“THE TEAM, THE TEAM, THE TEAM.”
If you are a life-long fan of the Michigan Wolverines, you are familiar with those words that highlighted iconic coach Bo Schembechler’s legendary speech in 1983. He stressed that no one player is greater than THE TEAM and that success will only come to those who play as a TEAM. That speech rings true every season and every game, but particularly in “THE GAME.” The rivalry from which all rivalries are judged: Michigan vs. Ohio State.
With Brady Hoke and Team 133 traveling as underdogs to Columbus (where they have not won since 2000) to face Urban Meyer and the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes, a.k.a. “Ohio,” it is going to take nothing less than a true team effort to leave “The Shoe” victorious. No individual player can be singled out for this showdown. It’s all about THE TEAM. It has to be. Thus, this week’s focus is…THE TEAM.
The Buckeye’s offense, led by their dynamic dual-threat QB Braxton Miller, is the straw that stirs “Ohio’s” drink. They are 18th nationally in scoring offense (9th in rushing) with Miller leading the charge racking up 3,064 total yards (1,850 passing/1,214 rushing) and 27 total TDs (14 passing/13 rushing). He’s essentially a running back that can throw, and throw pretty well by completing 56.8% of his passes with only eight picks. Like Denard Robinson for most of the season, he basically is the OSU offense.
However, unlike the Wolverines, Miller has a running back who has also been highly effective this year in Carlos Hyde. Hyde has 824 yards on the ground and 16 total TDs (15 rushing). He’s the Robin to Miller’s Batman and not to be taken lightly. If not careful, he can really hurt the Wolverine defense.
With the deadly duo in the backfield, Meyer has the Buckeyes running his version of the spread offense quite well, and these spread offensive attacks have proved to be trouble for Greg Mattison’s defense as they were gashed by the likes of Air Force, Nebraska, and Northwestern and not one of those teams are on the level of OSU. The 11 defensive players on the field donning the Maize and Blue will need to cash in their best game of the season if they want to keep the offense of those wearing scarlet and gray from lighting up the scoreboard. They have seen enough of the spread to not be overly surprised, but it will all come down to execution, sound assignment football, and playing TEAM defense.
Ohio State’s defense, while not of the ilk of an Alabama, Notre Dame, or Michigan State, is not exactly a patsy. They rank a respectful 34th nationally in scoring defense, and while they struggle against the pass (81st nationally), they are farley stout against the run (18th nationally). They may not be the best defense in the nation, but they have two beasts on that side of the ball in Jr. DL Johnathan Hankins (6’3″, 317 lbs.) and Sr. LB Etienne Sabino (6’3″, 237 lbs.). They are legitimate difference-making stud muffins that could make things very difficult for Al Borges’ boys if they are allowed to run wild.
Though Michigan’s passing offense has improved dramatically in the last few weeks (against sub-par defenses) with Devin Gardner under center, the running game still has not been anything to write home about and faces a new challenge with Thomas Rawls forced into a starting role after Fitz Toussaint suffered a season-ending leg injury last week. If Hoke and Borges continue to stick with Gardner at QB, it will take not only Rawls and Vincent Smith stepping up, but the creativity of Al Borges to utilize Denard Robinson like he did against Iowa as a super utility player where he lined up at RB/WR/QB, to ad some punch and big play ability to the Wolverine rushing attack. They will need to be balanced to win this game and it starts with getting yards on the ground. It is going to take stellar performances from Robinson, Rawls, Smith, and the OL to pound the rock effectively.
If Devin Gardner is indeed the starting QB again, he will face his toughest test. He has played only one game away from Ann Arbor and it was in a far-from-filled TCF Bank Stadium against a poor Minnesota team. Not exactly an intimidating environment. “The Shoe” gives even the most seasoned signal callers the willies. It will be interesting to see how the junior handles it in only his 4th career start and if he can limit mistakes. Luckily for him, passing defense is not OSU’s strong suit as stated above. However, it will be loud, it will be hostile, it will be intimidating, and it will be a snake pit full of hatred…on the biggest stage. “Ohio” is 11-0 and you can’t get to that point by playing bad defense. They are not a pushover and Luke Fickell is going to do everything he can to make Gardner’s life miserable so he will need his receivers, offensive line, coaches, and the running game to help him out. Again, THE TEAM, THE TEAM, THE TEAM.
Ohio State’s defense may not be lights out, but it is good enough to stop a one-dimensional offensive attack. Michigan has had trouble finding an offensive balance this season regardless of who is at quarterback. They will need all hands on deck and all facets working if they want to keep pace in this game. Even if Michigan’s defense plays well, OSU will score points. They’re too good not to. The Wolverines cannot afford to go in any lengthy scoring droughts on Saturday or they will be playing catchup. If that is the case, it will not end well for Michigan. The offense has to fulfil their end of the bargain.
A true TEAM effort will be needed to win this football game. Many will consider this cliche though football is the ultimate TEAM sport. However, the Buckeyes are an undefeated football team that plays outstanding offensive football and has a capable defense. If either side of the ball or the special teams units struggle for Michigan on Saturday, their chances of beating OSU in their house will be slim.
They must play inspired. They must play angry. They must play desperate. They must limit mistakes. They must play disciplined and sound assignment football. THEY NEED TO PLAY A TEAM GAME…“THE TEAM, THE TEAM, THE TEAM.”
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