Previewing The Game: Ohio State versus Michigan

osuHelmetI’m still getting used to this whole “meaningful football after Thanksgiving” thing (don’t even get me started on the “college football in December” thing). I’m used to looking forward to whatever bowl game Ohio State will be playing in and not worrying about football on Black Friday.

There is a lot to be thankful for, though. These longer football seasons are great — more football is always better! We have a great team to cheer for and the outlook is promising. But most of all, we can be so so grateful that the Michigan football program is hot garbage and getting worse. This is probably Brady Hoke’s last game as a Michigan head coach. Their football team simply isn’t very good and the management of the program (heck, the whole athletic department) has been a disastrophe.

Last year Ohio State had an edge over Michigan talent-wise. Ohio State’s advantage is even more marked this year. We thought last year’s game was going to be a blow out. This year it will be a blow out. This isn’t a “throw out the records it’s a rivalry” game. This is a “one team is better in every aspect of the game” game and Ohio State needs to score a few more style points before entering the B1G Championship Game. Michigan will offer resistance, but it will not last very long. Even miracles aren’t going to help this time.

But they still have to play the game. Here are a few match-ups that should make things interesting.

Devin Funchess vs. Doran Grant – I mentioned this earlier this season but Doran Grant has been the most important piece of this year’s defense. He’s been steady, consistent and almost always in position to make a play. Whoever he is guarding is hardly ever targeted and he has silently been a huge part of this defense.

On the other side of the ball, Devin Funchess is the biggest offensive weapon Michigan has, and when he wants to be, he can be a nightmare to cover. The problem for Michigan is that he often doesn’t perform to the level he can and has been disappointing for huge chunks of the season. He hasn’t scored since Penn State and has only broken the 100 yard mark once this year. Physically, he should be unstoppable. He’s tall, athletic and a match-up nightmare.

Funchess has potential to do damage Saturday. Doran Grant has already shown he can shut down opposing team’s best receiver. Which Funchess shows up tomorrow will dictate if Michigan has any chance at all. If he’s targeted early and often and can get the better of Grant, it could get interesting. From my view, though, Funchess has one foot out the door and I expect a lackluster performance for Funchess in his last game as a Wolverine.

OSU’s OL vs. Michigan’s DL – The one bright spot for Michigan this year has been their defensive line and particularly against the run. They bring in a top ten rushing defense against Ohio State’s top fifteen rushing attack. The next match-up I’m interested in will be how the improved Ohio State offensive line does against Michigan’s defensive unit.

They will be without Frank Clark, arguably the best member of that line, but across the board they have size and talent that has been stout against the run. Ohio State’s line isn’t the same line that struggled against Virginia Tech. There are still moments where they struggle but they have are firing on all cylinders lately. It helps to have the threat of a running quarterback and two legitimate first-team backs to deploy. It has been fun to watch the line improve steadily each week.

Let’s take a moment now at this juncture during this period of giving thanks to give thanks for Ed Warinner and what’s he’s been able to do with a make-shift group of guys after losing four-fifths of one of the best lines Ohio State has had in two decades. It pains me to think what he could have done with the Brew Crew. A single tear is shed thinking what Beanie Wells could have done behind a Warinner-coached Brewster, Shugarts and Adams. It could have been beautiful.

But this game Saturday will be won in the trenches, as it is every “Game” and even with the past performance of Michigan’s defensive front, I like Decker and Company to take care of business.

Devin Gardner vs. the Turf – The used turf got the better of this match-up last year. This year, I’m worried for Devin’s safety. The killer BEES (that’s what I’ve nicknamed the duo of Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett) have no doubt been looking forward to this game all season. They’ve seen how poorly the Michigan offensive line has protected Gardner this season and with little or no threat of a run game will be thinking rush the quarterback first. It’s possible that they will take his already broken body and finish the job. I’m legimately concerned for his well being.

devin_done

Let me take another moment to tip my cap to Devin Gardner. He’s the only Michigan quarterback I’ve had any respect for in a long time (maybe ever). It was easy to hate the very punchable face of Denard Robinson and that ever-present smile. Tate Forcier was a self-parody. Chad Henne, John Navarre, Griese, Brady, the list goes on. All loathsome human beings with zero redeeming qualities. But I’ve always been intrigued by Gardner. He’s been dealt a pretty crummy hand the past four years (coaches, running backs, the fact that he has to live in Ann Arbor) and seems to have taken it all in stride. I’ve got to give him credit for that.

He’s still going to die tomorrow.

Urban Meyer vs. Brady Hoke – My wife hates it, but when I play board games and card games with our kids, I don’t let them win. I play to win. Board games ain’t no joke in the el Kaiser household (ask Jeremiah about that time I threatened physical violence to his face over a game of Monopoly). Board games build character and losing is a part of life. If they beat me fair-and-square, I praise them for their strategy and cunning but I hardly ever lose. I feel it’s an opportunity to teach them being a good loser and I hope they’re learning strategies and how to play the game. It’s for their own good. We can’t learn to win if we never taste bitter defeat.

What I’m trying to say is that this game is going to be like Urban Meyer coaching against one of his elementary aged kids. Hoke is his inferior in every way (nope, not making fat jokes. Not here). Urban isn’t going to pull any punches.

In the end, like I mentioned earlier, this isn’t going to be close. There are some intriguing match-ups and, yes, sometimes The Game ignores trends and talent and just becomes a slugfest. I just don’t see that happening tomorrow in The ‘Shoe. I see it getting out of hand and Ohio State will prevail, keeping it’s conference regular season winning streak alive.

Ohio State 45
Michigan 20

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