Breaking down the Michigan-Ohio State football game with Doug Lesmerises
The Ohio State football team enters Saturday’s game against Michigan ranked seventh in the nation, on a six-game winning streak and a 16 1/2-point favorite. Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Michael Rothstein of AnnArbor.com went back-and-forth to discuss the rivalry and what fans might see Saturday (noon, ABC).
Michael Rothstein: "Well, Doug, here we are again, another Michigan-Ohio State game. It's been a while since Michigan has won one of these (2003), and considering the state of Michigan's defense against anything resembling a Division I offense, there isn't too much confidence this year will be the year Michigan breaks the streak. The state of Michigan football right now can be broken down to this: good offense, bad defense, terrible special teams. That combination does not lead to Michigan victories. That said, what has been the mentality this week at Ohio State?"
Doug Lesmerises: "The Buckeyes flipped the switch pretty quickly after what was their biggest win of the season at Iowa. If Ohio State had lost that, I would have been curious to see the mood of Jim Tressel and the team this week. But they watched a little film of that game and immediately got to work reminding everyone that, in this game, you throw the records out, the Wolverines will play much better than they have all season, etc. All the things a team has to say when it has a pretty clear talent edge in a rivalry game. The intrigue here for me is to see what Denard Robinson can do against this Ohio State defense, which seems to me to be the best that Michigan has faced this season. What do you expect Robinson and the offense to be able to get done on Saturday?"
Michael Rothstein: "Honestly, it's tough to tell. Michigan has been a second-half team for the second half of the season, often falling behind by 10-30 points before mounting a comeback to make it respectable. But often that reeked of defenses letting up and letting Michigan back into the game. Rich Rodriguez hasn't been able to figure out the slow starts and neither has his team. I wouldn't be surprised if Robinson has a big game, though. But his receivers have been dropping passes of late, none of his running backs can stay healthy and both Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan and Wisconsin's J.J. Watt had big days against the Michigan offensive line. So all of that basically says that even if Robinson has a big day, he might be the only one. My biggest question is, will Tressel let Terrelle Pryor loose or go into his usual Michigan shell once his team has a lead?"
Doug Lesmerises: "Part of the way Ohio State slowed down Oregon in the Rose Bowl last season was by holding onto the ball for almost 42 minutes. That said, Pryor still had a big game throwing the ball that day. So I think the Buckeyes will want to keep the Michigan offense off the field and run the ball with both Pryor and Dan Herron at the start, then start going to the air. Ohio State opened up the offense more last week because it was the best way to attack Iowa's very good front four, but I expect a little more hammering the ball at the start this week. But even with a lead, I think Tressel will let Pryor have his moments on Saturday. Maybe this season hasn't been what everyone expected from the preseason Heisman favorite, but he's done some good things and obviously improved. I think Tressel will want to let him show what he can do. What are Michigan's best chances for stopping the Buckeyes, or is the defense really as bad as the numbers indicate?"
Michael Rothstein: "There's a tinge of seriousness in that statement. Michigan's defense is the worst I've seen from a major-conference program not named Indiana or Syracuse since I started covering college football in 2003. Chris Spielman said this week Michigan only has one Big Ten-caliber defender, Mike Martin. I think they have four. Unfortunately for Michigan, none of them are in the secondary. The defensive line is pretty good with Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and Craig Roh. Jonas Mouton is a good linebacker, but often has to cover for the mistakes of others. The unit has been pathetically bad all season long (except against Purdue and Bowling Green) and there is no reason to think differently Saturday. With everything that we've talked about, how do you see this shaking out? What's the best-case/worst-case scenario for Ohio State?"
Doug Lesmerises: "Worst-case scenario is another slow start for Ohio State. The Buckeyes trailed 21-3 at the half at Wisconsin, 14-3 at the half at home against Penn State and 7-3 on the road at Iowa. And the defense has been susceptible to big passing plays early in games -- even Minnesota hurt the Buckeyes that way. If Robinson makes a handful of spectacular plays in the first 30 minutes, there's certainly a possibility this could be a game at the half. But Ohio State has enough flexibility offensively, and has made good halftime adjustments in all those games, that I would imagine that the Buckeyes would find their footing in the second half even in the worst-care scenario. Best-case is the defense forces early turnovers and Pryor adds a Troy Smith-type game against Michigan to his OSU accomplishments. He's only accounted for 254 total yards in his two games against Michigan so far. Beyond this season, how or when do you eventually see Michigan turning this into at least a competitive rivalry again? Will it be soon, and will it be under Rich Rodriguez?"
Michael Rothstein: "Doug, I've been waiting for these questions and they are the million dollar -- or multi-million dollar -- ones for Michigan. The rivalry could be competitive again as early as next year because Michigan's offense isn't the problem. If the offense scores points at the same rate, there is reason to believe the defense will be better next year. The defensive line will be good and the Wolverines' top two cornerbacks, Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd will be back from injury. LInebacker is still a question but Kenny Demens has shown potential in the middle. Even an average defense with this offense will lead to competitive games. As for who the coach is, that's an answer I've been very hesitant with. The only person who knows what's really going on is Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, and he hasn't shown his cards. If you want a prediction, I say barring a complete meltdown/blowout in Columbus that Rodriguez is back next year. But if a certain former Michigan quarterback expresses an interest in returning to Ann Arbor, all bets are off. So, in short, that is a really difficult question to answer right now. "