Nebraska highlights - the man is incredibly hard to tackle. If he can stay healthy Saturday and play smart, look for him to crack 100 yards and open up all kinds of lanes for Robinson to both run and pass the ball. That said, Robinson needs to do a much better job reading his runs - he's consistently missed open lanes this year and bounced the wrong way, hampering his effectiveness.

Through the air, Michigan needs to be most cognizant about turnovers and ball security. For the first time in a while, Michigan's offensive line and wide receivers stack up well against Ohio's front four and back seven, meaning that the opportunities for throws will be there. It's up to Denard to make them, and, as always, it's a coin flip. Conditions aren't looking too bad tomorrow, so the burden will be on the O-line and pass blocking running backs to keep Denard reasonably safe and let him throw off his front foot. When he does this, good things happen - though he should also be wary of underthrown balls, and although some have resulted in catches, they hurt Michigan receivers' ability to make plays and gain yards after the catch. In sum: Accurate Denard means a whole lot of good things are happening. Inaccurate Denard means something else is awry and doesn't bode well for the day as a whole.

When TSDS Has The Ball

Ohio has gotten unreasonably lucky this year with a few Braxton Miller bombs. First and foremost on my wish list is not allowing these to happen Saturday. Poor Wisconsin:

A Michigan team that has given up a 4th-and-26 to Illinois already should really try to not let this happen. I'm looking at you, Jordan Kovacs and Troy Woolfolk. Pretty please? Other than that, Miller has been largely ineffective this year, looking okay against bad teams and not showing up against good ones, though it pains me to call Michigan State a good team. It's up to a secondary that is slowly gaining confidence to slow down the Buckeyes through the air. The onus on this falls to the corners, in particular JT Floyd, who will be matched up against the aforementioned jerk Posey, who is, in lieu of a personality, Ohio's only consistent receiving threat.

On the ground, Michigan should be wary of Boom Heron, who is undoubtedly looking for more Golden Pants to sell for more tattoos and $15/hr jobs that do not exist. He averaged a measly 3.4 yards against Purdue, and Michigan's defense NEEDS to be better than Purdue's. Why? Because that's the way things are supposed to work. The good guys should get the girls, and in this case, the girls are 25 rushes for 60 yards or less. Mmm. That's a spicy lady.

Anyone want to see Kirk Herbstreit rolling around in pain? Me! Me! Me! (HT: WolverineHistorian)

Intangibles

  • Ohio has won the last seven games of this rivalry, with the last victory for the side of the angels coming in 2003, behind such names as Carr, Navarre and Perry. For the seniors on this Michigan team, particularly those having fifth years, this game means everything. They will need motivation come noon tomorrow.
  • Amid swirling reports that he will no longer have a job, Luke Fickell has to be distracted by the imminent arrival of Urban Meyer on campus as the next football head coach, which just got more likely. Meyer isn't doing his scheduled gig on ESPN this weekend, which means he'll be sequestered in a luxury box at Michigan Stadium under one of Lee Corso's ridiculous hats.
  • I just said it, but the seniors on this team want this game.
  • The young Ohio State run defense will have its hands full in front of 113,000+ people who all want to see them spontaneously combust.

Good things will happen if:

  • Michigan has a positive turnover margin.
  • Denard is zipping off crisp throws to space, not behind receivers.
  • Toussaint has a solid day on the ground.
  • Braxton Miller looks like a lost freshman in a very, very hostile land.
  • Michigan scores more points than TSDS.

Bad things will happen if:

  • Denard goes colorblind and tosses picks like employers do Buckeye resumes. (punchline: with regularity)
  • Breakdowns in the defensive secondary make Miller look like Matt McGloin a few years back. Dark, dark times.
  • Urban Meyer officially takes the job and steals Michigan's team OR Luke Fickell realizes he has to win for a snowball's chance at keeping his job.
  • Ohio somehow pulls it off. But I have faith.

What You Should Drink


This week, I'm going with New Hampshire beer because the name Smuttynose intrigued me - try the Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale. They have a nice IPA, but this time of year I like me some brown ales. Smooth and somewhat British-tasting while coming from the heart of American freedom, these will warm you up and keep you nice and happy throughout the game. It's just like British ales, but fuller-bodied and made with smoother hops.

Never Forget

Rest in peace, Bo. It's been five long years since we lost you.

Win one for him, boys. Because when that season is over, it's going to be Michigan again. It's going to be Michigan.
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