GAME NOTES: Despite having already secured at least a share of their sixth straight Big Ten Conference championship, you can bet the eighth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes won't be resting on their laurels as they welcome bitter rival Michigan to the Horseshoe in Columbus for this Saturday's regular-season finale.
The Wolverines are 7-4 on the year, 3-4 in conference, thus earning bowl eligibility for the first time in the three seasons coach Rich Rodriguez has been in charge. Unfortunately for the Maize and Blue, the bulk of their wins came against suspect competition during the no-conference part of the schedule, including a 42-37 triumph over FCS foe Massachusetts back in September. Michigan comes into this annual showdown with the Buckeyes having lost four of its last six, including a 48-28 home setback to Wisconsin last Saturday.
Ohio State has won four in a row and 10 of its 11 games played thus far, with the lone setback coming in a 31-18 final against Wisconsin on the road back on October 16th. As a result of that loss, the Buckeyes are 6-1 in the Big Ten, and currently tied for first place with both Wisconsin and Michigan State heading into this final week of action. Last week, OSU outlasted a pesky Iowa squad on the road, 20-17, and became the first team in Big Ten history to record 10 wins in six consecutive seasons.
Michigan owns a 57-43-6 edge in the all-time series with Ohio State, but the Buckeyes have won the last five meetings, and eight of the last nine overall.
This game features two of the more exciting signal-callers in the nation, with Michigan's Denard Robinson and Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor both having impressive seasons.
Robinson is as electric a player as there is in college football, and to think he's only a sophomore. The Florida native currently owns the NCAA single- season record for rushing yards by a QB and he is the first player in NCAA history to run for 1,500 yards and throw for 2,000 yards in the same season. Robinson averages a Big Ten-best 139.8 ypg rushing and has scored 14 TDs on the ground, while throwing for 202.6 ypg with 16 TDs and 10 INTs. The team's leading receiver is Roy Roundtree with 58 grabs for 839 yards and six scores. When Robinson does hand the ball off, it has been Vincent Smith who gets the call more times than not, and he has responded by averaging 4.7 ypc in totaling 571 yards and five TDs. Michael Shaw has been another productive member of the UM offense, averaging 5.3 ypc and scoring eight TDs.
Robinson accounted for 360 total yards and four TDs last week against Wisconsin, but the Wolverines still came out on the wrong end of a 48-28 final. Robinson threw for 239 yards and ran for 121 more, and his favorite targets on the day were Roundtree (seven receptions, 114 yards, one TD) and Darryl Stonum (four receptions, 99 yards, one TD, 103 return yards).
With the Michigan offense averaging nearly 37 points and 515 yards per contest, it has been the defense that has let the team down for the most part this season. Foes are putting up 33.5 ppg, utilizing the run for 181.3 ypg and the pass for 263.9 ypg -- that last figure ranking the team last in the Big Ten. Despite their troubles containing the opposition at times, the Wolverines have gotten solid seasons from several defenders, including Jonas Mouton (Big Ten-leading 102 tackles, two sacks, two INTs, two fumble recoveries) and Jordan Kovacs (95 tackles, one INT, one fumble recovery).
The UM defense took it on the chin in last week's loss to Wisconsin, as the Badgers churned out 357 yards on the ground. Mouton (13 tackles), Ken Demens (13 tackles) and Kovacs (12 tackles) were all busy, and the defense wound up surrendering 558 yards of total offense while staying on the field for roughly 37 minutes.
Coach Rodriguez was obviously disappointed with last week's outcome, but knew it wasn't for a lack of effort, "We just need to make more stops. The guys played hard and we're running out of bodies in certain spots. We can't afford to make mistakes: missed tackles and dropped passes. You do those things against a good team and you're always fighting uphill."
Dan Herron scored on a one-yard plunge with less than two minutes remaining in regulation to give the Buckeyes a narrow victory over Iowa last Saturday. Ohio State finished with 335 yards of total offense, as Pryor wound up going 18- of-33 for 195 yards with a TD and two INTs. Pryor also went over 2,000 rushing yards for his career by carrying the ball 15 times for 78 yards. WR Dane Sanzenbacher had six catches for a game-high 102 yards.
Defensively, the Buckeyes permitted just 276 yards to the Hawkeyes, including a mere 81 on the ground, and Brian Rolle led the way with 10 tackles, three of which were registered behind the line of scrimmage. As a result of that effort, Rolle is now Ohio State's leading tackler on the season with 62 stops. He also has two INTs, one recovered fumble and four PBUs to his credit.
Coach Tressel knew his team was in for a rough time last week at Iowa, "We felt like it was going to be a four-quarter heavyweight bout. Iowa's never going to stop fighting," He added, "Our guys never stop."
Pryor has completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 2,331 yards with 23 TDs and 10 INTs, and he also has 590 yards and four TDs on the ground to rank second on the team behind Herron's 893 yards and 14 scores. The team's top receiver is Sanzenbacher with his 49 catches for 818 yards and nine TDs, while DeVier Posey isn't far off the pace with 45 grabs for 696 yards and five scores.
As has been the key to Ohio State's success in recent years, the Buckeye defense continues to shut down the opposition with force, yielding a mere 13.9 ppg to rank first in the Big Ten in that department. They also sit atop the conference in run defense (86.4 ypg), pass defense (155.1 ypg) and total defense (241.5 ypg).
Tressel made it point to mention the group of talented seniors who are playing their final home game against the school's biggest rival, "These 24 seniors are great kids. They've been a part of some good football teams and they're trying to lead this team into being a good football team and they know they only have one more chance back in Ohio Stadium."
While this promises to be a physical game with more than its share of drama, there simply is no getting past the fact that Ohio State is the better team. Add what will surely be a raucous crowd to the mix and it all spells a Buckeye win.
Sports Network predicted Outcome: Ohio State 31, Michigan 17