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MnB Roundtable Prays

The Game still has to be played Saturday, so the MnB crew has one last go-round as to what will take place in Columbus.

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Let's hold true to the notion that the records can be tossed out in a rivalry game, and look at The Game objectively: Short of a miracle where all of OSU's skill players succumb to food poisoning and can't play, what's Michigan's best hope to pull this off?

Zach: Find a way to attack deep with the passing game to generate big plays. This is something Michigan has utterly failed to do all year long, mostly by design but also partially because of failures of the quarterback and receivers to take advantage of the few opportunities that present themselves. Michigan's run game has been sneakily productive as of late. If the Wolverines can beat OSU over the top a couple times it could turn Saturday's beatdown into a game.

Drew: Two things must happen for Michigan to have just a chance of upsetting Ohio State in a historic manner. First, as Zach noted, Michigan must be more explosive offensively. As I mentioned in my Film Focus column on Wednesday, Michigan has the third-fewest 30-plus-yard plays in the nation (10). The Wolverines have had issues with execution all season, but they also haven't had big plays because they refuse to exploit opposing defenses schematically, like Maryland did with its fake bubble screen on its game-winning touchdown drive last Saturday. My only hope at this point is that Brady Hoke and Doug Nussmeier have a bunch of wrinkles and tricks up their sleeves that they've been saving for this game and this game only.

Second, Michigan needs to win the turnover battle .. by a lot. I realize that the Wolverines have a turnover margin of minus-14, which is 122nd out of 128 teams, but they need only one game where everything bounces in their favor. If Michigan can produce a turnover margin of plus-three, which leads to short fields and even defensive scores, Michigan has a shot to win.

Peter: Yeah, it's gotta be the passing game, but it's such a huge "if" that it's hard to see that happening. It really hasn't been there all season long, and I'm not sure what will change on Saturday to make the vertical game a huge part of the offense.

John: Of all the things Brady Hoke does wrong the one thing he seems to do right is get Michigan to play hard in the Ohio State game. Every game he's played against the Bucks has been winnable and I expect a similar performance tomorrow. If this team can play desperate and want it more, there could be an upset in Columbus. For Michigan, there is no tomorrow.

Atticus: What can change to open up the passing game is a more dedicated running game. I'm worried about this coaching staff putting the game on DG's shoulders once again, when this should be a downhill, clock-burning, turnover-free running attack. We have to keep it out of their hands, and we have to get their safeties sucked up in run defense to burn them deep. OSU's secondary is smart, but they're still young, and even the best get caught defending the run too heavily in situations like that. Also, that defensive line has some great starters that they'll probably try to play the whole game through, and we need to wear them out.

What Michigan player, above all others, might have the game of his life in Columbus regardless of the outcome?

Zach: It needs to be Devin Gardner for the reason mentioned above. That is about the only way Michigan wins or comes close.

Drew: Devin Gardner. We know what can happen if Gardner has the game of his life. Last season against Ohio State, he completed over 70 percent of his passes for 451 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions, and added a rushing score. Plus, he did this while playing on a broken foot for the majority of the second half. Because of his efforts, Michigan, a 15.5-point underdog, fell just one two-point conversion short of ruining the Buckeyes' then-perfect season.

Michigan needs Gardner to replicate such a performance if it wants to upend the Buckeyes.

Peter: Devin Gardner. The team goes how he goes. But, the coaches need to also call plays that put him in a position to do something positive; work to his skill. We've all seen what happens when DG is under center. If Hoke is honest with himself, he'll know the writing is on the wall; maybe he'll go into the game with the playbook more open that it has ever been, and just let Devin be Devin...the good one.

John: Devin... Funchess! I'll change it up and say Funch will have to look great in what could be his final collegiate game. Given where Kiper has him on the Big Board (#19 Overall) and where the program is heading, I'd say there is a good chance Funch leaves Ann Arbor after this season. With that in mind I think we'll see a level of effort and concentration from him as he goes for the big plays on the big stage.

Atticus: To be honest, guys, I don't think lightning can strike twice here. Gardner may have the top two passing performances in school history - one of them against Ohio State - but he has just a single 200-yard passing game this year, and only five 250-yard games in his career.

I think this has to be on Drake Johnson and De'Veon Smith. It's easier to run on Ohio State than pass on them, and this staff has to realize that it's their responsibility to put their quarterback in a position to succeed. The passing yards will be there if Michigan can hold on to the ball.

Fast forward to Monday morning. If what we all think will happen happens, what's the state of the program vis a vis the coaching staff if anything different?

Zach: I can't imagine what would have to happen Saturday to make Michigan's overall trajectory as a program seem worse given what we've lived through the last two months. This will just be another forgettable beatdown that we have to live through hoping that the next few months bring the kind of change that will start Michigan on a path to improvement.

Drew: I would say that it can't get any worse than it currently is, but, every time someone, including myself, says that, it indeed gets worse. The state of the program will remain the same -- pretty much rock bottom -- until Jim Hackett relieves Brady Hoke of his duties and hires a new football coach -- come on down, Jim Harbaugh! -- to elevate Michigan to where it belongs.

Peter: No change. The program will be a joke until a new guy is installed, and even then I'm not 100% confident that the program won't still be a joke afterward. Nail. The. Hire.

John: It's a joke till a real coach arrives. Read Florida. If you want respect, go get a name that's earned it.

What will there be more of: Michigan turnovers, botched offensive plays, or Ohio State touchdowns?

Zach: Ohio State touchdowns. Michigan will turn the ball over a couple times and have a couple more yakety sax plays, but mostly it will be the same overall ineffectiveness we are used to.

Drew: Botched offensive plays, which include turnovers. Ohio State has scored at least 31 points in all but one game this season -- its lone loss vs. Virginia Tech. While Michigan's defense has been relatively stout much of the season, the Wolverines have had troubles defending spread offenses that prefer using tempo. This is worrisome because Urban Meyer's offense enjoys doing just that, even though his offense is quite young. Thus, I expect Ohio State to score four to six touchdowns, which pales in comparison to the number of offensive plays Michigan botches over the course of a 60-minute game. There's only one right answer here.

Peter: Touchdowns. Michigan will have four turnovers, while Ohio State has seven TDs. You didn't ask for a prediction, but here it is: OSU 49 - UM 10.

John: Ohio State touchdowns, because there will be 0 Michigan turnovers! At least there will be if Michigan expects to win.

Name some of your favorite things about this rivalry...note that I didn't say strictly moments from past games.

Drew: My favorite moment is when Courtney Avery came down with Braxton Miller's fourth-down pass to seal Michigan's 40-34 victory over Ohio State in 2011. I enrolled at Michigan as an undergrad in 2007. I attended The Game in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 -- yes, I made the trek to Columbus -- only to walk away with feelings of utter frustration and disappointment. I needed an extra semester to earn two degrees from Michigan, so I knew 2011 was my last chance as a student to see the Wolverines finally beat the Buckeyes. And, when that moment arrived, I was overwhelmed with joy, and, as soon as I exited the Michigan Stadium press box in which I was working, I screamed and danced until all I could do was smile.

Peter: I don't know if I have a favorite thing about this rivalry. It's always been a game that makes my gut hurt. It used to mean something when looking at the big picture, and I suppose that's something that I liked at one time...but can't any longer.

John: What Drew said. That was my first time really in the Rivalry and it was everything I could have asked for. Side note: my all sport favorite would be Michigan's 76-74 win over Ohio State at Crisler Center during the 2012-13 season. The game featured a fierce battle between Burke and Craft and saw Timmy hit 5 straight three pointers. It was truly an epic game and a great win.

Bonus Q this week: How's this game going to look to the playoff committee when they're deciding whether to slip OSU into the first four, will it carry any weight?

Drew: No. A home win over a Michigan team with a 5-7 record would carry no weight. Ohio State's only chance to jump into the Top Four is to pray the teams ranked ahead lose.

Peter: A win for OSU will not mean anything for getting into the playoff. As long as Mississippi State doesn't lay an egg (see what I did?), they'll keep a lock on the 4 position. Besides, Ohio State is going to lose to Minnesota in the Big Ten Championship, so we don't really need to have this discussion.

John: If OSU blows out Michigan, it will mean nothing. If Michigan keeps it close, it could kill their playoff hopes especially if Baylor continues to roll and MSU wins the egg bowl. I standby a 1-loss conference champion will beat out a 1-loss team that stays home but who knows with this committee.